Sam Weller Widdowson (1851-1927) – Kicking Out
Kicking each other in the shins had been an acceptable tactic when Sam Weller Widdowson began playing football. But Sam was one sports innovator who sought protection. A cricketer, a footballer and a good all-rounder, he borrowed an idea from one sport and gave it to the other. The result – shin pads!
Who the Dickens?: Sam was born to a Hucknall family which had strong connections to St. Mary Magdalene Church; Uncle Thomas was church warden for thirty years. Sam’s father named him Sam Weller after a popular, optimistic and practical character in Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers. The Widdowsons were a well-known family of entrepreneurs and prosperous enough to have a servant. Sam’s living came from lace manufacturing not football.
What a Sport!: Sam excelled at many sports, including athletics and cricket, but he excelled at football. He was an early member of Notts. County FC joining in 1865, and often turned out for them; but he was a founder member of Nottingham Forest FC in 1866. He served as Forest’s captain 1873-1885, and chairman 1879-1884. In 1880 he played for England against Scotland; England lost 5-4, but Sam scored one of the goals.
Sam’s Shin Pads: Sam was one of football’s early innovators. His most famous invention came in 1874 when he cut down some of his cricket pads and used them to protect his shins. Shin pads were mocked to begin with but soon the rules were changed to make them compulsory. He was the first captain to bring in a tactical playing formation in 1873; two full backs, three half-backs and five forwards. 2-3-5 became the standard model for the next 70 years.
Bright Ideas: When Sam’s playing career finally ended he became a referee, and officiated at the first match which featured nets in the goal. He also promoted the idea of night matches under floodlighting, first using gas and then electricity. Sam continued to embrace new technology when in 1912 he built the Picture Palace; the first cinema in Beeston, Notts.