As arguably the most influential figure in the early days of Irish football, William McCrum was determined to stamp out violent play around goal areas and easily won backing from the Irish Football Association for his controversial new rule.
However, winning international approval proved more difficult,
It seems however, that McCrum’s idea was no lucky strike. His background as a scholar, chess-master and amateur dramatist suggests the penalty kick was a far more profound strategy that sprang from two philosophies dear to him: a love of the dramtic arts and a sense of justice.
Stopping a game for cheating in order to stage a mind-game between kicker and goalkeeper with the other players an immobilised audience, is pure theatre, while at the same time it satisfied the strong sense of fair play, instilled in McCrum on the playing fields of the Royal School Armagh.
Having graduated with an honours degree in classics he globe trotted as a playboy before settling down to business and his hobbies, running village sport and amateur dramatics. His strong attachment to his rural community probably grounded him and he became a County high Sheriff and a Justice of the Peace.
By 1890 after several years as Milford goalkeeper he was convinced that something had to be done about the serious violence inflicted on forwards advancing on goals. That was also the season he entered his team in the first Irish League. Unfortunately they crashed out pointless, beaten by – among others – the Belfast big-two Glentoran and Linfield.
It would be the 1970s before the name Milford re-appeared in Irish League tables, in the old “B” Division, when, as Milford Everton, they won promotion from the Mid-Ulster League.
In the interim the Wall street crash of 1929 wiped out McCrum’s empire with its factories in Milford and Armagh and outlets in London and New York.
Two years later he died a broken man, reduced to living in lodgings after the bank seized the entire village and his Armagh and London mansions.
Throughout its rise Milford Everton made full use of the sporting infrastructure McCrum had built including football pitches and clubrooms in the magnificently appointed Edwardian Mechanics Institute.
As the club consolidated in the 1980s it bought the McCrum Institute complete with auditorium, proscenium-arched stage, chaning rooms, lending library, reading rooms, snooker hall and kitchens. Two football greats, the late Jock Stein of Celtic and Billy Bingham, the former NI manager, performed the opening ceremony.
By the 1990s financial imperatives forced the small but ambitious club out of the village to a purppose built sports ground, New Holm Park, a name chosen to celebrate the old pitch of Holm Park opposite McCrum’s Ballyards manor house.
And so, although he died penniless, McCrum’s rich sporting legacy lives on locally and globally. On the world stage football has been blessed (some say cursed) with the nail biting drama of penalty shootouts.
Meanwhile, nearer home Armagh City success has been laced with a poetic justice that would have pleased McCrum.
Having built on his foundations City returned to the premier league and along the way avenged those 1890 defeats a little with a 5-2 win over Glentoran, while their ex-striker and current manager Gary McKinstry, couldn’t have won his All-Ireland top scorer award in 2001 without McCrum: 10 of his 36 goals were penalties.