“Pelanty, ref!”- football players and supporters.
I grew up in Northern Ireland and am a football geek. My Dad played football, I played football, my friends played football and my brothers played football. That quadruple also watch football week in, week out. A few years back I cracked the 501 not out for attendance at football matches. It is the biggest sport in Northern Ireland, run mightily close by the likes of rugby, golf and gaelic football. Despite that love for football, I never once made a point of visiting the village of Milford in County Armagh. It was here, in 1891 that the penalty kick (often termed pelanty when I was growing up) was invented.
This should have really been one of the first ever places I visited as a tourist. I mean I grew up in Bangor, a mere hour and a bit away from Milford in good traffic. So finally in December 2019, I made the trip to little known Milford. I headed here with two of my Polish friends and fellow football fans, Rafał and Kamil. It was a surprise trip for them, and a first trip here for me. Many people even reading this will NOT be aware that it was in my home country of Northern Ireland that the penalty kick was invented. It wasn’t around at the start, in fact it was invented in 1891, a full 24 years after the world’s first ever football club Sheffield FC came into existence (on 24 October 1857).
You see, football has along history from back in the 1850s to its current glitzy modern version. Football existed long before aeroplanes, video cameras, communism, photography, even before Northern Ireland existed as a country (we started in 1921).
During that crazy journey of football we have witnessed many and various changes in the game – both on the field rules, how the game is played, how supporters act, what stadiums are like, off the field rules etc… Some of these changes were influenced by technology, others were not. Here are just some changes in football down the years…
– Teams introduced numbers on the back of shirts
– Goalkeeper must wear a different colour of shirt
– The six yard line
– Corner flags
– Yellow cards
– Red cards
– Offside rule
– A World Cup was introduced in 1930
– All seater stadiums
– Undersoil heating
– The back pass rule
– Extra time
– Promotion and relegation
– Fourth official
– Goalline technology
However, one particular rule, invented by Armaghman, Ulsterman and Milforder William McCrum tops them all.
The penalty kick.
To put things into context…
– Lionel Messi has scored 70 of his career goals from the penalty spot
– West Germany won the 1990 World Cup 1-0 thanks to a Andreas Brehme penalty kick
– Brazil beat Italy in the 1994 World Cup on penalties
– Cheatzerland cheated Northern Ireland out of a place in the 2018 World Cup due till a fake pelanty
– West Ham’s Mark Noble holds the Premier League record of 26 converted penalties
So the significance of this simple invention cannot and should not be understated. This man, William McCrum has influenced so much more in life than he could ever have known. He wasn’t even alive when Uruguay kicked off the 1930 World Cup, nor when West Germany beat France in 1982 in what was the first ever World Cup penalty shoot out.
Who was William McCrum?
William McCrum was born in the village of Milford in County Armagh, Northern Ireland (at the time, Ireland) in February 1865. He was the son of local millionaire linen manufacturer Robert McCrum but he didn’t have much interest in or focus on the family business. He loved all sports, especially football even though he wasn’t very good!!! He also played rugby, chess and cricket. He attended Armagh Royal Academy in Northern Ireland.
William McCrum was a goalkeeper for Milford Everton FC McCrum played for them for years, with the first season being noted as a season in the top flight in Northern Ireland (then Ireland). As goalkeeper for his local club, Milford Everton FC, he conceded 61 goals in 14 games during the first ever season of the Irish Football League in 1890-1891!! Here is the team portrait, only 11 players back then – no substitutes!
When and how was the penalty kick added to football?
The penalty kick (pelanty) was officially added to the association football rule book on 2 June 1891, but when William first suggestion the idea it was laughed at! The English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish Football Associations are the oldest four in the world and three of them rejected the idea, citing that it is a professional gentleman’s sport so it is inconceiveable that a player would deliberately foul another player on the pitch.
However, after some serious casualties in the game in the early days, it was deemed that a rule change was needed. William McCrum was a member of the Irish Football Association in Belfast when he suggested the idea and on 2nd June 1891 (only a year after the IFA existed), the penalty kick, the 12 yard spot from goal and the 18 yard box suitably adapted for eternity…much to the scourge of defenders, goalkeepers, Zico, Robeto Baggio, Maxime Bosis and Chris Waddle…
“and the goalkeeper saved it; and they couldn’t get the rebound in” – BBC commentator on Zico, 1986 World Cup.
What an accolade for William McCrum to have invented this important part of the sport we all love. So I had to go to Milford and here’s how to do it…
Getting to Milford, County Armagh, Northern Ireland
I drove here and you should aimto do the same. Milford does not have a train station or a major bus station. There are irregular buses from nearby Armagh if needed. I drove from Belfast on this route:
Bangor to Belfast – A2 main road
Belfast – M3 briefly from the Oval foot to the M1
Belfast to Portadown – follow the M1 almost direct using junction 11 to come off onto the M12
Portadown to Armagh – bypass Portadown town centre and get onto the A3
Armagh to Milford – stay on the A3 until you see the sign for Milford, where you turn right…
That route was very straight and easy.
Sightseeing in Milford, County Armagh, Northern Ireland
For me, there are two main sights here. The William McCrum Memorial Park and the sign at the entrance to Milford – home of the penalty kick. On the way into Milford, we stop at the entrance sign for obligatory photos. Just behind this is a tourist information board displaying some further information about the village.
To find the William McCrum Memorial park, just head through the village’s main street – Hill Street (from Armagh side) and turn left on William Street by the children’s playground. Take another left on William Street to find the main square and memorial park, located on William Street itself, also at Linen Green. Below I have marked it on Google Maps and Google Earth – exact location here.
The William McCrum Memorial park is excellent. The entrance has miniature balls on the pillars, there is a central statue of William in the middle and four notice boards with information on William McCrum and the penalty. Fittingly ball games are permitted here and we notice 3 kids lurking around and 2 footballs there.
We read the four information boards, took some photos and took air pelanties!
On the way out of town, at Ann’s Terrace and Ann’s Street you can also find two surviving Milford football club pitches but no stadium, nor indeed any team plying their trade in a high Northern Irish division. The sentiment and importance of this trip did NOT pass any of us by. We loved it and I recommend it. The same week, we attended three live football matches and one of them featured a penalty, converted by West Ham’s Mark Noble.
To the legend that is William McCrum, thank you!!
Here are some other great links to read more about the Northern Irish legend that is William McCrum:
FIFA website story on William McCrum
William McCrum on Wikipedia
Discover Northern Ireland on William McCrum
Belfast Telegraph story on William McCrum
BBC story on William McCrum
Mark McCrum’s website – grandson of William McCrum
Here is the location of William McCrum Park in Milford, County Armagh, Northern Ireland:
48 Hill Street Milford
Tel: (028) 3752 5467
Tel: (07854) 784 256
Email – [email protected]
Website – www.milfordhouse.org.uk
Here is a video I made in Milford, County Armagh, Northern Ireland :