On this day … 6 April 1895

The Preston Guardian reported that Major William Sudell, founder of Preston North End, had been jailed for three years for embezzling thousands of pounds from the cotton mill where he was manager. The court accepted that he did not benefit personally, but used the money, £5,326 in total, to pay players’ wages and other expenses. On his release, he emigrated to South Africa, where he worked as a sports journalist until his death in 1911.

Sudell was born in 1850 and was a member of a family that could trace its links with the town back through the centuries, including a seventeenth-century guild mayor. Aged seventeen, he joined the Preston North End cricket club, and when the club took up association football, Sudell was in the team for the first match.

Shortly after, Sudell, still in his twenties, became chairman of the club. When the club gave up cricket to concentrate on soccer, Sudell became the team manager, signing several players from Scotland to build the team that won the League and Cup double in 1888/89.

The Preston North End team 1888/89
Sudell with his winning team. He’s the chap with the dark beard on the back row. https://www.flickr.com/photos/rpsmithbarney/5188189134/

As Dr Neil Carter of De Montford University, author of The Football Manager: A History, noted:

… many Lancashire teams had recruited Scottish players but Sudell like other successful managers was more resourceful than his rivals. In this era, football was characterised by rushes of players up and down the field and heavy shoulder charging with any team tactics left to the captain and the players. At Preston, however, along with his captain, Sudell devised them, using chalk and a blackboard, and sometimes chess pieces set out on a billiard table. As a result, Preston was noted for a more systematic style of play than other teams; a measured passing game that embodied Sudell’s promotion of a more cultured and scientific form of football.

Sudell had been instrumental in forming the Football League and became its first treasurer, a post he relinquished in 1892. His association with PNE came to an end the following year, not long before his trial for embezzlement.

As Neil Carter observed:

The start of Sudell’s downfall had really begun in 1893 when he lost control of the club. The competition in the football world had begun to catch up with the Invincibles and the running of the club as well as the mill became too much for him. For years, there had been mutterings of financial irregularities, and by then the club was bankrupt. Sudell proposed to float the club as a company. From here, with his health failing him, he gradually faded from the picture as far as Preston North End was concerned.

One of the ways in which Sudell used his position as manager of John Goodair’s cotton mill, where he had started work on leaving school, was to provide nominal jobs for the players he recruited from out of town, in the days when professionalism was not allowed in the sport. This form of off-the-books payments probably led up to the full-scale embezzlement that landed him in jail.

The part Sudell played in making PNE the team is acknowledged on the club’s website: ‘… the genius of a man who could build such a team and which justly earned the name the Invincibles is fully recognised today.’

The title of major that Sudell used was an honorary one in the volunteer force based in the town, which he had been encouraged to join by his employer, John Goodair.

Neil Carter, De Montfort University: https://dora.dmu.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/2086/4436/William%20Sudell%201.doc?sequence=1

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