Arthur Kinnaird - a philanthropic nobleman and unsung football pioneer

Recommended in football books

During the 1870s and 80s, when he appeared in a record nine FA Cup finals for Wanderers and Old Etonians, Arthur Kinnaird was almost as colossal a figure in football as W G Grace had become in cricket.

There were even physical similarities.  Grace was easily identified by his ‘yeoman figure and shaggy beard’ -- the precise words used by the editor of Athletic News to describe Kinnaird. And just as Grace had his trademark yellow and red cricket cap, Kinnaird’s white trousers and blue and white quartered cap made him easy to pick out on the football field.

But where the life of Dr Grace, and his importance in the development and popularity of cricket, has been documented many times, the role of Kinnaird -- he inherited the title of Lord Kinnaird in 1887 -- was less well researched until sports historian Andy Mitchell decided to investigate.

Yet quite apart from being a considerable player in his day -- he has been described as football’s ‘first superstar’ and ‘without exception, the best player’ of his era -- he also served the game as a hugely influential administrator.  A Football Association committee member at only 21 years old in 1868, he was the organisation’s treasurer for 13 years and president from 1890 until his death in 1923, shortly before the opening of Wembley Stadium.

It was a life that began to interest Mitchell when he was working in Perthshire, the home of the London-born Kinnaird’s Scottish aristocratic family.

“With my interest in football history I was intrigued by this character who hailed from Perthshire,“ Mitchell said in an interview with the Perthshire Advertiser.

“Kinnaird features in a lot of books but only on a superficial level – he was clearly important but nobody had ever researched his life. He has gone down for posterity as someone fond of 'hacking', a bit of a toff who dabbled in football. But he was a key influence in the development of the sport.”

Kinnaird was born in Kennington, educated at Cheam School, Eton College and Cambridge University and became a director of Barclays Bank.  Yet he selected and played for Scotland’s first international team and Mitchell’s interest intensified when he himself became involved with Scottish football as Head of Communications at the Scottish FA.

“I spent 10 years at the SFA, travelling with the Scotland team,” he said. “After leaving them in 2007 I took the opportunity to research early football in greater detail, and decided to write this book on Arthur Kinnaird.”

Mitchell’s research took him first to the Kinnaird family home at Rossie Priory, where his great-granddaughter, Caroline Best, still runs the estate, and later to London, both to delve into the archives of Eton College and the FA, and to visit some of Kinnaird’s favourite haunts in Victorian London.

He discovered that far from being merely ‘a toff who dabbled in football’(and whose reputation for 'hacking' - i.e. kicking opponents - was almost certainly misplaced), the 11th Lord Kinnaird pursued another life as a social justice pioneer of extraordinary philanthropy. He spent nights on the streets, helping destitute orphans learn to read and write, and set up schools for the poor, giving away considerable sums from the fortune he made in banking.  Himself touched by tragedy -- he lost two sons in the First World War -- he fostered the spread of evangelical Christianity as Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and was president of both the YMCA and YWCA.

Arthur Kinnaird: First Lord of Football has won praise for Mitchell’s meticulous research and for editorial standards of accuracy and presentation not always associated with the independent and self-published sectors.

But, much more than that, it deserves to be acknowledged --  given that football rose under Kinnaird’s stewardship from a game played in muddy parks to an enormous, international spectator sport  -- for adding missing detail to a hugely important phase in the history of the game.

As Mitchell puts it: “Arthur Kinnaird was quite a man – and I hope this book belatedly brings him the recognition he deserves.”

ARTHUR Kinnaird: First Lord of Football” is published by CreateSpace (, an company.

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