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Football and the First World War
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A man of great presence and an influential captain, Blackburn Rovers' full-back Bob Crompton was one of English football's star players before the First World War.
Bob Crompton was born at his parents' home, 1 Harwood Street, Blackburn, Lancashire, on 26 September 1879, the son of Robert Crompton, an innkeeper, and his wife, Alice Utley. He learned his football on the streets of Blackburn and at his schools, Moss Street board school and the higher grade school, to which he went in the 1880s. He became an apprentice plumber and was initially spotted playing in the local Sunday school league. He also played for the Rose and Thistle and Blackburn Trinity, before joining Blackburn Rovers, for whom he played as an amateur for two years because he did not want to jeopardize his amateur status in swimming and water polo.
Crompton was associated with his home town club from the time he first signed for them in 1896 until his death, save for a few years in the 1930s. He was captain of the side which in the four years immediately preceding the abandonment of professional football in the First World War, had won the championship of the first division twice, in 1911–12 and 1913–14, and had finished fifth and third in 1912–13 and 1914–15. He was still playing when football resumed after the war, but injury forced his retirement at the age of forty in 1920.
He played forty-one times for England between 1902 and 1914, when the number of international matches was much lower than in later years. This record number of appearances was not exceeded until Billy Wright won his forty-second cap, in 1952. Crompton played in every England v. Scotland game in this period except 1905, when he was unfit, and became the first professional to captain an England side which also included an amateur player.
Crompton had begun as a centre half but converted to full-back in the late 1890s. He had a reputation for robust tackling combined with a use of the shoulder charge, which would be penalized as rough play in more recent times. At his peak he was quick enough to recover if beaten or drawn out of position.
Crompton maintained his trade as a plumber and was successful enough not only to be the first footballer to drive a car, in 1908, but also to become a director of a local firm of building contractors. In June 1921 the Football Association granted the special permission necessary for this ex-professional to become a director of Blackburn Rovers.
By the end of 1926 Crompton was team manager and led the team to a surprise victory in the 1928 cup final. He was then an early victim of player discontent and in the spring of 1931 lost both his job as manager and his seat on the board. He briefly managed Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic during 1935–6, but when Blackburn were threatened with relegation to the third division in 1937–8 he was recalled as ‘honorary’ team manager. The club escaped and in May 1938 he was back on the payroll. Under his charge Rovers won the championship of the second division but war then intervened.
Crompton died suddenly at 24 Eldon Road, Blackburn, on 15 March 1941, after having watched a wartime fixture between Rovers and Burnley.