Football facts from the Archive
05 Jul 2018
To mark the occasion of England getting to the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup, here is a selection of football-themed stories from the Archive.
Our companies have been insuring football teams for well over 100 years. We have many examples in the Archive of proposals for the insurance of individuals, and amateur teams, against football related accidents; indeed, Norwich Union claimed to have been the first to 'specialize' in this type of insurance.
The earliest reference I have been able to find to specific football insurance dates from 1890, when the Glasgow and London Insurance Company Ltd provided insurance against accidents for the Sunderland Albion football squad. For those, like me, who have never heard of Sunderland Albion I’m reliably informed by the internet that it was a founder member of the Football Alliance, a rival to the Football League. The club folded in 1892, the same year the Football Alliance was absorbed into the Football League.
To find a more recognisable name insured by our companies we have to wait until 1904, when Commercial Union was providing fire insurance for Nottingham Forest. In July of that year the company paid out £2,000 after a fire destroyed the club’s stands. The cause of the fire was believed to have been a short circuit in the ‘fairy ferry’, an extravaganza of lights and prisms, which featured in an exhibition in an adjoining building.
By 1908 General Accident was proudly telling potential policyholders that it already provided football accident insurance for Irish international teams as well as Everton, Millwall, and Partick Thistle, amongst others.
By 1922 the company’s prospectus, which covered both rugby and football, included a testimonial from Bradford City FC.
By the 1970s General Accident was insuring Sunderland AFC against accidents to its players and for various other risks. In 1973 the company insured the FA Cup for £1000, while it was being held at the club, after its shock defeat of Leeds United. General Accident produced the advertisement below to mark the occasion (and suggested the cup be renamed the GA Cup).
To emphasise the requirement for accident insurance, many of our companies published lists of accidents which befell their policyholders while undertaking everyday activities at work and play. These include many examples of people injured playing football, such as the coachbuilder from Blackburn who claimed £30 from our company Railway Passengers Assurance in 1878 after he fell over a football(!). Another claim on Railway Passengers, 10 years later, was for a student from Durham who was awarded £30 for an injury caused by a collision (or kick) while playing the game.
In 1904 another of our companies, Scottish Accident, paid a claim for £12 to a schoolmaster from Belfast who tripped while playing football and sprained his foot. This company also liked to produce illustrated booklets showing the kinds of accidents that might happen; the extract below is taken from a booklet published in 1890.
Here is a list of accidents, including some football-related ones, published by the same company in 1884.
Nearly 100 years after Scottish Accident produced that list of football injuries, Aviva companies were still helping football clubs protect their players and staff; in 1975, one of the first tasks for the newly established Commercial Union Risk Management Ltd was a request from Nottingham Forest to carry out a health and safety audit.
In addition to well-known football teams there are also a few mentions in the Archive of insurance for individual famous players. In 1978, West Ham took out a pension policy with Sun Life Assurance Society for Ron Greenwood who had managed the club for 13 years, played for Chelsea and Fulham, and was the current England Manager. In 2008, it was announced that Spanish football star Fernando Torres had taken out incapacity insurance with Aviva Vida y Pensiones. (You can read Aviva plc's news release from the time here https://www.aviva.com/newsroom/news-releases/2008/05/spain-aviva-is-the-insurer-for-fernando-torres-4102/)
Sun Life also insured Jack Taylor, a referee who officiated at the 1974 World Cup final. According to Wikipedia, he gave two penalties in the first 30 minutes, the first of which was the first penalty kick ever awarded in a World Cup final.
Some of our companies also had international referees on the staff. For example, R C Greenwood of the Northern Assurance foreign fire department was a well-known referee in the early 1940s. He officiated for the Belgium v Netherlands match in February 1941 that ended in a three-all draw. Another Northern Assurance employee to referee on the international stage was Tommy Thompson who worked in the company’s Newcastle branch. Described by the Arsenal manager George Allison as the 'perfect referee', he was the youngest ref to take an FA Cup final at Wembley, in 1939. He also refereed matches for Holland, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Italy, as well as a Glasgow Rangers v Moscow Dynamos match in October 1946 in which Moscow tried to play with 12 men.
Having covered staff as referees, it is probably time to talk about football players who worked for our various companies. Alan Hansen, the Scottish international and pundit, worked for General Accident in their Stirling branch when he was 18; he said in an interview with the Independent in 2006 that he realized insurance was not for him after about six weeks. Another Scottish international with links to Aviva was Hugh Millar who worked for Commercial Union in Liverpool. He was capped to play for Scotland against Ireland in December 1949 and was the first non-resident Scot to be capped since 1937.
We even have an England international amongst our former staff, although I suspect as it was over 100 years ago his name won’t be as readily recognisable today. In 1913 our company, Ocean Accident, employed the amateur England footballer Lionel Louch in its Portsmouth branch. In February 1914, Louch (who also played for Portsmouth and Leighton Orient), scored a hat-trick against Belgium in a match which England won 8-1.
Both Hugh Millar and Lionel Louch played for their office teams as well as their countries. Here is Louch seated in the centre of the Ocean Accident team for the 1913-1914 season.
And here is Millar (centre) as captain of the Commercial Union Liverpool branch team in 1954...
... and shaking hands with the captain of the Manchester branch team before the match.
Almost all our constituent companies had staff football teams at some point in their history. The earliest I have managed to find was for Norwich Union staff, founded in 1889. The photograph below shows the team in 1890 and includes John Nix Pentelow (in the striped top), who left the office to pursue a literary career. He became a noted authority on cricket but was probably better known as a war time editor of the boys' comic Magnet which featured the first stories of Billy Bunter and chums at Greyfriars. For any fans out there, he is particularly remembered for writing a story in which 'Courtney of the sixth form' was killed off.
Our football teams played in local leagues and against other insurance companies to win the coveted Insurance Charities Cup, which was won so many times by Commercial Union that it was presented to the company and is now in the Archive. We have many lovely photographs of teams over the years, like this of Norwich Union's reserve team in 1902.
We even have some film footage of a match between General Accident’s London and Perth teams in 1957.
I was recently pointed in the direction of these caricatures of General Accident’s Insurance Charities Cup-winning team from 1929. Those featured include W A Gibbs, whose granddaughter is a current member of Aviva staff.
I probably shouldn’t end without a quick mention of football sponsorship; Friends Provident sponsored Southampton from 2001 and Norwich Union took over as main sponsor of Norwich City in 2008. The links between Norwich City and Norwich Union go back further than that though and we have staff circulars in the Archive from 1972 about the company opening the staff car park on football match days to help the council with parking issues – members of the public were charged 10p to park. In December 1949 the company even gave staff the afternoon off to watch Norwich in a second-round replay match in the FA Cup; the additional support probably encouraged the team to their 5-1 win over Hartlepool United.