Rab Howell

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Rab Howell
Hab Howell.jpg
Rab Howell
Personal information
Full name Rabbi Howell
Date of birth (1867-10-25)25 October 1867
Place of birth Wincobank, Sheffield, England[1]
Date of death 21 July 1937(1937-07-21) (aged 69)
Place of death Preston, Lancashire, England[1]
Height 5 ft 5 in (1.65 m)
Playing position Right half-back
Youth career
1887–1889 Ecclesfield
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1889–1890 Rotherham Swifts
1890–1898 Sheffield United 192 (8)
1898–1901 Liverpool 59 (0)
1901–1903 Preston North End
National team
1895–1899 England 2 (1)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

Rabbi "Rab" Howell (25 October 1867 – 1937) was a nineteenth-century professional footballer who played for Sheffield United and Liverpool primarily as a defender. Born in Dore moor in Sheffield he was of Romani descent and was the first Romani to play for England, winning two caps.[2]

Club career[edit]

Sheffield United[edit]

Howell was a highly skilled player despite his small size (5 feet 5 inches or 1.65 metres), playing as a nippy half-back or inside right. He began his career with the Sheffield club Ecclesfield and also played for Rotherham Swifts before signing along with two other Swifts players, Arthur Watson and Michael Whitham for newly formed Sheffield United in March 1890.[1] Although he made his debut as a striker Howell was soon moved to defence where he played for the remainder of his career. He won promotion with the Blades to the First Division in 1893, and, in 1897–98, a Championship medal.

"Rab Howell," observed the player's Sheffield United team-mate Ernest Needham,

"a gypsy by birth, perhaps owes some of his inexhaustible vitality to his lucky parentage. Certain it is that no man is more untiring. In his right-hand position this light-weight player (9st.12lbs or 57.3 kg.) always excels. He rejoices at meeting the best of forward wings, and should the outside man indulge in dribbling he sticks to him like a leech. Many duels have I seen between him and Fred (Spiksley of The Wednesday), and generally Howell has come off best. Unfortunately he is a little too fond of keeping the ball too long, and loses many opportunities."[3]

Howell often fell foul of the club hierarchy who imposed strict codes of conduct on their players, and regularly appeared in front of the Football Committee on charges of 'misconduct' although this often resulted in him being offered a pay increase and asked to 'mend his ways'.[1] More serious allegations were to be levelled at him however, as in his final season at the club he was believed to have attempted to throw a game against rivals for the Championship Sunderland, scoring two own goals.[4] No charges were ever brought but Howell only played one more game for United before being quietly sold to Liverpool.[1] He left Bramall Lane having played for 5 years, making over 200 appearances for the club. There is no evidence of match fixing, however. A more likely explanation for his sudden departure is his extra-marital affair: he set up another family in Lancashire after he left for Liverpool. Such a scandal in Victorian times would have been hushed up.

Liverpool and Preston North End[edit]

In April 1898 Howell was transferred to Liverpool for a fee of £200, making his debut for the club in a game against Aston Villa. He played 68 times for Liverpool, scoring no goals. Three years later he moved on to Preston North End, where his career was ended by broken leg in 1903.

International career[edit]

Howell scored once for the national team, on his debut in a 9–0 rout of Ireland in April 1895. His second and last appearance came in a win against Scotland four years later.

International goals[edit]

# Date Venue Opponent Result Competition Scored
1 9 March 1895 County Cricket Club, Derby  Ireland 9–0 Home Championship 1


Sheffield United

Personal life[edit]

It seems likely that Howell was born, and lived as a child, in a Romani encampment in Sheffield. His father's profession is listed on his birth certificate as a "besom-maker." By the time of the 1871 census, however, the family were living in a house in Stocks Hill in Ecclesfield. Some of the misinformation about Rab comes from people believing an interview he gave to a match day programme in 1897 where he says amongst other things, spinning people along, that he lived in a caravan: which he clearly didn't as census returns show.


  1. ^ a b c d e Denis Clarebrough & Andrew Kirkham (2008). Sheffield United Who's Who. Hallamshire Press. pp. 168–169. ISBN 978-1-874718-69-7. 
  2. ^ "Gypsy and traveller footballers". Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  3. ^ Ernest Needham (2003) [1901]. Association Football (reprint). Cleethorpes: Soccer Books. ISBN 1-86223-083-8. 
  4. ^ Sheffield and Rotherham Independent 7 March 1898

External links[edit]