William McCrum

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William McCrum (20 February 1865 – 21 December 1932) was a wealthy Irish linen manufacturer and sportsman, most famous for being the inventor in 1890 of the penalty kick in football.

Life and family[edit]

Born on 20 February 1865 in Ballynahone Beg townland, outside Armagh, William was the son of the linen millionaire Robert Garmany McCrum, who was the builder of the Victorian era model village of Milford and High Sheriff of Armagh, and Anne Eliza Riddall.[1] He studied at The Royal School, Armagh and then Trinity College, Dublin and later worked for the family business including a time as London representative and one of the managing directors of linen manufacturers McCrum, Watson and Merver. William was not a success at running the family business and had to sell the Milford mill in 1931.

When not travelling the world, he spent a large proportion of his life living in Milford where he was a justice of the peace and representative of many sporting clubs and committees including Milford Football Club, Milford and Armagh cricket clubs, and Armagh Rugby Football Club. He played chess for Armagh and participated in individual and team competitions and also submitted games.[2][3]

Milford FC. William McCrum is on the middle row second from the left

He played for many years as goalkeeper for Milford FC including in the first season of the Irish Football League (1890–1891). Milford finished bottom of the league with 0 points from 14 games, having conceded 62 goals and scored only 10.

"Master Willie" as he was known to the villagers also spent his spare time taking part in amateur theatrics in the Milford village hall, called the McCrum Institute. He died after a long illness in December 1932 in an Armagh boarding house. The McCrum family home in Milford, Manor House became a special-care hospital, but is now derelict.[4]

British writer and former literary editor of The Observer Robert McCrum, is his grandson, and wrote about William McCrum:

"Shut out of the family business as a lightweight, eventually deserted by a faithless wife and coldly ignored by his father, Master Willie travelled the world, lived high on the hog and was well-known as a gambler."[5]

Another grandson Mark McCrum, an English journalist and travel writer, made references to William McCrum in his book, The Craic – A Journey through Ireland[6]

The penalty kick[edit]

It was in his role as member of the Irish Football Association that McCrum proposed the idea of the penalty kick to stop the prevalent practice at the time of defenders professionally fouling an attacking player to stop a goal. The idea was submitted to the June 1890 meeting of the International Football Association Board by the Irish FA's general secretary and IFAB representative Jack Reid.[7]

The original proposal read:

If any player shall intentionally trip or hold an opposing player, or deliberately handle the ball within twelve yards from his own goal line, the referee shall, on appeal, award the opposing side a penalty kick, to be taken from any point 12 yards from the goal line, under the following conditions: All players, with the exception of the player taking the penalty kick and the goalkeeper, shall stand behind the ball and at least six yards from it; the ball shall be in play when the kick is taken. A goal may be scored from a penalty kick.[8]

The proposal initially generated much derision and indignation amongst footballers and the press as the 'Irishman's motion' or the 'death penalty' as it was known, conceded that players might deliberately act unsportingly. This went against the Victorian idea of the amateur gentleman sportsman. Public opinion may have changed after an FA Cup quarter final between Stoke City and Notts County on 14 February 1891 where an indirect free kick after a deliberate handball on the goal line did not result in a goal.[8]

The penalty kick rule was approved as number 13 in the Laws of the Game, a year after it was proposed, on 2 June 1891, at the Alexandra Hotel, Bath St., in Glasgow 'after considerable discussion' and with changes affecting where the goalkeeper and other players could legally stand.[9]



  1. ^ "General Registrar's Office". IrishGenealogy.ie. Retrieved 21 December 2016. 
  2. ^ Home of the penaltykick William McCrum profile
  3. ^ The 1893 Ulster Championship – William McCrum v R.T. Roth annotated by William McCrum
  4. ^ Legacies, Heritage at Risk in County Armagh, bbc.co.uk/legacies; accessed 7 May 2014.
  5. ^ "Penalty Shootouts? Blame my grandfather", The Observer, Sunday 4 July 2004
  6. ^ Mark McCrum official website; accessed 7 May 2014.
  7. ^ "HOME OF THE PENALTY KICK"; accessed 7 May 2014.
  8. ^ a b Miller C. (1998). He Always Puts It to the Right – A History of the Penalty Kick. Orion. ISBN 0-7528-2728-6. 
  9. ^ Minutes of the Annual General Meeting of the International Football Association Board Archived 7 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine., 2 June 1891.

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