Manchester United’s (well Newton Heath’s actually) first Irishman? John Peden’s career was long and distinguished on both sides of the Irish Sea…
Name: John Peden
Born: 12 July 1863, Maze, near Lisburn
Died: 15 September 1944, Belfast
Representative Honours: Ireland: 24 Full Caps / 7 Goals (1887-1899), 1 Representative game / 1 Goal (1891); Irish League: 4 Caps / 1 Goal (1893-1899); Co. Antrim FA Representative.
Club Honours: (with Linfield) Irish League Champion 1890/91, 1891/92, 1892/93, 1901/02, Runner-Up 1893/94; Irish Cup Winner 1890/91, 1892/93, 1901/02; Co. Antrim Shield Winner 1889/90 (withheld), Runner-Up 1902/03, 1904/05; City Cup Winner 1900/01; Belfast Charity Cup Winner 1890/91, 1891/92, 1892/93, 1900/01, Runner-Up 1887/88; (with Distillery) Irish League Champion 1895/96, 1898/99; Irish Cup Winner 1895/96; Co. Antrim Shield Winner 1895/96, 1896/97; Belfast Charity Cup Runner-Up 1896/97.
Club Career: Teams........... ----Seasons---- -League- FA Cup
Distillery ..... 1885/86
Linfield........ 1886/87-1893/94 .130/108 (all games)
Newton Heath.... 1893/94 ......... 28/..7 ..3/ 1
Sheffield United 1894/95 .......... 8/..0 ..2/ 0
Distillery...... 1895/96-1898/99 ..87/ 44 (all games)
Linfield ....... 1899/00-1905/06 ..74/ 32 (all games)
John Peden was born at the Maze, Lisburn on 12 July 1863, his father being employed at the nearby Maze Racecourse. John began playing football as a teenager and turned out for a number of junior clubs including Clarence, Prospect, Distillery Seconds and Innisfoil. He played at least once for the Distillery first team during the 1885-86 season, but subsequently became a founder member of Linfield Athletic when this club was formed and took part in their first match against Distillery at the Linfield Mill ground on the 11th September 1886. Surprisingly the junior team won 6-5. John was at outside left that day and scored two of the goals. In that first season Linfield defeated Mercantile Academy 10-2 in the Irish Cup with 4 goals from John.
On the 19th February 1887, John was selected to play for Ireland v Scotland. This was Linfield’s first season and John was the first of many Linfield players to play for Ireland. Thereafter, he was a regular in the national team, mostly featuring in the outside-left position.
Linfield decided to enter the English FA Cup in 1888-89 and after three qualifying rounds, including a 4-0 win over Bolton, succeeded in reaching the first round proper, where they travelled over to achieve a commendable 2-2 draw against Nottingham Forest, John attracting attention by virtue of his tremendous pace and the fact that he scored his side’s two goals. Linfield withdrew just before the replay*, playing Forest in a friendly, which they won 3-1. In all John played an Irish Record of 11 matches in the FA Cup and scored 9 goals. He also appeared for Newton Heath on 3 occasions scoring 1 goal.
John was a strong forceful winger and with 108 goals in 130 appearances for Linfield it was no surprise that English clubs were interested in him. In February 1893 John signed for Newton Heath, but was allowed to complete the season with Linfield. He made his debut for Newton Heath on the 2nd September 1893 and was an immediate “hit” with the supporters. As Newton Heath became Manchester United he was the first Irish signing for Manchester United. He also had the distinction of being the only Irishman to play for the “Heathens” the nickname for Newton Heath.
He made 32 appearances, scoring 8 goals for Newton Heath in 1893/4 season, signing for Sheffield United in July 1894 for whom he played on 9 occasions, before returning home. He was welcomed back to Belfast as a hero and signed for Linfield’s rivals Distillery in July 1895. Investing the money he had earned in England in a confectionary and tobacconists’ shop (‘The Forward’) on Sandy Row, close to the centre of Belfast. It was no surprise that he signed for Distillery and not Linfield, as Distillery offered a substantial wage of £1 a week, said to be the highest in Irish football.
John completed 1895/6 season by scoring 21 goals for Distillery. Emulating his achievements at Linfield where he had managed two seasons with 22 goals and one with 21. He also made three appearances for Ireland. In his first season with Distillery the club won the Irish League title for the first time, plus the Irish Cup and the County Antrim Shield for good measure.
He continued with Distillery for a further three seasons, making regular appearances for the International team. However his goal total for Distillery for those seasons was 20 as he had become more provider than scorer. He also continued to represent both the Irish League and Ireland at international level during this period, one of his many achievements being to score the goal that secured his country their first-ever victory in an away game, in the fixture against Wales in February 1898. He was presented with the match ball and for many years this was displayed in the window of his shop to which was attached a verse: “This is the ball that did the trick and I’m the man who gave it the kick.” Distillery won the title for a second time in 1898-99 but at the end of that season, John was released.
Now 37 years old, he re-joined Linfield and played regularly in various forward positions in 1900/1/2/3 seasons, remaining after this in a coaching capacity. I suppose the coach had some privileges as he picked himself to play inside left against Distillery in the County Antrim Shield Final on the 15th April 1905 which Linfield lost 2-0. The Linfield supporters were somewhat bemused at the appearance of the old man at inside left and rightly so, as John was approaching his 42nd birthday. The papers unkindly said Peden was “resurrected” in place of Roy. This however was not his last appearance for Linfield as he played outside left in the scoreless draw against Distillery in the Charity Cup semi-final on 21/04/1906 at the ripe old age of 42 years, 283 days. Unlike many of the players of that era John remained active and in good health until his death on the 15th September, 1944 at the age of 81.
There is no doubt that John was one of the Soccer Greats of the early days.
Ireland Cap Details:18-02-1887 Scotland A L 1- 4 BC
12-03-1887 Wales... H W 4- 1 BC 1 Goal
03-03-1888 Wales... A L 0-11 BC
07-04-1888 England. H L 1- 5 BC
02-03-1889 England. A L 1- 6 BC
09-03-1889 Scotland A L 0- 7 BC
08-02-1890 Wales... A L 2- 5 BC
29-03-1890 Scotland H L 1- 4 BC 1 Goal
07-02-1891 Wales... H W 7- 2 BC
07-03-1891 England. A L 1- 6 BC
27-02-1892 Wales... A D 1- 1 BC
05-03-1892 England. H L 0- 2 BC
25-02-1893 England. A L 1- 6 BC
25-03-1893 Scotland A L 1- 6 BC
08-04-1893 Wales... H W 4- 3 BC 3 Goals
29-02-1896 Wales... A L 1- 6 BC
07-03-1896 England. H L 0- 2 BC
28-03-1896 Scotland H D 3- 3 BC
06-03-1897 Wales... H W 4- 3 BC 1 Goal
27-03-1897 Scotland A L 1- 5 BC
18-02-1898 Wales... A W 1- 0 BC 1 Goal
05-03-1898 England. H L 2- 3 BC
26-03-1898 Scotland H L 0- 3 BC
04-03-1899 Wales... H W 1- 0 BC
Summary: 24/7. Won 6, Drew 2, Lost 16.
Irish League Representative Match Details:
29-04-1893 Scottish League H W 3-0 1 Goal
07-11-1896 Football League H L 0-2
05-11-1898 Football League H L 1-5
11-02-1899 Scottish League H W 3-1
Summary: 4/1. Won 2, Drew 0, Lost 1.
Other Representative Match Details:
01-09-1888 Co Antrim FA - Canada...... H L 2-6 FR 1 Goal
12-09-1891 Ireland..... - Canada...... H W 5-2 FR 1 Goal
* Just before kick-off for this match the Chairman of Nottingham Forest presented Linfield Officials with an ultimatum - either they immediately withdrew from the F.A. Cup, in writing, or the match would not take place. With the crowd already gathered and faced with the prospect of heavy financial loss, Linfield had no choice but to agree and officials duly signed the prepared letter which the Forest Chairman produced. Unknown to the gathered crowd the match was then played as a friendly. Forest’s reason for this action was that Linfield had illegally played William Johnston of Oldpark an International full back in the 2-2 draw in Nottingham. In fact he was on Linfield’s books and F.A. Cup rules allowed such a substitution to replace a regular player who was injured i.e. Sam Close.
By George Glass, based on an article previously published in Soccer History.