The English First Division came into being in 1888 and within 4 years, a young man named Steve Bloomer signed for Derby County from local league side Tutbury Hawthorn. Whilst he may have been highly thought of in the local area, such was the turnover of young men trying their hand at football; Bloomer could have easily been another statistic of those days of the Football League’s infancy. To say Bloomer had an extraordinary life would be something of an understatement and he would write his name in footballing history.
He made his Derby County debut at the beginning of the 1892-93 season and scored his first goal for County on September 24th in a 3-1 win against West Bromwich Albion. That season saw Bloomer finish with very respectable figures of 11 goals in 28 games and the slightly framed, pale skinned young man quickly established himself as a crowd favourite at the Baseball Ground. Possessing great pace, a thundering shot with either foot and a range of passing rarely seen in a forward, his performances quickly saw him chosen to represent England in 1895.
Scoring 2 goals on his debut for England in a 9-0 romp against Ireland, Bloomer seemed to have the football world at his feet but the first of the tragedies that befell him occurred when his brother, Philip, also briefly a Derby County player died in 1896 of peritonitis. Bloomer continued to build his reputation the following season scoring 35 goals in 36 games which included 5 hat tricks and hit a run of hitting 21 goals in 20 games.
A strange side note to this part of his career is that he actually led Derby County to the British Baseball Championship in 1895, 1897 and the final season of 1898, which is why Derby County’s old ground was known as the Baseball Ground. As the baseball team folded, Bloomer’s football moved in to a different level scoring goals for fun for both club and country. He became the first player to score 5 goals for his country against Wales and then followed it up 5 years later with another 4 goal haul again in a match against Wales, thus also making him the first England player to score two hat tricks.
In his first spell at Derby, Bloomer was the leading goal scorer in the First Division on 5 separate occasions and twice in all European Leagues. He hit 6 goals in one match against Sheffield Wednesday in 1899 and also scored the first goal at West Bromwich Albion’s Hawthorns Ground in 1900. This man set records for fun and couldn’t stop throughout his career and it was interesting to note how his fortune continued to rise as he left Derby County to join Middlesbrough in March 1906 for the princely sum of £750. Shorn of Bloomer’s skills, Derby County were relegated the following season but Bloomer continued to find the back of the net for his new employers.
In his first two full seasons at Boro, he unsurprisingly finished as their leading scorer and played his final match for England in 1907. By 1910, Bloomer was coming up to his 36th birthday, but as Stanley Matthews had returned back to his first love, in 1910, Bloomer returned to a hero’s welcome at Derby County, who were still languishing in the Second Division. Bloomers return almost had an instant impact with another 24 goals but Derby’s promotion charge faltered and they finished 6th.
Bloomer was not being denied the season after and Derby won promotion as Champions in 1911-1912 and he hit another 19 goals for the Rams. Bloomer managed to have another 2 seasons in the First Division, but at 40 years old he finally retired as a player. For most players, that would be the end for their careers in football, but Steve Bloomer’s life then took another amazing turn. In July 1914, he decided to take up the offer to become the manager of the German side Britannia Berlin 92.
3 weeks later, World War I broke out and Bloomer, as a British citizen was interred in a prisoner of war camp in Berlin, Ruhleben. Amazingly, a football season of sorts was organised between the prisoners and Bloomer once again found himself playing regular football, albeit in a prisoner of war league. He also played Cricket in a prison league that was set up to run through the summer months in the camp, and unsurprisingly Bloomer excelled at that game as well.
During his internment, tragedy once again visited Bloomer and he lost two daughters to illness to compound the earlier loss of his brother. Once again, his success was tarred by personal loss. Released in 1918 at the end of the war, Bloomer had a short spell coaching in Holland but by 1922 he had drifted away from football. On the horizon though was one last amazing hurrah.
In 1923, he made a return to management, taking the reins at Spanish side Real Union. Guiding Union to the regional championship, he found his side in the Copa Del Rey. In those days, the cup was used to decide the Spanish Champions and amazingly, Union had got to the semi-final after beating Seville 3-1. Their opponents were the giants of Barcelona and it seemed that their amazing cup run would come to an end. Bloomer had other ideas and Union blew Barcelona away 6-1, an amazing result for a regional team such as Union.
The Copa Del Rey final would surely be one game too many for Bloomers plucky side as who else but Real Madrid were waiting for them, but once again Bloomer’s side turned the form book on its head to snatch the title with a 1-0 win and become Spanish Champions. It was beyond belief for most people but simply another amazing achievement in the life of Steve Bloomer.
Bloomer eventually returned to Derby and passed away in April 1938, aged 64. In January 2009, Derby County erected a bust of him inside Pride Park facing the pitch, placed next to the home dug out. English football’s first superstar will never be forgotten.
- 684 games for Derby County and Middlesbrough, scoring 430 goals
- 28 goals in 23 games for England
- Won the European Golden boot twice & First Division leading scorer in 5 seasons
- Derby’s leading goalscorer in a season an incredible 14 seasons in a row
- 3rd highest goalscorer in First Division/Premiership history with 314 goals.