Patrick Cutrone might be the first Italian player to join Wolves, but his £20m signing has uncovered a link to a giant of his boyhood club AC Milan just 30 minutes from Molineux.
Fifteen miles west of Wolverhampton, in the pretty Shropshire market town of Bridgnorth, Alfred Ormond Edwards is buried. His stone, surrounded by brambles which engulf other graves nearby, is in badly weathered state, the letters only just able to be made out. But if the stone is easily bypassed, its occupant bears the closest scrutiny (thanks to a link shared to us on Twitter by Mary Smith (@smithers40fa).
Alfred was one of AC Milan’s founders and its first chairman. He was born near Knighton in south Shropshire and later lived in Bridgnorth. Alfred was in Milan for 32 years but spent the last 14 years of his life in Bridgnorth, settling there with wife Eliza. He died a millionaire, in today’s money.
Born on October 12, 1850 at Skyborry, near Knighton, on the south Shropshire-Welsh border, Alfred was the seventh child of Charles and Theadosia Edwards (nee Piper). His father was a farmer at Skyborry Farm, Skyborry, a mile outside Knighton.
Alfred was recorded as ‘cousin to the head of the household, Eleanor Bale’. In the 1871 census, his profession was listed as engineer’s apprentice. The connection between the Bale and Edwards families is unclear, but Eleanor had a son, James – born in 1846 in Ashford Carbonell, Shropshire – and he and Alfred became business partners and went to Milan to practice the profession of engineers and commission agents.
They created a partnership on October 23, 1876 with capital of £1,500. The partnership manufactured agricultural machinery and were agents for locomobiles (steam driven engines). Alfred returned to England in 1879 to marry Eliza Fanny Oriel in Hammersmith on August 7. Alfred returned to Milan with his wife and became Vice-Consul in the city on May 15, 1893.
Rioting had hit the streets of Milan in spring 1896 and in his diplomatic role, Alfred was keen that Britons weren’t put off from travelling to the city. So on March 17, 1896, a letter he wrote appeared in the London Standard, headlined ‘THE RIOTS IN MILAN!’ “TO THE EDITOR OF THE STANDARD. SIR, Since the street riots in this city last week, I have received several telegrams and letters from English travellers asking if it is perfectly safe to visit Milan. Would you kindly, through the medium of The Standard, inform those of your readers who may still be uncertain, and wishful to visit this city and vicinity, that the excitement has entirely subsided, and that business, as also the usual entertainments, are proceeding as quietly and orderly as in the past. I am, Sir, your obedient servant, ALFRED O. EDWARDS, Vice Consul. British Vice Consulate, Milan.”
Alfred retired from the post of Vice-Consul on August 11, 1896. But his great legacy was still to come. At this time in Milan, the two most popular sports were horse racing and cricket, but more and more people were turning to football, which had been imported from England.
In December, 1899, in the bar of the Hotel du Nord et des Anglais, 12 enthusiastic sports fans (six English and six Italian) founded the Milan Cricket and Football Club, later to become AC Milan (Associazione Calcio Milan) (Association Football Milan). Although the club itself claims December 16 of that year as its foundation date, historical evidence show the club was actually founded three days earlier.
The founding fathers were Daniele Angeloni, David Allison, Charles Barnett, Giovanni Camperio, Samuel Richard Davies, Antonio Dubina, Alfred, Herbert Kilpin, Edward Nathan Bern, Alberto Pirelli, Pirelli Piero and Guido Valerio. Together they drafted a club proposal; “I, the undersigned member state to set up a sports club which bears the name Milan Cricket and Football Club, which aims to disseminate the widest possible exercise of football and cricket.”
Alfred, a well-known personality of the Milanese high society, was elected president and Kilpin was elected manager of the newly formed club. At the time, Kilpin, from Nottingham, managed the football side of the club and someone called Edward Berra managed the cricket section. Kilpin proposed that the club’s colours should be red and black, with red representing the devil and black for the fear in their opponents. The first time Milan’s name appeared publicly was on Monday, December 18 in an article in the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. The club’s original headquarters were in the Fiaschetteria Toscana in Via Berchet in Milan.
Alfred enrolled the team in the Italian Football Federation the following January. The team played just one game during their first season, against Torino. But under Kilpin’s guidance, the team quickly came to prominence. The first trophy to be won was the Medaglia del Re (King’s Medal) in January 1900, and the team later won three national leagues, in 1901, 1906 and 1907. The triumph of 1901 was particularly relevant because it ended the consecutive series of wins of Genoa, which had been the only team to have won prior to 1901.
In 1908, issues over the signing of foreign players led to a split and the formation of FC Internazionale Milano (Inter Milan). Alfred retired from the post of president soon afterwards, in 1909. Newspaper reports say he returned to England.
The Bale and Edwards company had been dissolved and went into liquidation on October 25, 1902.
Returning to England, Alfred and Eliza settled in Bridgnorth, at Bella Vista, on the banks of the River Severn. After Alfred’s death, the Bridgnorth Journal reported that he had ‘interested himself in the Belgian refugees who were accommodated at Bridgnorth. When the local Tribunal under the Military Forces Acts was enlarged from five to nine members at the Town Council meeting in June, 1916, Mr. Edwards was one of the four members added, and he was most attentive to those duties. He was a particularly active member of the War Savings Committee during aeroplane week. March 4 to 9, 1918, making several calls in the outlying districts’.
While Kilpin died on October 22, 1916 in Milan, aged just 46, Alfred passed away on April 4, 1923 in Bridgnorth after a long illness. He was 72. Probate declared his estate, worth £44,442 17s 3d – around £1m in today’s money – was left to widow Eliza, and nephew Frederick Theodore Edwards, a farmer.
Six months later Bale, Alfred’s former business partner, also died, in Florence, Italy. But nearly a century after his death, the footballing world appears to have a debt to Alfred Ormond Edwards, that has eventually brought the first Italian to play for Wolves.