Jack Reynolds – football’s first English Irishman

Jack Reynolds featured image

Story by Richard Belbin | Photo of Jack Reynolds by Albert Wilkes | Cemetery photo by Nico Hall

Declan Rice made headlines earlier this year when he was picked for the England football team, despite having previously turned out for the Irish squad. Many reported it as being the first time such a thing had happened, but it wasn’t. That honour goes to John ‘Jack’ Reynolds, born in Blackburn, but buried in Burngreave Cemetery.

Jack Reynolds as seen in anAston Villa team photo taken by Albert Wilkes in 1897
Jack Reynolds as seen in anAston Villa team photo taken by Albert Wilkes in 1897

Reynolds was probably born in 1869, although it isn’t entirely clear. His father was in the army and the family were soon transferred to Ballymena in Ireland, where they lived till Jack was 15.

Returning to Blackburn the young player signed for local team Park Road, where he made a significant impression and was signed by Belfast’s Distillery team. Ireland was, at that time, still a united country, under British rule, and Irish teams were regularly invited to play in the FA Cup.

Two years later he made his Irish national team debut, against Wales. While there are no records of how well he played that day, the local paper did report that at a “very successful invitation smoking concert” Reynolds closed the evening with a fine solo rendition of an unnamed song.

He was back in the Irish squad two months later, this time against England – and this time he scored! Unfortunately, it was the only Irish goal in a 9-1 defeat, amidst a game that was almost abandoned because of appalling fog, and where the Irish team could only field ten players.

He made three more appearances for Ireland, but his newfound fame meant he was transferred to West Bromwich Albion, who discovered his Lancashire birth and tried to convince England to claim him. They did so after Reynolds scored the third in a 3-0 win for Albion in the 1892 FA Cup final at Wembley.

Two weeks later he made his debut for England at Ibrox, in Glasgow. In a 4-0 win, Reynolds didn’t score but was praised for his industry and intelligence. Another seven England appearances followed, including goals against Wales and Scotland and three Home Championship titles.

A transfer to Aston Villa had also seen his fame and his earnings grow. The team won three League titles and two FA Cups during his time there.

But there were always problems too, particularly with ‘womanising’ and drink. It was reported that because of his ‘seedy reputation’, team mates refused to play cards with him. He was also hospitalised three times with a ‘sexual disease’, and was known to have fathered at least one illegitimate child.

He was transferred to Celtic and then Southampton, but settled at neither and at the end of the century moved to coach in New Zealand. He was back by 1905 and had brief periods at Cardiff City and Stockport County, but his career never reignited.

Jack Reynolds grave in Burngreave Cemetery
Jack Reynolds lies alongside four others in an unmarked grave in Burngreave Cemetery

And so it was he moved to Sheffield, and took a job as a miner. Little is known of his time here. He lived on Greystock Street for a while, and at various boarding houses. He died on 12th March 1917. Today he is interred in an unmarked grave, number 69, in Section W1. There was never a headstone, and Jack lies alongside four others, with dates going back to 1884.

A contemporary newspaper described Reynolds as:

“A remarkably smart half-back. For his inches a perfect wonder. Knew every trick of the trade, and usually showed up well in big matches. Had a happy knack of scoring at critical moments.”

With his goals in 1890 and 1893 he is the only player to have (deliberately) scored both for and against England.