Cuthbert John Ottaway (19 July 1850 - 2 April 1878), one of the most talented and versatile sportsmen of the 1870s, was the first captain of the England Football team and led his side in the earliest full international football match ever played. Ottaway was also a noted cricketer until his retirement shortly before his early death at the age of only 27.
As a club player, Ottaway took part in three successive FA Cup finals between 1873 and 1875, losing 1-2 with Oxford University against Wanderers in 1873, winning 2-0 with Oxford against Royal Engineers a year later, and then representing Old Etonians against Royal Engineers in 1875. He was noted for his speed and dribbling ability - this at a time when "the dribbling game", in which one man retained control of the ball for as long as possible until tackled, had yet to be superseded by the "combination" (passing) game.
Ottaway played an important part in two of his three finals. In 1874 he captained Oxford and helped to pin the Engineers back in their own half for long periods with extended excursions into opposition territory. He also participated in a three-man dribble that took the ball almost the whole length of the pitch and resulted in the scoring of his team's second and decisive goal. In 1875, Ottaway represented Old Etonians in a match notable chiefly because it was played in a "howling gale". The conditions considerably favoured the Eton team, which had the wind at its backs for all but 10 minutes of the 90, and all 30 minutes of extra time (teams in this period changed ends after every goal). Ottaway himself received a severe hack on his ankle 37 minutes into the final and was forced to leave the field; in his absence, the Old Boys were regarded as fortunate to have held on for a 1-1 draw. Ottaway failed to recover in time for the replay, held only three days later, and Etonians also lost the services of three other players who had prior commitments. Unable to obtain adequate replacements, the Old Boys arrived at the ground an hour late and lost the delayed replay 0-2.
Ottaway did not play in the return fixture, arranged in London for 8 March 1873, but again captained his country in the third England-Scotland international, played once again at Partick on 7 March 1874. On this occasion the result was a 2-1 victory for Scotland.
The reasons for Ottaway's selection as England captain in 1872, while he was still at university, have not survived, though it is known that the captaincy was originally to have been awarded to Charles Alcock, who was then injured. It might, however, be conjectured that Ottaway - then already widely regarded as the finest sportsman to represent Oxford in many years - was chosen more or less by default, the Oxford University team contributing no fewer than three players to the England squad, while eight other clubs supplied only a single player each.
Ottaway appears to have been well-regarded by his team-mates, but there are hints that he practised the snobbery not uncommon among men of his class and time. The Sheffield amateur J.C. Clegg (later Sir Charles Clegg, President of the Football Association), who played alongside him in the first England-Scotland international, remarked in later years that none of the southern amateurs in the side would speak to him.
Though Ottaway represented Gentlemen against Players three times (in 1870, 1872 and 1876) - the highest honour available to a cricketer in the years before the advent of Tests - he is perhaps better known for playing in four Varsity Matches against Cambridge. The most notable of these was the first, in 1870 - a game still remembered as "Cobden's Match". Scoring 69 in Oxford's second innings and taking an exceptional catch one-handed at long on, Ottaway played a full part in helping his team-mates to a position in which, with three wickets remaining, they needed to score four runs from the final four-ball over to win the game. Bets were taken among the spectators at 100-1 on for Oxford to win from this position, but they were thwarted by the Cambridge bowler Frank Cobden, who - having conceded one run from the first ball of the over - took a hat-trick with his last three balls to leave Ottaway's team two runs short of a draw and three short of the total required for victory. "By superior bowling and infinitely superior fielding," commented Geoffrey Bolton's History of the OUCC, "Oxford reached a position where they could not lose; and they lost."