The central pairing was always crucial to both competitive success and fan approval in the literary lineups of the early 19th century. In the famous Persuasion team of 1817, it was the Captain Wentworth – Anne Elliot axis in midfield that sat at the heart of the team.
The two players had already formed a strong partnership in the club’s early years, but manager Russell soon ended the blossoming relationship. She saw insufficient potential in Wentworth, claiming his self-belief alone would not be enough to make it in such an uncertain profession.
Unfortunately, the break up led to a slump in Elliot’s fortunes since neither she nor Russell ever found an adequate replacement for the young Naval officer. Nevertheless, the Baronet’s daughter remained a decent team player for the next few years.
Following his rejection, Wentworth rebuilt his career overseas, captaining both Sporting Asp and Celta Laconia to many notable victories. After outstanding performances in the Anglo-French Challenge Cup, he returned to England to rejoin the team. As tense contract negotiations continued through the last day of the transfer window, Wentworth famously told journalists:
I am half agony, half hope…a word, a look will be enough to decide whether I enter the clubhouse this evening, or never.
He went on to renew the partnership with Elliot, though fans initially expected him to play alongside a younger talent, Louisa Musgrove, on his return. Those hopes were dashed when Musgrove suffered a long-term injury in an away match in Lyme. She was joined in the treatment room by her sister-in-law, Mary Musgrove. The latter’s undisclosed injury was just one of many to strike during a frustrating career that left her bemoaning the lack of respect she received from fellow professionals.
The team benefitted from an excellent defence. Admiral and Lady Croft formed a solid partnership in the centre, with the equally-reliable Charles Musgrove in goal. Wentworth was, inevitably, the lynchpin in midfield, supported on the flanks by Captains Harville and Benwick. Harville, of course, always struggled to win fan approval after his ill-advised comments on the loyalty of women players.
The main weakness in the team was up front. William Elliot and Mrs Clay both had a keen eye for exploiting opportunities, but never quite managed to reach the levels they aspired to.
Sir Walter Elliot took up the main striker role but was a difficult character for Russell to manage. Although his positioning was always excellent, he caused the team problems when refusing to accept a drop in wages during a period of financial turmoil. As such, he was a major factor in the club’s eventual relegation to the Bath League.
Despite its problems, the Persuasion team should certainly be counted one of the top addresses in Regency football. They would surely have won more titles, too, were it not for the presence of the all-conquering Meryton United that adapted fastest to the introduction of the “Netherfield” ball in 1811.