Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Sherlock Holmes creator and Portsmouth goalkeeper

Physician, pioneer of detective fiction with his Sherlock Holmes stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was also a…goalkeeper?

That’s right.

Doyle, who wrote more than 50 Holmesian short stories before his death in 1930, was a proper English sporting man (as his walrus mustache would suggest).

In addition to playing cricket, tennis, bowling, skiing, and golfing, Holmes served as the goalkeeper for the Portsmouth Association Football Club.

Doyle actually penned the first two Sherlock Holmes stories, A Study in Scarlet (1882) and the Sign of Four (1890) while living in Portsmouth and working as a physician. Indeed, he was something of a man about town in Pompy, actually, joining the Literary and Scientific Society and giving public lectures on the likes of Edward Gibbon and Thomas Carlyle.

We don’t have much information about ACD’s performance, unfortunately. We can imagine he was a deliberate positioner and calculator of risk, always striving to take the right angle. However, we do know he put on a kit under the pseudonym AC Smith, which is quite curious.

Portsmouth Association Football Club was formed in 1883 by an area architect named Arthur E. Cogswell and was in existence for 13 years. It’s unclear, too, how many seasons Doyle suited up for the squad.  

Sir Arthur also played 10 first-class cricket matches for the Marylebone Cricket Club and the amateur side the Allahakbarries alongside. In a surreal bit of history, that squad also featured  authors J. M. Barrie (Peter Pan) and A. A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh).

Sketch of Sherlock Holmes (Source/Wikimedia)
Sketch of Sherlock Holmes (Source/Wikimedia)

Interestingly, if you’re wondering who we can thank for the inspiration for the most famous detective of all time, the answer seems to be one of Doyle’s teachers in medical school.

Doyle modelled Holmes on Joseph Bell, a former professor of his.

In 1892, he wrote Bell, Doyle wrote, “It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes … round the centre of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man.”

Deduction, inference, and observation—as well as fabulous leaps of intuition—are the calling cards of the deerstalker-wearing detective.

And later, in his 1924 autobiography, Doyle wrote regarding Bell, “It is no wonder that after the study of such a character I used and amplified his methods when in later life I tried to build up a scientific detective who solved cases on his own merits and not through the folly of the criminal.”

So there you have it: The answer to the inspiration behind Sherlock Holmes and the riddle of who kept the goal for Portsmouth A.F. in the late nineteenth century.