Centre forward John “Bombadier” Hanna was a Sergeant in The Royal Artillery stationed at The Cambridge Barracks, Portsmouth, and was the club captain of The Royal Artillery (Portsmouth) Football Club after its foundation in 1894. Described as “a centre forward with plenty of dash and no lack of judgement”, Hanna led The Royal Artillery to two Army Cup Finals, winning the Cup in 1895, also playing for The Gunners in their Southern League teams.
As an amateur footballer, he represented Hampshire and made his international debut for Ireland when he was one of the four players (Archie Goodall, John Taggart and Tommy Morrison being the others) selected to take the field as Ireland fielded English based players for the first time in a 1-0 win over Wales at Grosvenor Park, Belfast on 4th March 1899. This proved his only cap for Ireland.
On Saturday 25th February 1899, in the 1898-99 FA Amateur Cup quarter-finals, Royal Artillery defeated Harwich & Parkeston 3-1 in Dovercourt, Essex. Harwich & Parkeston jealously protested Royal Artillery’s win and their supposed “amateur” status, accusing them of actually being professional players. A Football Association enquiry later found that the Royal Artillery players went away for a week’s training at The White Lion Hotel in Aldeburgh, Suffolk before the cup tie. The Royal Artillery players, as British army soldiers, had not individually paid for the hotel and training themselves, the Army had, which the FA deemed as “professionalism”. The FA Amateur Cup Committee agreed and Royal Artillery were disqualified from the FA Amateur Cup, and awarded the match victory to Harwich & Parkeston. Royal Artillery appealed the decision at a special FA meeting, but the FA confirmed by a majority that the Royal Artillery disqualification would stand. The law defining amateur and professional players was further amended by the FA. Royal Artillery were publicly seen as either a strong innocent team who were naive victims of unclear rules, or by some, a professional army team who purposely played in a grey area between the definitions of “amateur” and “professional”.
After their expulsion from the FA Amateur Cup for “professionalism”, Royal Artillery were then forced by the FA to field an entire team of amateur reserves for the remainder of the 1898-99 Southern League season, which resulted in Royal Artillery finishing bottom of the table at the end of the season. Royal Artillery then met Cowes F.C. in a relegation test match play-off. Cowes, from Division Two (South West) of the Southern League, defeated Royal Artillery 4-1, which earned Cowes a promotion to the Southern League Division One. Royal Artillery (Portsmouth) F.C. were then relegated after a single season in the Southern League’s top division. Although the 1898-99 season was now over, and their banned players were reinstated for 1899-1900, it was too late for Royal Artillery, and they retired from the League.
A Hanna J. from The Royal Artillery is recorded as playing for Portsmouth in a Southern District Combination match, a 3-1 home defeat to Millwall on 1st November 1899 during Portsmouth’s first competitive season. It appears likely although unconfirmed that this was Bombadier Hanna.