Potted History on the Origins and Development of Association Football in England up to the 1920s

The main feedback which I have received on my Potted History of Association Football in England has indicated that the period up to the end of the first World War is generally of greater interest than what followed. It is for that reason that I have penned this slightly more detailed piece, which concentrates on the period up to the 1920s.

It plays down the previously accepted view that public schools and universities, along with their alumni, were solely responsible for developing the game of association football, summarising the more recent research of historians which has brought to light the parts played by teachers, other members of the middle class, along with a smattering of the working class.

As usual, feedback and questions are welcome. Fill in the form on the Contact Me page and I will get back to you.



As Far as the Middle of the 19th Century

The Beginnings of Ball Games
Street Football
The Late 18th and Early 19th Century
Public Schools
Some Early Clubs

Early Codifying of the Rules

Sheffield FC
Establishment of the RFU and the FA
The Early Years of the Football Association

London and the South East in the 1860s and 1870s

London’s Elite Gentlemen Amateurs in the 1860s and 1870s
Clubs in the South East
Military Sides

Some Factors to be Considered prior to the Growth of Association Football

Muscular Christianity
Settlements and Missions
“Handing the Game Down”
The Challenges

The Appearance of Corinthians and Professional Football – 1880s

Early Styles of Play
Corinthian FC
Beginnings of Professional Football
Regional Leagues

Expansion of the Game in London

Early Development of Football in the East End
Origins of London’s Professional Clubs
London FA and the Early Grassroots Game
London Youths
Schoolboy Football in London
London Elementary School Old Boys

Development of the Game around the Country

Schoolboy Football around the Country
Women’s Football
Early Football in Nottinghamshire
Early Football in the Potteries
Early Football in Birmingham and the West Midlands
Early Football in Sheffield
Early Football in Lancashire
Early Football in Manchester
Early Football in the North East
Early Football in Liverpool

Some Observations on Sources of Teams and Leagues

Church Teams
Works Teams
Old Boys Leagues
Sunday League Football
Unaffiliated Teams

Back to the Elite Amateurs

The Introduction of the FA Amateur Cup
Leagues for the London Elite Amateurs and a National Amateur Side
The Split

Game Established?

Beyond World War I


Odds and Sods

Quintin Hogg, Philanthropist
1863 Laws of Association Football
Summary of Changes to the Laws
Further Miscellany

Bibliography and Further Reading


Version History


A quick note on the terminology that is used in this article. It was to be the 1880s before references to football definitely meant association football. Before the 1860s, football was the type of game where varying mixtures of the hands and the feet could be used. In the 1860s and 1870s, while the specific terms of rugby football and association football had come into existence with the founding of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the Football Association (FA), many games continued to be some hybrid version of the two codes. Therefore, the bottom line is that in this article, football from the 1880s means association football. Before that time, the term means some hybrid unless the terms rugby (or rugby football) and association (or association football) are specifically employed.

The term association football was eventually shortened to soccer (using the Oxford -er suffix) although it was occasionally spelt socker for a short while. Similarly, rugby football became rugger. As an aside, in parts of the North, “togger” was a frequently used abbreviation (certainly when I was a lad), and obviously footie (or is that footy?) and occasionally footer eventually passed into common parlance.

Until recent times, the generally accepted view on the development of association football could be summarised thus:

  • The unruly, chaotic and violent game of mob football was typically contested at Shrovetide between parishes across open country, that is there was no concept of a pitch. It dates back to the 13th century, possibly earlier
  • From the late 18th century and early 19th century, public schools became the primary places where football was played within a defined area, to an agreed set of rules which allowed varying degrees of handling and kicking, but where each school had its own rules
  • In 1848, a standard set of rules was devised at Cambridge University for a predominantly kicking-based variant of football which allowed students who had come from different public schools to play together
  • A mixture of public schools and public-school alumni formed the Football Association (FA) in 1863, producing an initial common set of rules, based on those which had been produced at Cambridge, for a game that was to be known henceforth as association football
  • Association football was primarily the game of the elite gentleman amateur for 20+ years until it was “handed down” to the lower orders.

It has only been over the last 40-50 years that more detailed research by various historians and PhD students has shown that the actual picture was more nuanced. Forms of football, often informal, were also being played by the middle classes, artisans and the working classes, from the 17th century onward.

It is perhaps easier to think of association football in two parts: the necessary ball skills that are required from individual players; and the rules which are essential to allow team games to be contested. The development of general ball skills must go back many centuries, if not millennia. It is only the rules which have been “handed down”, to use that somewhat high-minded phrase. One reason that is often expounded for the popularity of association football is that there are few rules to master. In fact, there were only 13 of them in the original 1863 laws of the game.

The objective of this article is to present the more nuanced picture of the development of association football up as far as the 1920s. Less space is given to the professional game than can be found in A Potted History of Association Football in England.

As Far as the Middle of the 19th Century

This section briefly summarises ball games from prehistory up to the 13th century, before mentioning mob football, an extremely rough game with little or no rules, and then moving on to more structured forms that were to be found in public schools and among the middle classes, along with very informal games in the streets.

The Beginnings of Ball Games

Let us start with a brief summary of our limited knowledge of the period from prehistory up to the playing of mob football in the late Middle Ages.

Ball games go back at least as far as the second millennium BCE. Examples include a hockey-like game in ancient Egypt, the Mesoamerican ball game and a form of hurling in Ireland.

FIFA recognises the Chinese game of Cuju as the first association football-like game where the hands could not be used. It dates back to the third / fourth century BCE, around the beginning of the Han dynasty. Meanwhile, in Europe, the ancient Greeks developed Episkyros, and the Romans subsequently played Harpastum, both of which appear to have been rugby-like games.

Coming forward in time, there are several references to “playing at ball” in England: Historia Brittonum (9th century CE); and William FitzStephens’ portrayal of London in the 12th century. However, there are no descriptions of precisely what “playing at ball” entailed.

It was in the 14th century that the word “football” first appeared in written form. It occurred in an edict issued in 1314 by Nicholas de Farndone, the Lord Mayor of the City of London, banning it on the grounds of maintaining law and order, an indication that it was an extremely rough game.

Mob football, also known variously as folk football, Shrove football or festival football, became the only version of the game that we hear much about, usually through edicts or court proceedings. It was typically played at Shrovetide between neighbouring parishes or villages, potentially involving hundreds of players. The objective varied: from getting the ball to a specified place in the other parish or village; to simply being in possession of the ball at the end of the day. There was no pitch and no rules to speak of. It was a very violent game with the occasional death being reported.

This type of game could also be found outside England, notably: Caid in Ireland, Cnapan in West Wales, La Soule in Northern France and Lelo Burti in Georgia.

Games of mob football in England were still being played in the 19th century, two of the most noteworthy incidents being: at Derby in 1846, when the Riot Act had to be read; and the final game through the streets of Kingston-upon-Thames in 1866. In fact, some games of this type can still be found today, the most celebrated being the annual Royal Shrovetide Football at Ashbourne in Derbyshire.

John Goulstone’s research has uncovered examples of more organised football games on defined pitches with some agreed rules which were also played at Shrovetide. They include:

  • the married gentlemen against the bachelors at Walton near Wetherby, Yorkshire, in 1773 for 20 guineas
  • a game on Bletchley’s village green in 1767, as mentioned by the diarist William Coles
  • and a game between the villagers of Cobham in 1826.

Once again, examples of organised games can be found elsewhere, including: Hurling to Goals in Cornwall, Gaelic Football in Ireland and Calcio Fiorentino in Italy.

Street Football

Samuel Pepys revealed in his 1665 diary that London’s streets were full of footballs, an indication that informal games of football with modest numbers of players were being played at times other than religious festivals such as Shrovetide.

Embed from Getty Images
Football in the Strand 

While there is little further reference to street football, there was obviously sufficient activity to include the following as part of the Highways Act of 1835, which specified a maximum penalty of forty shillings to anyone who “shall play at Football or any other Game on any Part of the said Highways, to the Annoyance of any Passenger or Passengers”.

The Late 18th and Early 19th Century

In general, sport became much more prominent in this period. Cricket, wrestling, boxing and pedestrianism (running and walking) were among the most publicised in the press, possibly because wagers and side-bets on the outcome were popular. One eye-watering example occurred in 1785 when the White Conduit Cricket Club, including at least three members of the aristocracy, played gentlemen from Kent for 1,000 guineas (worth circa. 150,000 guineas in 2018).

Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle (1822-1886) included entries on occasional games of football that were being played, notably in the 1840s and 1850s, with around 65% of them referring to matches in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Scotland. Rules were agreed before the match; it could be the best of 3 goals with a maximum time limit. There was almost always a wager: dinner with wine to be paid for by the losers; or (say) a £5 or £10 wager. Public houses are often mentioned as the hosts for these matches. This is unsurprising, as there was obviously money in it for them with spectators drinking during and after the match, along with any post-match wining and dining. The social classes that were involved in these games varied, but it was most notably the middle classes with a smattering of artisans.

Examples of football games during this period which have been found in the press include:

  • In 1735, 12 men of Norfolk who wish to play 12 men of another county or country
  • In 1793, 6 men of Norton (Derbyshire) played against 6 men of Sheffield
  • In 1841, the Chartist Movement founded the Birmingham Athenic Institute, a society which aimed for physical and intellectual improvement. Football was one of the physical offerings
  • In 1843, the youths of East and West Isley, Berkshire played an 11 a-side game
  • In 1844 on Hampton Court Green a game between 12 men of the F and 12 men of the D troop of the 13th Light Dragoons for a supper
  • In 1849, 10 men of Willington versus 10 men of Eggington in South Derbyshire
  • And in the 1850s, various internal military games, seemingly played to either Rugby or Eton rules, both of which we will come to shortly.

Public Schools

Early references to football being played in public schools date back to the 18th century, principally at Westminster (1710) and Eton (1747 and 1766). At this time, the game was organised by the senior boys, often in the face of opposition from the masters. Formal acceptance began from the 1830s at the time of general reforms in public schools, which had been coming in for criticism for the substandard level of education that they had been providing. Thomas Arnold, the headmaster of Rugby School, is generally seen as the leader in this reform process.

Each school had its own set of football rules, with matches generally being limited to inter-house or games against old boys. A summary of the main public schools follows:

  • Charterhouse played an association-type game from 1821
  • The Eton Field game appeared around the 1820s. It mainly favoured the use of the foot, although it had a rouge (similar to a touchdown)
  • Before 1820 Rugby School had largely played with the feet. However, it was from this period that handling and scrimmaging assumed a far greater role
  • the game at Winchester in 1825 was described as being one long maul, with dribbling not allowed
  • mention of Harrow playing an association-type game was first reported in the press in 1842. Their brand of game became known as Harrow Football or Harrow Association
  • Shrewsbury’s rules varied until the 1840s when it stuck with an association-type game
  • Although football was first mentioned at Westminster in 1710, the main references to an association-type game at the school date from the 1840s
  • Cheltenham College, opened in 1841, adopted Rugby School’s game in 1844
  • And finally, Marlborough was reported as playing a game based on that employed at Rugby School in 1851.

Some Early Clubs

So far, apart from public schools, we have come across teams that had seemingly been assembled for what appear to have been one-off matches. There is much competition to claim to have been the first club, that is a team which was, purportedly, not transient in nature.

The Gymnastic Society of London pursued football and wrestling in the late 18th century. Moving forward, the Great Leicestershire Cricket and Football Club was formed in 1840, being quickly joined by four clubs in Rochdale: the Cronkeysham Champion Society, the Body-guard Club, the Fear-Noughts and the King’s Guards. Meanwhile, Guy’s Hospital lays claim to have been the first club playing a rugby-style game in 1843.

Surrey Football Club was formed in 1849 by William Denison, a cricket journalist. It was a gentlemen’s club with membership being limited to members of Surrey County Cricket Club and several other neighbouring cricket teams. Denison produced his own set of printed rules, albeit they were extremely brief. It was an association-type game with up to 22 players on each side.

Early Codifying of the Rules

From around the middle of the 19th century, there was a concerted push to produce standard rules which would allow players from disparate parts of the country to contest football matches.

The significant sets of codified rules which came through this process were the Sheffield Rules, the FA’s Laws of Association Football and the RFU’s Laws of Rugby Football.

Sheffield FC

In 1857, Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest formed Sheffield Football Club, which claims to be the oldest surviving club in the world that is playing association football. They investigated various sets of rules that had been adopted by others, before eventually coming up with their own in 1858, known as the Sheffield Rules.

Records up as far as 1880 appear to show that while it could be defined as a gentlemen’s club, members being upper or middle class, there were no ex-public schoolboy players. The majority tended to be old boys from Sheffield Collegiate School, a local grammar school. Initial games were intra-club, e.g. Married vs Singles.

Establishment of the RFU and the FA

London Illustrated News 1871

Let us deal first with rugby. In 1845, Rugby School wrote down the rules of its game, which majored on scrimmaging (later called scrummaging) and handling, with some kicking. They were reviewed in 1848 and periodically revised thereafter.

In the 1860s, Blackheath and Dublin University both produced their own rules. Despite these various sets of rules, there was much disagreement between clubs during this decade as to precisely how the game of rugby should be played.

This led to a meeting in Pall Mall in January, 1871 which was attended by twenty-one clubs who favoured a rugby-style game, resulting in the formation of the Rugby Football Union (RFU). An initial set of rules was agreed shortly afterwards, based on those that were used at Rugby School, although the more violent elements such as hacking (kicking an opponent below the knee) and tripping were excluded.

Meanwhile, there had been a desire among students at Cambridge University who had come from different public schools to continue to play a game that favoured kicking. The Cambridge Rules of 1848 were designed to meet that objective. Once again, there were revisions, notably in 1856 and 1863.

In reality, kicking-style games were being played to a variety of rules. As well as the Cambridge Rules, they might be played according to the Sheffield Rules, or those of the Eton Field Game or Harrow Football, or even more likely, some hybrid version which was agreed for a single match.

A meeting was held at the Freemasons’ Tavern in London in October, 1863 to form the Football Association (FA) and to agree a common set of rules for a kicking game. It was attended by eleven London football clubs and school representatives. A series of six meetings were actually required to thrash out the laws of association football. Eventually, there were thirteen laws, largely based on the latest version of the Cambridge Rules. Hacking was not allowed, which led to the immediate withdrawal of Blackheath.

The Early Years of the Football Association

Initially, the FA did nothing to popularise association football, or to attract clubs to its organisation. This is perhaps not surprising, as it seemed to be a game invented by a small elite solely for their own benefit. At one point, it is said that there were as little as three clubs who were playing according to the FA’s laws of the game. Indeed, there was a strong possibility in 1867 that the FA would go out of existence, and it was arguably only the encouragement of Sheffield FC that prevented it.

Sheffield had attended various FA meetings and had become a member, despite continuing to play to its own rules. They did play the FA several times, the first occasion being in London in 1866 when the FA’s rules were used. The game was partly memorable for the fact that the Londoners were extremely amused at the sight of Sheffield players butting the ball, that is heading it. Heading was not actually forbidden by the FA’s rules, and it gradually became part of the game. Sheffield formed its own district association in 1867, becoming affiliated to the FA in 1871. Gradual changes to the FA’s original laws were in part influenced by Sheffield’s rules, and by 1877 Sheffield was relatively happy enough with the changes to adopt the FA’s laws.

When the 1870s were reached, the FA finally began to attempt to attract clubs to the association game. One idea was to set up a challenge cup competition which would be open to all affiliated clubs. It was first held in 1872, although only 15 clubs took part in that first season. A second initiative was to arrange international matches, the first being against Scotland in 1870. Slightly bizarrely, the FA picked the Scottish side for the first couple of games, selecting players who were based in London.  The first officially recognised international between the two countries actually took place in 1872. Finally, the concept of having affiliated county and district FAs was expanded, with each organisation having its own local cup competition. However, it was to be the 1880s and 1890s before this scheme really took off.

London and the South East in the 1860s and 1870s

Football that was being played in the South East received the most publicity in these decades, principally on account of the number of elite gentlemen amateurs who lived in and around the capital.

London’s Elite Gentlemen Amateurs

Forest FC (1859), which was started by a couple of Old Harrovians, limited its membership to former Oxbridge students and ex-public schoolboys. It played initially in Snaresbrook until it decided that the cost of the ground was too expensive, and it then operated without a ground, changing its name to Wanderers. The club, which went on to win the FA Cup five times in the first seven years of that competition, can arguably can be seen as representing the high point of public school influence in football. Barnes (1862), Civil Service (1862), Richmond (1861), Crystal Palace (1861), Blackheath (1858), Crusaders (1863), Upton Park (1866), No Names (1863), Gitanos (1863) and Old Carthusians (1876) were among other elite sides in the capital at this time.

None were formal clubs in the accepted sense of the word, merely groups of young men who, paying a subscription, got together for a game which was played on an open space such as Clapham Common. Players often turned out for several teams, if they did not mind paying multiple subscriptions.

For a decade and more, these gentlemen amateurs were not tied exclusively to the FA’s rules, they could, and did indeed, switch or adapt rules, depending on the circumstances. For example, Clapham Rovers, formed in 1869, was a hybrid club initially, playing a mixture of rugby and association football. As it grew in size, it was able to field multiple sides, some playing association football and some rugby.

Gentlemen amateur clubs of this period could be described as amateurish: players turning up late or not at all; and games starting late and being curtailed by park-keepers as it got dark.

Marginally-less elite clubs gradually began to appear around the capital, including Clapton Pilgrims, Ramblers, Mars, Leyton and Trojans in the east; Prairie Rangers, Olympic and Minerva in the west; and Brondesbury, Finchley, Kildare and Cricklewood in the north of London.

Clubs in the South East

Clubs such as Hitchin (1865), Hertfordshire Rangers (1865) and West Kent (1867) were based on the same principles as London’s gentlemen amateurs, albeit they were not quite as elite. However, they generally had a better infrastructure, with a base aimed at attracting local support and local players.

Town clubs began to appear, including: Ipswich Association (1878) which eventually became Ipswich Town, Windsor Home Park (1870), Marlow (1870) and Maidenhead (1870). While these clubs may have been run by members of the middle class, the social class of the players varied, with some emanating from the working class. Indeed, there were a small number of working-class teams: Cray Wanderers (1860) where local men (St. Mary Cray) played labourers working on the construction of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway; and Marlow Victoria (1873).

Military Sides

The Royal Engineers, based in Chatham and regarded as an elite amateur side, played their first recorded game of football in 1842. They tended to have a high turnover of players, as many men frequently went abroad to serve. However, they still managed to win the FA Cup in 1875 and reached the final on three other occasions in the 1870s.

The Army was generally a source of football clubs, notably from the Volunteer Movement: local units which were set up from 1859 when there were fears of a possible French military threat. Teams included: 21st Essex Rifle Volunteers and 1st Surrey Rifles.

Some Factors to be Considered prior to the Growth of Association Football

There are three concepts, which came into existence in the 19th century, that affected the development of association football in varying degrees. They were Amateurism, Muscular Christianity and International Settlement, the last two being partly responsible for introducing the association game to others.

Teachers came to play a very important role in the development of association football. In addition, there were various challenges that controlled the speed at which the game could be taken up by the lower middle and working classes.


Wagers on sporting contests where some professional players were used had been the norm in the 18th century, notably in cricket, pedestrianism and boxing. However, the reform of public schools in the early 19th century saw the beginnings of the amateur ethos in schools and universities. The word “amateur” has French and Italian origins, meaning lover of. Games were to be played purely for the love of it, and “fair play” was expected from participants who should not get over-excited in victory or downhearted in defeat.

In addition, these amateurs tended to frown on training and even on watching games (when you should be playing them). Interestingly, gentlemen amateurs considered the reimbursement of their expenses for first-class (of course) travel to be perfectly legitimate, but broken-time payments in lieu of lost wages for individuals of the lower classes to be highly illegal.

Muscular Christianity

Muscular Christianity began to appear around the middle of the 19th century in public schools and universities.

Muscular Christianity is a philosophical movement that originated in England in the mid-19th century, characterized by a belief in patriotic duty, discipline, self-sacrifice, masculinity, and the moral and physical beauty of athleticism.

Quote from Wikipedia

Perhaps, the quote might be abbreviated in this context to “a healthy mind in a healthy body”? Muscular Christianity could certainly be used as one possible means of attracting individuals to the Anglican faith.

Settlements and Missions

University settlements and public-school missions were established from around the 1880s, notably in London’s East End. In essence, the broad aim of the settlement movement was to get the rich and poor to live closer together. Various Oxford colleges joined the movement, while the charitable activities of public schools, termed missions, were aimed at providing clubs where, as we shall see, boys could enjoy sports and games in a safe environment.


Teachers were to play an important part in the development of association football. This is just by way of an introduction.

Three teacher training colleges are of note: St. Mark’s in Chelsea (formed in 1838); St. John’s in Battersea (1839); and St. Peter’s in Saltley, Birmingham (1852). Students at these establishments were playing football by the late 1860s, and Battersea had certainly adopted the association game by the mid-1870s.

While they might play, teachers became more notable for developing football in schools, as well as fulfilling important administrative roles in both the schoolboy and adult games. Colm Kerrigan, along with James Mangan and Colm Hickey, have all researched and written comprehensively about their role.

“Handing the Game Down”

Much literature on the history of association football, particularly older writing, indicates that the game was invented by the upper classes for themselves, and they eventually handed it down to the lower classes.

What precisely is association football? I would venture to say that the game is 70-80% about basic ball skills and 20-30% about the application of a set of rules within which those skills can be exhibited. Individuals of all classes will already have acquired varying degrees of ball skills, whether playing at school, university or in the street.

So, what was being “handed down” to the lower classes was simply the rules of the game, and there were not many of them. There were in fact only 13 laws in the initial 1863 laws of association football. It is often claimed that the game became so popular, principally because there were so few of them and they were relatively straightforward to pick up.

These rules were passed on by university settlements, public school missions, curates who espoused the concepts of Muscular Christianity, teachers, benefactors and others.

The Challenges

The Industrial Revolution and the subsequent success of the Victorian economy helped to provide the foundation for an ever-expanding range of sports and leisure activities in England. The rules of many pastimes and games, some of which had previously been played with a variety of unofficial rules for several centuries, were officially codified from the middle years of the 19th century. This was generally followed by the formation of local clubs and societies towards the end of the 19th century. Apart from rugby and association football, examples include boxing, tennis, hockey, golf and horticultural societies.

In the 1880s, association football began its gradual move from a sport that had been played by a privileged few into a mass participation game which came to attract large crowds. However, certain prerequisites needed to be in place to facilitate this transformation.

Time. A working man needed a block of time free to play or attend matches. The Saturday half-holiday started to appear when the Factory Act of 1850 dictated that work would cease at 2pm on that day, and by the 1870s the majority of unionised trades had a similar arrangement. However, dock work was one area that did not immediately benefit from this change. It took the Shaw Inquiry into dock labour in 1920 to produce a 44-hour working week with any work on a Saturday afternoon subsequently being treated as overtime. Meanwhile, workers in the retail trade only got a weekly half-day off through the Shops Act of 1911, typically known as “early closing day”, it was usually either on Wednesday or Thursday.

Cost. It was all very well having time off, but a worker needed money to make use of this new leisure time. The late 19th century began to see some real increases in wages, particularly in the 1890s. Of course, gentlemen amateurs had sufficient funds to allow them to be members of multiple clubs, if they should so wish. Lord Kinnaird, the eventual president of the FA, played for Wanderers, Civil Service, Crusaders Old Etonians, Flying Dutchmen and West Kent, while Charles Alcock, the eventual secretary of the FA, played for Forest (subsequently Wanderers), Upton Park, Harrow Pilgrims, Gitanos, Crystal Palace and Avengers.

Transport. Horse-drawn omnibuses and trams became crucial means of local transport in major towns and cities: omnibuses appeared from 1830; horse-drawn trams from 1860-1870; with electric trams emerging around the turn of the 20th century.

In addition, the advent of the steam locomotive in the early 19th century, and the development of train networks around the middle of the century, were key elements in improving transport, particularly for longer journeys. The provision of local train services could be useful for football players and supporters. For example, a number of association football and rugby teams in the capital played at grounds which were close to the North London Line which ran from Richmond (to the west of London), through the north western suburbs and on to North Woolwich.

Of course, this begs the question as to whether an ordinary working man could afford to travel to sports events by any of these means in the 19th century. Games between teams of working men were often so local that players quite possibly walked to the match venue.

Availability of pitches. The privatisation of common land through Land Enclosure acts in the 18th and 19th centuries reduced places where sport could be played in rural areas, while space was generally at a premium in urban areas at that time.

In the London area, a significant amount of common land was fortunately converted into parkland. Clapham Common, which as the name implies was once common land for the parishes of Battersea and Clapham, was converted into parkland in 1878. Wanderers and other London football sides played there at various times. Meanwhile, the rugby clubs of Harlequins, Wasps and Rosslyn Park began their existences around Hampstead Heath.

Public parks and playing areas gradually appeared across the capital in the second half of the 19th century, places such as: Victoria Park, West Ham Park, Hackney Marshes and Wanstead Flats to the east; Wordwood Scrubs and Kensal Green to the west; along with Battersea Park to the south.

Away from London, there was almost no space available within the original borders of England’s towns and cities, which were generally quite small places in the early 19th century. However, as adjacent land was gradually absorbed, typically at least 2 miles out from the centre, so public parks and other green spaces were created from the 1860s and 1870s, either by councils or by public benefactors, including:

  • Sheffield – Hyde Park and Norfolk Park (land owned by the Duke of Norfolk)
  • Birmingham – Aston Hall (bought by the council in 1864) and the Calthorpe estates in Edgbaston
  • Liverpool – parks built by the council from the 1870s onward. Stanley Park was renowned for hosting early matches in the 1870s and 1880s
  • Blackburn – surrounding farmland was typically rented for playing matches.

The creation of the London Playing Fields Association (1891), Birmingham Playgrounds Open Spaces and Playing Fields Association (1906) plus Manchester and Salford Playing Fields Society (1907) all helped to gradually alleviate the problem of pitch availability. For example, by 1914 Manchester had 200 pitches and Salford 60, while Liverpool had 154 in 1921. However, pitch quality did not always match pitch quantity.

The Appearance of Corinthians and Professional Football

The 1880s witnessed the first clashes between the proponents of the amateur and professional games, the former typically championed in and around London, while the latter tended to grow in the North and the Midlands.

Early Styles of Play

Relative styles of play were to play a part in the early stages of this clash.

In London and the Home Counties, association football was a very physical game with the emphasis on dribbling, and the role of the team was mainly to back up the dribbler and retrieve the ball when he lost possession. The 1-1-8 formation, as it is sometimes known, was a very naïve style of play.

Naturally skilful Scottish players adopted more of a passing game, called combination football by journalists of the period. Their formation is sometimes described as 2-2-6. Unsurprisingly to our eyes, the Scots trounced the English on three occasions between 1878 and 1882.  This superiority attracted northern clubs who signed up the best players on professional terms, and who were generally influenced by their style of play.

The Pyramid formation (2-3-5) appeared around 1880, reputedly first used by Wrexham FC, and it remained the standard system across the world until the 1930s.

Corinthian FC

Corinthian FC, the ultimate club for gentlemen amateurs, was founded in 1882 by N.L. (Pa) Jackson, the Assistant Secretary of the FA at the time. His main objective was to produce a team that could match the Scots. It deliberately did not play at the weekends so that gentlemen players could turn out for their primary clubs on Saturdays. It was initially suggested that it should be called the Wednesday Club, but Corinthian was eventually chosen, a name that had been initially used by the Royal Corinthian Yachting Club which had been founded in 1872 to promote amateur yachting.

Corinthian FC quickly became the epitome of the amateur ethos, and the phrase “Corinthian Spirit” soon came into common usage. It had no ground, shunned all competitions and played only friendly matches until late on in its existence. It is claimed that in one game when the referee failed to appear, one of its players both played in and refereed the match, even awarding a free kick against himself. Along with other gentlemen amateur teams of the period, they disdained penalty kicks when they were introduced in 1891 – a gentleman would never deliberately foul an opponent! If a penalty was awarded against them, the goalkeeper would leave the goal unguarded while the opposition took the kick, and if they were awarded a penalty, they would deliberately miss it.

It was a sort of amateur all-stars team, slightly similar in concept to the Barbarians side in Rugby Union, although it obviously played a lot more games than the Baa-Baas. It played and beat many professional sides in its heyday, including an 11-3 trouncing of Manchester United in 1904, the Mancunian side’s biggest ever defeat. Corinthian FC included many international players. Indeed, for two games against Wales in the mid-1890s the entire England side was composed of Corinthians. C.B. Fry, the celebrated sporting polymath, made 74 appearances for the club between 1891 and 1903.

The club went on many overseas tours in the early part of the 20th century. It is claimed that Real Madrid were inspired to adopt Corinthian’s strip, while Sport Club Corinthians Paulista, one of the most successful Brazilian club sides, and Zejtun Corinthians in Malta both adopted its name.

The Beginnings of Professional Football

Peter Andrews and James J. Lang, both Scots playing for Heeley, a club in the suburbs of Sheffield, were possibly the first professional football players in 1876. It was rumoured that professionalism had become fairly widespread in the north by the early 1880s, often by importing players from Scotland.

By 1884, county and district FAs in places such as Birmingham, Sheffield, Notts and Walsall were loudly expressing their opposition to this use of professional players. In that same year, after a drawn FA Cup tie, Upton Park FC complained that Preston North End had fielded professional players. Preston readily confessed, saying that many northern clubs paid players. They were summarily dismissed from the competition. Northern clubs, who were indeed using professional players, notably Scottish footballers, subsequently threatened to resign from the FA and form a British Football Association where professionalism would be allowed.

To avoid a schism, the FA decided in 1885 to allow professionals, although it imposed a number of conditions: a player must have resided within 6 miles of the ground for 2 years; he was only permitted to play for one club in a season; an amateur was only allowed legitimate travel expenses otherwise he would be regarded as a professional; and finally, professionals and ex-professionals were not allowed to sit on FA committees.

It was quickly recognised by professional football clubs that they needed to generate sufficient income to meet their outgoings. William McGregor, a Birmingham draper and Aston Villa committee member, called a meeting in March 1888 to discuss the formation of a league with the intention of guaranteeing games between well-matched teams which would draw large crowds. The proposal was agreed at a second meeting in Manchester one month later, and so the English Football League was formed.

The twelve founder members were: Aston Villa, Preston North End, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, West Bromwich Albion, Accrington Stanley, Everton, Burnley, Derby County, Notts County and Stoke. The first games were played on September 8th, 1888, and Preston North End were the winners of the league in that first season, being unbeaten in their 22 games. They also won the FA Cup in the same season, earning themselves the title of “the Invincibles”, a term which has been employed ever since to describe a team which manages to do the league and cup double.

Aston Villa subsequently dominated the league during the 1890s, winning it five times and the FA Cup twice, including the league and cup double in the 1896/97 season, while Sunderland became another very successful side, winning the league title on five occasions before World War I.

It should not be assumed that clubs were necessarily 100% professional. They might also employ part-time professionals, and indeed amateurs were also to be found playing for them, especially in the period before World War I.

Regional Leagues

The concept of league football was immediately found to be attractive, and other professional or part-time professional leagues were quickly founded in areas away from London.

The Football Alliance, the Northern League and the Midland League all started in the following year, the 1889/90 season. The Football Alliance initially consisted of twelve professional clubs, covering the same area as the Football League, viz. the North West and the West Midlands, and it was therefore in competition with it. It was only in existence for three seasons, eventually merging with the Football League in 1892 when its teams formed the latter’s Second Division. The Northern League covered Northumberland, Durham, North Yorkshire and Cumberland. It contained a mixture of both amateur and professional sides until 1906 when it became totally amateur. The Western League was founded in 1892.

In London, Woolwich Arsenal, nowadays simply Arsenal, became a professional club in 1891, and it was behind a move to create a southern professional league. This attempt failed due to opposition from the conservative London FA, and so Arsenal applied to the Football League, becoming the first southern side to join it in 1893. A second attempt to create a league, this time by Millwall Athletic, now Millwall, was successful, and the Southern League was formed in 1894 with two divisions.

Some Southern League sides attracted large crowds. Indeed, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea had larger crowds than many Football League clubs. Southern League sides also had some success in the FA Cup, Tottenham Hotspur winning the trophy in 1901, while Southampton reached the final in both 1900 and 1902. Teams gradually began to join the Football League: Chelsea (1905), Fulham (1907), Tottenham Hotspur (1908) and West Ham United (1919). Finally, all teams in the first division of the Southern League moved en masse into the new Football League Third Division in 1920.

Expansion of the Game in London

We will start this section with an example of how association football initially expanded in the capital, focusing on West Ham and the surrounding area, following it with a brief list of the origins of today’s professional clubs in the capital.

The game grew quickly and organically from the 1880s, in part driven by the establishment of the London FA, and due in no small measure to the encouragement of the young by teachers and those who were responsible for setting up and running clubs for youths.

Early Development of Football in The East End

Early elite gentlemen amateur clubs in London had no connections with the areas where they played. The early development of football in West Ham and surrounding districts is described here to provide one example of how the game ultimately began to spread to other classes.

The elite Upton Park FC was founded in 1866 and eventually disbanded in 1887. CW Alcock (the future secretary of the FA) and NL Jackson (the future founder of Corinthian FC) both turned out for the club on a number of occasions. The majority of its players were ex-public schoolboys, with just a few coming from Brentwood and Felsted, both local grammar schools which date back to the 16th century.

Teams which mainly consisted of local players appeared in the 1870s and 1880s, including Barking, Dreadnought and Romford. Dreadnought’s players were mainly clerks with a minority of tradesmen and unskilled workers. From the late 1880s, teachers began to foster local talent, leading to the West Ham Schools FA being formed within 5 years of Upton Park’s demise.

Finally, West Ham United was formed in 1895, being known initially as Thames Ironworks, a works team from the last surviving shipbuilder on the Thames.

Origins of London’s Professional Clubs

A brief mention of the origins of some of the capital’s current professional clubs:

  • Fulham (1879) – Fulham St Andrew’s Church Sunday School 
  • Tottenham Hotspur (1882) – boys team formed from the Hotspur cricket club
  • Millwall (1885) – workers of J.T. Morton’s canning and preserve factory
  • Arsenal (1886) – munitions workers in Woolwich
  • QPR (1886) – Christchurch Rangers (1882) merged with St. Jude’s Institute (1884)
  • Brentford (1889) – started by the local rowing club
  • West Ham (1895) – Thames Ironside, works team from the last shipbuilders on the Thames
  • Chelsea (1905) – formed in the Rising Sun pub opposite Stamford Bridge
  • Crystal Palace (1905) – not related to the gentlemen’s amateur side that had been formed in 1861, but which seemed to disappear from historical records around 1875.

London FA and the Early Grassroots Game

Formed in 1882, the London FA exemplified the elite gentlemen amateur’s approach to the game. It established the London Senior Cup in the same year, following it with the Junior Cup in 1886. It is estimated that there were 800 clubs in the capital around the time that the London FA was established, growing to 2,000 twenty years later, although up to 800 of them were not affiliated to the FA.

Firstly, let us mention two ultimately successful amateur clubs which could not be described as fitting the gentlemen amateur mould. Dulwich Hamlet FC was formed in 1893, initially for old boys of Dulwich Hamlet school which had been opened in 1884. However, in its third season, membership was generally opened to local players, not just old boys of the school. The club won the London Junior Cup in 1900, joined the Isthmian League in 1907, and reached the semi-final of FA Amateur Cup in 1908/9.

In 1888, several members of the Stock Exchange were responsible for setting up a refuge for working boys in Blackfriars. A football team was formed which was given the name of Wingfield House when the home moved to Stockwell in 1894. Its early successes included: winning the Surrey Junior Cup (1899/1900) and the Southern Suburban League Premier Division in 1903/4. It amalgamated with Honor Oak FC and changed its name to Nunhead at the start of 1904/5 season, and joined the Isthmian League in 1908.

The conservative London FA frowned on the idea of leagues. Adherence to this relatively extreme form of amateurism in the region was not limited to football. The cricket authorities in the South East managed to keep leagues out of the region until the 1960s. Whatever its views, the London FA had to put up with leagues when they began to appear in the 1890s, as they were not actually against its rules. The Woolwich League was reputedly the first in 1891, quickly followed by the North-West London League, West London League, Southern Suburban League, Finsbury Park League and West Ham Alliance, among others.

The London League was founded in 1896, and it soon had three divisions. It was open in the sense that it catered for both amateurs and professionals. Most senior London clubs had their reserve sides in this league, Tottenham Hotspur Reserves winning the first division title in 1898/99.

Town clubs across the area included Kingston & Surbiton FC and Ware FC. The Kingston club was founded in 1885. A variety of name changes and league memberships followed up to 1919 when Kingstonian became its name and the Athenian League its home, although nowadays it plays in the Isthmian League. Meanwhile, Ware FC in Hertfordshire was formed in 1892, possibly being an amalgamation of Ware Grammar School and Ware Engineers. It was instrumental in setting up the East Herts League, before embarking on a slow and steady rise which ultimately led to the Isthmian League in the mid-1970s.

London Youths

We have briefly mentioned university settlements and public-school missions.  Toynbee Hall was founded in 1884 by Samuel and Henrietta Barnett in Spitalfields. It was the first university-affiliated institution of the ultimately worldwide settlement movement, whose aim was to get rich and poor to live closer together by providing a place where future leaders could reside and witness poverty at first hand. Clement Attlee and William Beveridge were notable examples of individuals who could be found at Toynbee Hall. Under its auspices, a number of clubs were established which provided the opportunity to play football, including Whittington (Whitechapel) and Sydney (Stepney).  In addition, Frederick Charles Mills, an early disciple of the Barnetts, set up the Broad Street club. And at the same time, the Oxford House Settlement (Keble College) was established in Bethnal Green. Its clubs included Oxford House (men’s club), Webb Institute (boys club) and Repton (best known for boxing). Finally, the Mansfield House settlement had a men’s club plus a youth section in Fairbairn House.

With respect to public-school missions, Radley College set up at St. Peter’s Wapping in the 1870s where the League of Hope and Church Lad’s Brigade football teams could be found. Other missions with football teams from the 1880s included: Harrow in Notting Dale, Felsted School in Canning Town, Charterhouse in Southwark and Eton in Hackney Wick.

Schoolboy Football in London

There is an early reference to a London schoolboy match which was played in 1877 in Battersea Park, a game which had been arranged by Major Stokoe and JW Melton.

W.J. Wilson (from Gibson and Pickard – Association Football and the Men Who Made It)

WJ Wilson, on becoming headmaster at Oldridge Road School in Balham in 1882, arranged various extra-curricular sporting activities, including football. He was subsequently responsible for founding the South London Schools FA in 1885, the first SFA in the country, initially with 10 affiliated schools.

Schoolboy football was also being played in Poplar and Tower Hamlets, the latter forming its own SFA in 1888, and it soon played against the South London SFA. Other districts followed, and the London SFA was eventually formed in 1892 with Wilson’s involvement. A London inter-district competition was first held in the 1893/94 season for the Corinthian Shield, so called because the trophy was donated by Corinthian FC.

It should be noted that: there was no official support from School Boards for SFAs in these early years; and 104 teachers sat as representatives of the various SFAs on the London SFA between the 1907/8 and 1914/15 seasons, many of them having been students at St. Mark’s Teacher Training College, Chelsea.

London Elementary School Old Boys

Old Boys teams from elementary schools began to appear in the 1890s. Walthamstow Avenue was originally formed as Pretoria Avenue OB, eventually taking on the name of the district and insisting that players must be residents. It became a very successful club in the 1950s, winning the FA Amateur Cup and the Isthmian League. Another success story was the Old Central School in Wimbledon (1889) which subsequently became Wimbledon FC.

Old Londonians in the Southern Suburban League contained players who had attended a variety of South London schools. WJ Wilson was once again involved, being the club’s representative on the London FA committee in 1896/97. Other teams which comprised players from multiple schools included: West London Old Boys founded in 1905; Clapton Warwick (Hackney); and Poplar Corinthians.

Development of the Game Around the Country

Let us start with schoolboy football and the initial, ultimately unsuccessful, attempts at establishing the women’s game, before summarising the early development of the game in selected parts of the country.

Sheffield and the Midlands were areas where football first appeared in the 1860s. It is interesting to note that Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle, those subsequent hotbeds of association football, were relatively slower than other parts of the country to discover the game, rugby being more popular in both Manchester and Liverpool until the 1880s.

Schoolboy Football Around the Country

The earliest references to schoolboy football predate those in London. They include: St. Peter’s in Stoke in the 1860s; St. Luke’s, Wolverhampton, in the mid-1870s; and St. John’s, Blackburn, in the early 1880s; while there were 16 schools in Birmingham that were playing in the 1880/81 season after local donations had been raised to provide the necessary financial support.

After the first SFAs (School Football Associations) had appeared in London, district SFAs were set up in various other parts of the country, including: Sheffield (1889), Manchester (1890), Liverpool (1891), Nottingham (1891), Sunderland (1893) and Newcastle (1894), growing to a total of more than 100 by 1907.  

One of the first inter-district games involving a team from outside the capital took place in 1890 when South London SFA played Sheffield SFA.

The English SFA was eventually established in 1904 with 21 founder-member SFAs, including 6 from Lancashire, while the first English Schools Shield final was held in the 1904/05 season when London defeated Sheffield.

Finally, international football arrived at schoolboy level in 1907 when England played Wales.

Women’s Football

There is some fragmentary evidence that women may possibly have been playing football in Scotland back in the 17th century, while a local minister at Inveresk in Lothian in the 18th century talked about the local fisherwomen playing various sports such as golf, as well as football, at Shrovetide. And coming forward to 1881, there are negative press reports on a series of Ladies International Matches (Scotland vs England), although it is thought that all the players involved may well have been living in Glasgow.

The British Ladies Football Club was formed in 1895 by Lady Florence Dixie, the youngest daughter of the Marquis of Queensbury, and Nettie Honeyball (this is possibly an alias – it may have been a lady named Mary Hutson). Lady Florence, who acted as the club’s patron, was an advocate of women’s rights, as seemingly was Nettie (whoever she was).

A North versus South game was held at Crouch End in London, which the North won 7-1. Other games were subsequently played in Reading, Bristol, Brighton and Bury, along with several in and around the Newcastle area. The general response of the crowds and the press was a mixture of sarcasm and hostility. By September 1896, the club had run out of money, and it was dissolved in the following year.

It was to be the First World War which would provide a more sustained opportunity for women to play, as there was no men’s game to speak of. Munitions factories, which employed women, were places where teams could be found, including Dick, Kerr’s (Preston) and Vickers-Maxim (Barrow) in the North West. There were also some non-munitions teams in the area: Whitehaven Ladies, predominantly teachers, plus further teams in Lancaster and St. Helens. In the North East, there were sufficient teams to organise a “munitionettes” cup competition in 1917/18, Blyth Spartan Ladies being the winners.

Dick, Kerr’s became the most celebrated side, its success being partly due to: the company’s assistance / tolerance; the use of its ground by Preston North End; and the fact that the ladies played in aid of wartime charities which helped to deflect any criticism. They played 30 matches in 1920, including a game against St. Helens at Goodison Park in front of a crowd of 53,000.

Teams in other parts of the country included: Ley Ladies (Nottingham), Hey’s Brewery (Bradford), and at least five Lyons Corner House cafes in London.

All this activity led to the founding of the English Ladies Football Association (ELFA) in 1921, but the FA’s opposition to the idea of women playing the game now hardened: contending that there were medical grounds which precluded women from playing football; and banning affiliated clubs from hosting their matches. Dick, Kerr’s company eventually disassociated itself from the team in 1926. Although the women’s game struggled on, with a small number of clubs subsequently appearing, albeit temporarily, it was to be the late 1960s before the women’s game really got going again.

Early Football in Nottinghamshire

Notts County was formed in 1862, with Notts Forest following shortly afterwards in 1865. County was definitely a gentlemen-only club in its early days, while Forest was a slightly less elite club where a range of sports could be found, including shinty, bandy and baseball.

By the mid-1880s, they had both embraced professionalism with County becoming a founder member of the Football League in 1888. Forest joined the Football Alliance in 1889, and subsequently moved to the Second Division of the Football League when it was formed in 1892.

The Nottinghamshire FA was established in 1882, with the first local league, the Notts. League, being founded in 1889. Clubs included Notts Amateurs, which was a cricket side, works teams such as Notts. Jardines, town teams like Mansfield Town, and a number with church links, e.g. Beeston St. Johns.

The Notts. Junior League followed in 1894, eventually becoming known as the Notts. Alliance. It was more strictly amateur than the Notts. League where forms of professionalism could be found. Boots Athletic was among the early members of the Alliance. There were at least seven other local leagues in the county by the early 20th century.

Early Football in the Potteries

Two different dates, 1863 and 1868, are quoted for the founding of Stoke Ramblers. In the 1863 version, it was established by four Old Carthusians who were working at North Staffs Railway, while in the 1868 variant there were just two of them. Ramblers was dropped from the name in the 1870s.

Thomas Slaney, who had attended St. Peter’s Teacher Training College in Birmingham, joined the club in 1872, becoming the captain and subsequently the club secretary who was heavily involved in the establishment of the Staffordshire FA in 1877. Stoke turned professional in 1885, becoming a founder member of the Football League in 1888.

Various new clubs appeared across the region around the middle of the 1870s. They may be related to a specific town or area:  such as Talke Rangers, Hanley Rangers and Boothen Star; they may be works teams such as Tunstall Royal Albion and Minton’s Star; and, of course there were teams from educational or religious institutions, including Goldenhill Church, Burslem St. Pauls and Cobridge Collegiate.

Early Football in Birmingham and the West Midlands

Four notable clubs appeared in the early 1870s. Calthorpe FC was a relatively short-lived side, which appeared in 1873, quickly acquiring the reputation as being the most gentlemanly club in the area. Frederick Hackwood, once a student at St. Peter’s Teacher Training College at Saltley in Birmingham and subsequently a historian, justice of the peace and town councillor, was instrumental in setting up Wednesbury FC in 1873, becoming its secretary, as well as a player alongside other teachers and individuals from various professional and manufacturing occupations. It was followed by Aston Villa, formed by four members of the Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel cricket team in 1874, and then by Small Heath (subsequently Birmingham City) in 1875 which was founded by the Holy Church cricket team in Bordesley Green. It was in that same year that the Birmingham County FA was formed with the notable involvement of Calthorpe.

In Wolverhampton, Stafford Road FC, a works team of the Great Western Railway, was founded in 1876, becoming the dominant local side initially. It was followed a year later by Blakenhall St. Luke’s. Another local side, Blakenhall Wanderers, merged with St. Luke’s to form Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1879, another founder-member of the Football League in the 1888/89 season.

Nearby West Bromwich Albion, yet another founder-member of the Football League, started life as West Bromwich Strollers in 1878, a works team from Salter’s Spring Works, changing its name in 1880.

Research has revealed that, of the 218 football teams that were mentioned in the local Birmingham press between 1876 and 1884, 20 were works teams. They included Salters FC (the works team of Salter’s Springs Company) and Mitchell St. Georges FC (workers from the Mitchell Breweries in Smethwick). The Birmingham and District Works Amateur Football Association (BDWAFA) was set up in 1905.

Early Football in Sheffield

We have already mentioned the founding of Sheffield FC in 1857. It was soon followed by Hallam FC, and games between the two sides became an annual fixture which survives to this day. By 1867, there were at least 12 largely middle-class clubs, and in the following year (1868) the Sheffield FA was founded and the Youdon Cup was first contested. It was also around this time that Sheffield FC decided, probably as the game was spreading to the lower classes, that it would no longer play against local sides, with the exception of Hallam.

By 1875, it is claimed that there were over 3,000 registered players in local clubs that were reported to have been drawn from all sections of society. Once again, there were clubs with diverse origins: Cemetery Road Baptists (church / chapel); Eccleshall College (education); 19th Regiment (volunteer movement); and Mappin & Webb (cutlery and metal industry). Of particular note, there were a number of clubs of humble street origins, including: Talbot Street, Brunswick Street and Howard Street.

In 1878, Sheffield New Association was founded. There are claims that the Sheffield FA had been unable to cope with the increase in the number of clubs who were applying to become affiliated, and so it refused to accept many of them. Sheffield New Association catered for these predominantly humble clubs.  The situation was eventually resolved in 1886 when the two bodies merged to form the Sheffield and Hallamshire District FA.

We have not so far mentioned the city’s two professional clubs, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United. Wednesday was a cricket club that had been formed in 1820, creating a football team in 1867. It was to be twenty years later when the football club, by now separated from the cricket side, turned professional. They were founder-members of the Football Alliance in 1889, joining the Football League in 1892. Sheffield United FC was founded in 1889, once again by members of its cricket club which dated back to 1854. It embraced professionalism from the start, spending a couple of seasons in the Midland Counties and Northern Leagues before being admitted to the Football League in 1892.

Early Football in Lancashire

Outside of major towns and cities, it was obviously virtually impossible, to raise a team consisting solely of gentlemen amateurs. Darwen (1870) and Turton (1872) are both examples of clubs that were started by a small number of ex-public schoolboys, but they were supplemented by teachers, artisans and working-class men.

Christ Church Schools (1874), who changed its name to Bolton Wanderers in 1877, was started by scholars and teachers. Its subscription was 1d per week, and they played in a public park. Meanwhile, there were at least four clubs in Blackburn in 1876 which emanated from church or chapel.

At the county level, the Lancashire FA was founded in 1878. Leagues began to spring up from 1889 with the semi-professional Lancashire League, followed in 1891/2 by the Lancashire Combination, also semi-professional. At the grassroots level, the Lancashire Amateur League was formed in 1899, followed by the Lancashire and Cheshire Amateur League in 1909. By 1910, the Lancashire FA claimed to have 32 affiliated leagues.

Early Football in Manchester

In Manchester, the tendency had been to favour rugby initially. There were at least 15 clubs playing that game by the late 1870s, Manchester RFC being the most prominent. Probably formed in 1857, it played mainly to the rules of Rugby School, although there is evidence of games against Sheffield which were played according to Harrow Rules.

However, by the late 1860s, there were some association clubs in the area, including: Sale and Bowden, Manchester Association and Manchester Wanderers.

The Manchester FA was formed in 1884, its administrative area overlapping with the FAs of Lancashire, Cheshire and Liverpool, while the Manchester League for local amateur sides was founded in 1893.

Manchester’s two famous professional clubs both started life under different names. The Carriage and Wagon Department of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway depot at Newton Heath, to give it its full title, was Manchester United’s original name in 1878. As Newton Heath, it played in the Football Alliance and then the Football League. It was in 1902 that the name was changed to Manchester United. Meanwhile, Manchester City was formed as St. Mark’s (West Gorton) in 1880, and renamed as Ardwick in 1887. It also played in the Football Alliance before joining the Football League in 1892. The name of Manchester City was adopted in 1894.

Early Football in the North East

Exclusively middle-class clubs included Middlesbrough Association (1875), Tyne Association (1876) and Newcastle Rangers (1878), Tyne Association being the most elite with a number of ex-public schoolboys. Clubs that were based on teachers included Middlesbrough Pupil Teachers FC (1877) and Sunderland and District Teachers’ Association FC (1880), the latter eventually becoming Sunderland FC who joined the Football League in the 1890/91 season.

Newcastle East End (1881) and Newcastle West End (1882) were both formed from local cricket clubs, merging to found Newcastle United in 1892, who joined the Second Division of the Football League in the 1893/94 season.

The Northern Echo claimed that by 1886 all social classes were involved in the association game; Elswick Leather Works (1879) may possibly have been the first artisan club in the area. By the 1889/90 season there were 193 clubs in Middlesbrough, including 53 works teams, 46 church, 20 schools and 12 pubs.

The mining fields in the North East saw the founding of a significant number of football clubs. Ashington (1883) started out as an independent club, but eventually formed a relationship with local colliery owners when it got into financial difficulties. Shankhouse Black Watch (1884) was another independent club that struggled, but they did not seek help, and were eventually expelled from the Northern Alliance Competition in 1906.

Bishop Auckland eventually became the most successful amateur club in England. The Church Institute, a theological college which was centred on the Bishop of Durham’s residence in the town, set up a team in 1882. Its students hailed mainly from Oxbridge. A dispute within the club resulted in Auckland Town being set up in 1886, whose name was subsequently changed to Bishop Auckland in 1893. Players were eventually a mixture of town and gown (to use the historic university term). Crook Town (1889) was ultimately another very successful amateur side, definitely a middle-class club.

Early Football in Liverpool

The available evidence seems to indicate that early forms of football were not played in Liverpool. For example, there is no record of mob football being played there. The student sons of the elite brought cricket to the town in the early 1800s and rugby from 1857. It was rugby that became popular with the lower middle class, and there were 18 clubs by 1879/80, although Liverpool RFC, the elite club which had been founded in 1857, would not deign to play against any of the other local sides.

A number of curates from Cambridge who espoused Muscular Christianity were instrumental in introducing the association game, notably Alfred Keely who formed Bootle St. John’s, a gentlemen’s team, in 1879. He was joined by Robert Lythgoe, an official of the Shropshire Union Railway and Canal Company, who was living in Liverpool and had previously been a player with Ruabon Druids near Wrexham. He was a dynamic official who ultimately became the main driving force behind the club. He is better known for being heavily involved in the creation of the Liverpool and District FA in 1882, becoming its secretary for over 30 years, as well as being a senior official on the Lancashire FA committee and a referee of some distinction.

Keely left the district in 1882, at which point the majority of Bootle’s gentlemen players moved to Liverpool Ramblers which was formed in that year, and still exists today.

Other teams which were formed at the same time by these curates from Cambridge included St. Mary’s Kirkdale and Everton United Church. Meanwhile, Everton FC, who had started life as St. Domingo’s, quickly became an ambitious club when it began playing matches against sides from across Lancashire from 1882, ultimately becoming a founder-member of the Football League in 1888. When the club’s committee rebelled in 1892 against John Houlding, the chairman, it moved to Goodison Park on the other side of Stanley Park, leaving Houlding at Anfield where he promptly formed Liverpool FC, hiring an entire team of Scottish players initially.

The association game gradually became more popular than rugby by the mid-1880s. However, it was, like rugby, mostly a game for the middle classes. A modest survey from this period indicates that less than 30% of players were members of the working class.

The Liverpool Junior Cup was set up in 1886 for ambitious working-class teams, joining the Senior Cup which had been instituted in 1882. In addition, a Minor Medals competition was started, which was intended for under 19s.

Amateur grassroot leagues gradually appeared. The Liverpool and District Alliance (c. 1890) principally consisted of church and works teams, while the Liverpool and District Combination, set up around the same time, was slightly more elite. However, the formation of the I Zingari League in 1895 was a notable step up in class. It included old boys teams from local grammar schools, such as Old Xaverians, along with university and volunteer brigade teams. By 1901, it is claimed that there were 18 local leagues with 339 teams across Merseyside.

Some Observations on Sources of Teams and Leagues


Cricket was the main influence behind the formation of early football clubs, particularly outside London. In essence, players were often looking for something to do during the winter months. They may simply form a side under the auspices of the cricket club, such as Sheffield Wednesday and Preston North End. Alternatively, those who were interested may persuade others who attended the same church to found a club, which would subsequently be known as a church team. Aston Villa is one such example.

Church Teams

We have already seen that various professional clubs started life as church teams, including Bolton Wanderers (Christ Church), Everton (St. Domingo’s), Aston Villa (Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel) and Southampton (St. Mary’s Church).

Churches continued to be the source for the founding of many clubs right through to the end of the 1920s.  They may have had the influence and / or the funds to help set up such teams. According to one survey in 1914, 75 out of 134 sides in Bolton were church-based teams. Richard Holt’s study of clubs in the Birmingham area between 1876 and 1884 found that 84 out of 218 clubs were connected with “organised religion”. And in 1888, the Sunday School team of Rotherham Parish Church had 31 fixtures, 26 of them against sides whose names indicate that they were connected to churches or chapels. Lastly, in keeping with the religious sectarianism that was to be found in that city, Catholics had their own league in Liverpool from the early years of the 20th century, viz. the Liverpool CYMS (Catholic Young Men’s Society) league.

Works Teams

The relationships between employers and works teams have varied from paternalistic to arms-length.  Here are some examples of companies that have been exceedingly generous. Boots Athletic FC was formed in 1895, and from 1902 the company was providing the Lady Bay sports ground which was famed for its excellent playing surface, helped by the fact that it employed the same groundsman who looked after the Trent Bridge cricket ground. Bourneville FC dates from 1897, and Cadbury ultimately provided 19 pitches, 16 cricket squares, 41 tennis courts, 4 bowling greens and 2 croquet lawns. Huntley and Palmer’s (Reading) provided a cricket pitch in 1860, adding facilities for football and other sports from 1898. Finally, Birmingham Tramways played on pitches that were provided by the Corporation from 1910.

The London and North Western Railway (LNWR) was the main employer in Crewe. In 1911, Crewe and District FA had 39 affiliated teams, of which 27 were based on departments / employees from various parts of the company.

In Northumberland and Durham, a typical coal pit in the 1920s might employ two to three thousand people, enough to support more than one team. Sometimes the club might be associated solely with the colliery, and sometimes with the town.

Finally, a number of midweek leagues appeared in the 1920s and 1930s to cater for players who had to work on Saturdays, several going under the name of local Business Houses leagues.

Old Boys Leagues

The London Old Boys League was founded in 1908, starting with 20 clubs which included Old Haberdashers, Alleyn Old Boys and Hampton Grammar School Old Boys.  It was followed by the Secondary Schools Old Boys league in 1919, which catered for clubs in north and north west London.

Areas that did not (or could not) support an Old Boys league resulted in teams joining other leagues. For example, there were 35 Old Boys teams from the Greater Manchester area who were members of the Lancashire and Cheshire Amateur League.

In Liverpool, a hybrid system developed. The 1st XI and 2nd XI teams might be members of the higher standard I Zingari and I Zingari Combination leagues, while the 3rd XI downwards (some clubs might have supported as many as 6 or 7 sides) became members of the Liverpool Old Boys League which was founded in 1923.

Sunday League Football

As mentioned earlier, dock workers were unable to play football on a Saturday in the early days of the grassroots game, having to work on that afternoon until 1920 when an Inquiry into the Wages and Conditions of Employment of Dock Labour was chaired by Lord Shaw of Dunfermline. It advocated a minimum wage of 16s per week, and a 44-hour working week with Saturday afternoon and Sunday to be paid at double time (minimum).

It was almost certainly this situation which had influenced the formation of the South West Ham Sunday League back in 1901. However, the powers that be disapproved of playing on the Sabbath and the Essex FA banned it in 1908. The FA followed suit in 1910, banning any player found to have played on a Sunday. As a very broad generalisation, Protestant countries forbade the playing of games on the Sabbath, whereas Catholic countries allowed them (so long as you had been to Mass of course).

Despite the disapproval, an article in the Kentish Independent from March 1909 mentions the existence of various other Sunday leagues in the London area around this time, including the Edmonton and District Sunday League (although the official founding date of this league is now given as 1925), Stratford and District Sunday League, Hackney and District Sunday League, Music Halls League and Jewish F.A. There was talk at that time of various leagues getting together to form a Sunday Football Association. However, it was to be 1932 before a National Sunday Football Association was founded. At that time there were 13 leagues in the Greater London area, including the recently formed East London Sunday League (1930).

Tooting & Mitcham Utd were expelled from the FA Amateur Cup in 1925 for fielding players who were playing on Sundays, and Sutton United suffered a similar fate in 1929.  Anybody who played on Saturdays had to play under an assumed name on Sunday – there were a lot of John Smiths around! As an aside, referees probably had a harder time than the players in trying to hide their identities. Another occasional problem for Sunday football was that some games were prone to be disrupted by the Lord’s Day Observance Society.

There was a rapid growth in Sunday League football after World War II. New leagues included the Hackney & Leyton Sunday League (1947), Manchester Amateur Sunday League (1947), Liverpool & District Sunday League (1951) and the Norwich & District Sunday League (1958).

The National Sunday Football Association eventually claimed to represent 73 leagues, over 2,500 clubs and 500,000 players. The FA, possibly fearful of the rival organisation, was forced to accept the inevitable, and it finally recognised Sunday League Football in 1960.

Unaffiliated Teams

One wonders, well at least I do, just how many unaffiliated teams there have been. Unsurprisingly, they were not of interest to the press, and so there is virtually no information on the subject. We are probably talking about teams that were mostly very short-lived.

Preston in his thesis relates the story told by a Liverpudlian of teams that used to gather in Aigburgh on Sundays from around the turn of the 20th century to play. I come from that city, and I remember briefly playing for two unaffiliated teams in the 1960s: one was a side assembled from my class at school; the other was a street team – I did not live there, but I met them playing in Sefton Park and was asked to turn out for them.

Back to the Elite Amateurs

Let us go back and pick up the story of the elite amateurs from the 1890s through to World War I.

The Introduction of the FA Amateur Cup

Professional clubs had been dominating the FA Cup since 1883, and so in 1892 Sheffield FC suggested the introduction of a national competition which would be solely for amateurs. The FA initially rejected the idea but promptly changed its mind one year later. The FA Amateur Cup was first won by Old Carthusians (the former pupils of Charterhouse School) in the 1893/94 season. The competition existed until amateurs were abolished in 1974, dominated principally by teams from London, the Home Counties and the North East.

Leagues for the London Elite Amateurs and a National Amateur Side

The gentleman amateur in the capital had mainly limited himself to playing friendlies, scorning the idea of competitions, possibly with the exception of the FA Cup and the FA Amateur Cup. However, the lure of league football eventually proved too strong for some of them to resist, and the Isthmian League was founded in 1905. It was strongly dedicated to amateurism, and the champions did not even receive a trophy or medals. Many future winners of the FA Amateur Cup were to come from this league. Other amateur leagues soon followed:  the Spartan League in 1907 and the Athenian League in 1912.

Around this period, the England Amateur National Team was formed in 1906, playing its first international match against France on November 1st of that year. The vast majority of players who represented England over the years came from London, the Home Counties and the North East.

The Split

In 1906, the FA made a decision that all clubs, amateur and professional, must be affiliated to the county or district FAs. Middlesex FA and Surrey FA, where the amateur ethos still dominated, objected to this ruling, seeing it as the thin end of the wedge. Talks with the FA failed and the two associations formed the breakaway Amateur Football Association (AFA) in 1907.

The FA took the line that games with non-affiliated clubs were forbidden, and that players from non-affiliated clubs were not eligible to represent the country. In addition, the AFA was not recognised by the Scottish, Welsh or Irish FAs, factors which obviously affected the fixture lists of AFA-affiliated clubs.

The split lasted from 1907 to 1914 when a reconciliation was achieved. As part of the deal, the AFA, now called the Amateur Football Alliance, continued to exist but only as a body affiliated to the FA, and it was limited in its ability to recruit new members.

Game Established?

Beyond World War I

It is arguably reasonable to say that association football had by now become established, adopting a form and a scope that we might recognise today (well, oldies like me anyway).

The professional Football League embarked on a significant period of expansion immediately after World War I. Its two divisions were each increased to 22 clubs in 1919, followed by the creation of the Third Division South in 1920 and the Third Division North in the following year.

The elite gentlemen amateurs were decidedly on the wane, personified by the fact that Corinthian FC was losing its status as a leading side, and its gradual decline led to the club merging with Casuals FC in 1939 to form Corinthian Casuals FC. Apart from the damage that had been suffered during the pre-war split, public schools and grammar schools were unhappy that football had carried on to the end of of the 1914/15 season, whereas other sports had stopped as soon as war had been declared in July 1914. This led to a number of these education establishments moving from football to rugby when sporting activities resumed after the end of the conflict.

The pragmatic amateur (the term used by Terry Morris) replaced the gentleman amateur, particularly in and around the London area. Young players were recruited from local schools; grounds were developed that had an air of permanency; committees of members were established who were willing to devote time and energy to running the club; connections were established with the local community; and there were signs of succession from one generation of supporters to the next.

In London and the Home Counties, there was a mixture of regeneration within existing amateur clubs and the appearance of new ones. Dulwich Hamlet FC was a prime example of the former. It had an outstanding club official in Lorraine Wilson who founded the club in the 1890s. He had acted as the treasurer ever since, and had done much to keep the club afloat during World War I. Clapton FC in Forest Gate East London was another example. Meanwhile, new clubs arose from junior leagues, especially in West and North London, principally on the back of new industrial development in these areas. Examples include Wealdstone FC (Harrow), Finchley FC and Hayes FC.

Finally, and briefly, on the tactical front, the 2-3-5 (or Pyramid) formation which had been introduced in the 1880s was superseded by the WM formation in 1925. It was followed from the 1930s onward by sundry formations that were introduced in various parts of the footballing world, although British teams largely buried their heads in the sand and stuck with WM until the dawn of the 1960s. See brief summaries on subsequent tactical formations here.


Although mob football was, unsurprisingly, the most newsworthy, the origins of association football and rugby football probably hail from informal games that were played in schools, streets and open spaces according to local, very local, rules that allowed various forms of handling and kicking.

The 18th and early 19th centuries witnessed organised matches which were played to rules, that might only be agreed just before the start of play. Games which were played in public schools have received most attention, until recent research by sport historians and Ph.D. students has demonstrated that many other matches were played between teams of mostly middle-class men and some artisans, usually for a wager.

The growth of the economy in the 19th century, coupled with improvements in transport, led to the requirement for the implementation of common rules so that individuals from all parts of the country could compete against each other across a range of sports. Universities, public schools and alumni were usually the primary drivers behind the codification of rules. The Cambridge Rules formed the basis for the FA’s initial laws of association football in 1863, while the rules of Rugby School provided the basis for the laws of the handling game, as well as giving this sport its name, in 1871.

Neither code was an instant success, and many clubs continued as they had done before, often agreeing the rules for a match just before the game. They might agree to use an existing set of rules (Rugby, FA, Eton Field, Harrow Rules) or to adopt some hybrid. It was into the 1880s before association football became fully established, arguably helped by the formation of many county and district FAs in that decade.

The period from the 1880s up to the1920s witnessed the growth and primary development of association football. For 20+ years, the gentlemen amateur had arguably regarded the game as his own. However, the introduction of superior players from the middle and lower classes, many from Scotland and the North, brought professionalism, and the FA, full of gentlemen, struggled, ultimately unsuccessfully, to contain its growth. The other main strand during this period was the remarkable growth of the grassroots game at adult, youth and schoolboy level, along with the first halting attempts at establishing the women’s game.

The gradual replacement of the gentleman amateur by the pragmatic amateur which started in the 1920s brought a structure to the game of association football that would remain largely static for the next 50+ years.

Odds and Sods

Quintin Hogg, Philanthropist

Quintin Hogg (1845-1903), a keen sportsman, was educated at Eton. He subsequently played association football for Wanderers and Old Etonians, as well as representing Scotland in some of the unofficial matches against England in 1870 and 1871.

A religious man and ultimately a successful tea and sugar merchant, he became very interested in education reform, setting up a ragged school in York Place, off the Strand, in 1864. In the days before the later 19th century education acts, ragged schools were charitable institutions that were dedicated to the provision of free education for destitute children.

As the boys grew older, Hogg wanted to continue to help them, and so his focus turned to young men when he set up the Youth’s Christian Institute in 1873, which became the Young Men’s Christian Institute in 1878. Several changes of building, due to increasing demand, eventually led in 1882 to his purchase of the Royal Polytechnic Building in Regent Street. By 1891, it had become known as the Regent Street Polytechnic, which is nowadays part of the University of Westminster.

Wanting to provide opportunities for sport and religion, as well as education, he founded the Hanover United football team in 1875, so called because the school building was in Hanover Street at the time. Initially, the club played in Primrose Hill before Hogg provided a permanent ground at the Limes in Barnes. In 1883, he hired 27 acres in Merton Hall, Wimbledon, to provide spaces for Polytechnic teams to play football, cricket and athletics. After his untimely death in 1903, a public appeal was launched to purchase 40 acres in Chiswick. Known as the Quintin Hogg Memorial Sports Ground, it was opened in 1906 and still exists today.

1863 Laws of Association Football

  1. The maximum length of the ground shall be 200 yards, the maximum breadth shall be 100 yards, the length and breadth shall be marked off with flags; and the goals shall be defined by two upright posts, 8 yards apart, without any tape or bar across them.
  2. The winner of the toss shall have the choice of goals. The game shall be commenced by a place kick from the centre of the ground by the side losing the toss, the other side shall not approach within 10 yards of the ball until it is kicked off.
  3. After a goal is won the losing side shall kick off and goals shall be changed.
  4. A goal shall be won when the ball passes between the goal posts or over the space between the goal posts (at whatever height), not being thrown, knocked on, or carried.
  5. When the ball is in touch the first player who touches it shall throw it from the point on the boundary line where it left the ground, in a direction at right angles with the boundary line and it shall not be in play until it has touched the ground.
  6. When a player has kicked the ball any one of the same side who is nearer to the opponent’s goal line is out of play and may not touch the ball himself nor in any way whatever prevent any other player from doing so until the ball has been played; but no player is out of play when the ball is kicked from behind the goal line.
  7. In case the ball goes behind the goal line, if a player on the side to whom the goal belongs first touches the ball, one of his side shall be entitled to a free kick from the goal line at the point opposite the place where the ball shall be touched. If a player of the opposite side first touches the ball, one of his side shall be entitled to a free kick (but at the goal only) from a point 15 yards from the goal line opposite the place where the ball is touched. The opposing side shall stand behind their goal line until he has had his kick.
  8. If a player makes a fair catch he shall be entitled to a free kick, provided he claims it by making a mark with his heel at once; ad in order to take such kick he may go as far back as he pleases, and no player on the opposite side shall advance beyond his mark until he has kicked.
  9. No player shall run with the ball.
  10. Neither tripping nor hacking shall be allowed and no player shall use his hands to hold or push his adversary.
  11. A player shall not throw the ball or pass it to another with his hands.
  12. No player shall take the ball from the ground with his hands while it is in play under any pretext whatever while it is in play.
  13. No player shall wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta percha on the soles or heels of his boots.

Summary of Changes to the Laws

See Laws of the Game (Association Football) in Wikipedia for comprehensive information on changes to the laws.

  • 1865 – the introduction of tape between the goalposts to indicate a height limit, at eight feet. Beforehand, goals had no height limit.
  • 1866 – Forward passes were made legal, provided there were 3 defenders between the receiver and the goal. Previously, all attacking players in front of the ball were ‘offside’.
  • 1866 – Catching the ball was no longer allowed. Beforehand, players could earn a free kick by catching a ball before it bounced. This ban opened the way for the concept known as heading.
  • 1867 – A goal kick was now given when the ball crossed the goal line. Previously, whichever side grabbed the ball first after it had passed the goal line would get a free kick.
  • 1870 – All handling of the ball was forbidden.
  • 1871 – the position of goalkeeper was officially recognized. He was allowed to handle the ball anywhere on the pitch.
  • 1872 – The corner kick was introduced.
  • 1874 – Umpires were introduced, one appointed by each side, who settled disputes. Beforehand, all issues were settled by the team captains.
  • 1874 – Teams were to change ends at half-time, instead of after each goal.
  • 1875 – a goal may have a crossbar or a tape.
  • 1877 – The duration of the game was fixed at 90 minutes.
  • 1882 – Throw-ins with one hand were no longer allowed.
  • 1887 – Goalkeepers were now restricted to handling the ball in their own half.
  • 1891 – The Penalty was introduced.
  • 1897 – The laws specify the number of players on each team (11) and the duration of each match (90 minutes). The half-way line was introduced and the maximum length of the pitch was reduced from 200 yards to 130 yards.
  • 1902 – The goal area and penalty area assumed their modern dimensions, and the penalty spot was introduced.
  • 1903 – A goal may be scored directly from a free kick awarded for handball or foul play.
  • 1907 – Players cannot be offside when in their own half.
  • 1912 – The goalkeeper was limited to handling the ball in the penalty area, as opposed to anywhere in his own half
  • 1924 – A goal could be scored from a corner kick. Poor wording of the law was exploited by Everton’s Sam Chedgzoy who dribbled the ball straight from the corner flag into the goal, infuriating Spurs supporters and amusing everybody else. The law was quickly changed to state that the player taking the corner could not touch the ball twice in succession
  • 1925 – The offside law was changed, reducing the number of players between the front attacker and the goal line from three players to two.

Further Miscellany

A number of items in my Potted History of Association Football in England may be of interest.

Early Balls
Goal nets
Pitch markings
Matchday programmes, fanzines et al
Small sided football

Bibliography & Further Reading

The following references are shown in alphabetic order of the author’s name. Terry Morris’s Vain Games of No Value is the most comprehensive work although he references the others, plus many other sources.

Curry, G., Dunning, E., Association Football: A Study in Figurational Sociology, Routledge, 2015

Dawes, A., The Origins and Development of Association Football in Nottinghamshire c.1860-1915, Thesis, 2017

Goulstone, J., Football’s Secret History, 3-2 Books, 2001

Harvey, A., Football: The First Hundred Years: The Untold Story, Routledge, 2012

James, G., Cooke, M., Myths, truths and pioneers: the early development of association football in the Potteries, Thesis, 2017

Kerrigan, C., Teachers and Football: Schoolboy Association Football in England, 1885-1915, RoutledgeFalmer, 2005

Mangan, J.A., Hickey, C., Soccer’s Missing Men: Schoolteachers and the Spread of Association Football, Routledge, 2009

Mason, T., Association Football and English Society, 1863-1915, The Harvester Press, 1980

Morris, T., Vain Games of No Value: A Social History of Association Football in Britain during its Long First Century, AuthorHouse, 2016

Preston T., The Origins and Development of Association Football in the Liverpool District, c. 1879 until c.1915, Thesis, 2007

Taylor, M., The Association Game: A History of British Football, Routledge, 2013

Williams, J., A Game for Rough Girls? A history of women’s football in Britain, Routledge, 2003

Sheffield FC history

Sheffield Rules

Eton Field Game

Here are links to my related sport histories: A Potted History of Association Football in England and Brief History of Rugby Football in the 19th Century. Each has its own Bibliography and Further Reading section.


I am indebted to Peter Jackson and Janet King for reading the draft and suggesting changes, a task which they have regularly performed for me in the past. All errors are mine.

The images which I have used have been located on the Internet. The captions provide information on their sources. Contact me if you consider that I have infringed any copyright.

Version History

March 10th, 2022 – Version 0.1 – Extremely drafty
March 16th, 2022 – Version 0.2 – less drafty
March 26th, 2022 – Version 0.3 – a bit better
April 2nd, 2022 – Version 0.4 – applied changes suggested by Peter Jackson and Janet King
April 3rd, 2022 – Version 1.0 – official release.