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Early Bristol Football Teams: From Amateur To Professional

With both professional Bristol clubs planning to relocate, City to Ashton Vale and Bristol Rovers to the University of the West of England, it would seem appropriate to look into the early Bristol football teams in the region.

Football was a late starter in Bristol compared to many areas in the United Kingdom. But, following the formation of Warmley in 1882, growth was swift. Within a few months, the St George Cricket Club formed a football team section, then Clifton Association and the Black Arabs, both in 1883.

bristol city ashton gate stadium

Romantic as it was, the Black Arabs name did not last, and they soon became known as the Purdown Poachers before changing their name to Eastville Rovers in November 1884. Becoming Bristol Eastville Rovers at the start of the 1897-98 campaign, they took on their present Bristol Rovers identity in February 1899.

All these happenings took place in the east of the City, and it was not until 1887 that any significant development occurred on the other side of the River Avon. However, Queen Victoria’s Jubilee year saw the birth of the Southville Club, which became Bedminster two years later and in 1900 amalgamated with Bristol City, which had been formed as Bristol South End in 1894.

These six early Bristol football teams dominated the local scene in the late Victorian era, and with five football clubs turning professional, it was grounds for a change in more ways than one.

Charles WrefordBrown from Bristol

The Clifton club remained aloof from the professional scene. Still, they folded in 1897 despite one of their earliest players Charles WrefordBrown (reputed for coining the term ‘soccer’), becoming Bristol’s first international in 1889 when he was at Oxford University. Later he became an FA Committee Member and made his fourth and final international appearance in the 3-1 win over Scotland on April 2, 1898.

Another Clifton member, C Lacy-Sweet, was the driving force in bringing about the formation of the Gloucestershire FA in 1886 and the start of the Gloucestershire Senior Cup the following year. Somewhat appropriately, Clifton was the first winner, but it took a replay for them to overcome Warmley.

gas works bristol rovers

The Final

Date: Saturday, March 10, 1898

Venue: St George

Attendance: 2,000

Clifton Association (0) 1(HH Francis 75min), Warmley (0) 1 (Riddell 65min)

Clifton Football Team: FJ Baines; WF Gorton, CH Newham; G Innes-Pocock (Capt), PF Newham, GR Lowndes; H Falcon, C Lacy-Sweet, R Innes-Pocock, AW Francis, HH Francis.

Warmley Football Team: G Godfrey; S Peacock, G Gay; W Noble, H Williams, J Peacock; W Bowler, JR Riddell, P Fussell (Capt), J Mackay, T Nelmes.

Referee: JB Hawkins (Old Carthusians).

Umpires: Dr. WG Grace (Wanderers) & Dr. Rayner.

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The Replay

Date: Saturday, March 17, 1898

Venue: St George

Attendance: 2,000

Clifton Association (0) 4 (Colthurst 60m, 65m, Russell 75m, 80m), Warmley (1) 1 (Riddell 35m)

Clifton Football Team: FJ Baines; WF Gorton, PF Newnham; G Innes-Pocock (Capt), C Wreford-Brown, GR Lowndes; R Innes-Pocock, C Lacy-Sweet, CH Russell, AB Colthurst, HH Francis.

Warmley Football Team: G. Godfrey; G Gay, S Peacock; J Peacock, W Noble, H Williams; T Nelmes, J Mackay, JR Riddell, P Fussell (Capt), W Bowler.

Referee: FM Ingram (Essex County).

Umpires: Dr. WG Grace (Wanderers) & WJ Somerton (Eastville Rovers).

This competition was to run until 1996, when Shaun Goater’s goal was enough to clinch a 1-0 win for Bristol City in the 99th final.

early image of a bristol city football club team

Premier Bristol Football Team

Following the formation of the Western League (called the Bristol & District League up to 1895), undoubtedly, the premier Bristol football team was Warmley. Frequently thwarted in the final of the Gloucestershire Senior Cup, they secured the Western League championship in four of the first five seasons: 1892-93, 1893-94, 1895-96 & 1896-97.

Starting their career on the Tennis Court ground, Warmley moved in 1897 to the region’s top ground – the Chequers, a venue that had been developed as the Kingswood Athletic ground in 1889. As the Black Arabs, Bristol Rovers commenced life on the slopes of Purdown before using the vast, open spaces on the Downs.

However, it is not difficult to see how they might have acquired their Rovers appendage as further moves to the Three Acres at Ashley Hill, the Schoolmasters’ ground at Horfield. Two different venues at the Ridgeway followed before they ended up at Eastville in April 1897 when they purchased the old home of the Bristol Harlequins Rugby Union Club.

bristol rovers uplands stand

For Clifton, who also started on the Downs, the County Ground at Neville Road was their home when Gloucestershire County Cricket Club opened this venue in 1888 until moving to the Chequers, Lodge Road, Kingswood at the start of the 1892-93 season.

Unfortunately, financial problems five years later caused them to vacate this venue for a ground in Westbury-on-Trym. The Clifton aristocrats, who played in chocolate and cardinal colors, disbanded in December 1897, not long after suffering a 9-1 FA Cup defeat by Bristol City.

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The home ground of the Southville club was in Greville Smyth Park. Still, despite some spirited performances in the Gloucestershire Senior Cup, it was not until joining forces with Bedminster Cricket Club in 1889 that they had the resources to compete with the other major local teams.

Playing on the cricket ground at Greenway Bush Lane, they had a membership that, together with Clifton, was described in 1894 as the biggest in the district. They moved to Ashton Gate two years later, then known as the Bedminster Athletic Ground, while Messrs WD & HO Wills built a tobacco factory on the cricket field at Greenway Bush Lane.

early image of bristol rovers football club team

Disgruntled Members Start A New Team

Meanwhile, Bristol South End, which had been formed by some disgruntled members of the Bedminster club, had developed the soccer field at St John’s Lane they leased from the Ashton Court Estate. It was good enough for them to be elected to the Southern League in 1897 when they took on their present name and changed their colors from red and blue to red and white.

However, their decision to become Bristol City was only accomplished after overcoming objections by the Gloucestershire FA. It took a visit to FA Headquarters and assurances that the other older clubs, including Bristol Rugby Union Club, did not wish to claim such a name. With City and Warmley adopting professionalism in 1897 and Bedminster, Rovers, and Bristol St George following suit a year later, the scene was set for the survival of the fittest.

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Fortunately for Bristol City, they had got a head start by being elected to the top division of the Southern League, while Warmley had to content themselves with a place in the Second Division. However, it did not take long for Warmley to catch up, as they immediately gained promotion, finishing as runners-up in both the league and the test matches, notching up 108 and 14 goals, respectively.

However, the City’s success in finishing as Southern League runners-up and beating Warmley in the Gloucestershire Senior Cup and the Bristol Charity Cup established them as early Bristol’s football top team. This fact provoked Bedminster to put themselves forward for election to the Southern League.

early bristol image of the city

Financial Troubles Ahead

Consequently, the following season saw three local clubs in the top division, while Bristol Rovers and Bristol St George joined the Birmingham and District League. The other significant ground in the locality was the Bell Hill home of St George, where a Western League XI had beaten Aston Villa 2-0 in front of a gathering of 5,380 spectators (receipts of £143.1s.6d) on April 7, 1896. The St George club had moved here in 1894 from a ground situated not far away near the Lord Rodney pub.

St George, who wore white shirts with a red cross and blue shorts in 1888-89 and was reported in 1894 as having been playing in green shirts for some considerable time, was the deadliest rival of Warmley which was to see the death of both of them.

If they had acted on an amalgamation attempt during the spring of 1897, the early Bristol football team scene might have been entirely different today. Unfortunately, the famous white shirts of Warmley were the first to succumb, knocked out by a combination of bad weather affecting their home gates and the closure of their ground for a month, following unruly crowd incidents during and after a 5-1 defeat at home to Millwall on January 17, 1899.

Resigning a few weeks later, it was not long before local rivals St George followed suit, although they soldiered on until the end of the season. This left just one survivor in east Bristol, but the sometimes bitter competition between City and Bedminster continued in the west.

billy wedlock bristol city and england player

City And Bedminster Amalgamate

Fortunately, the wiser heads of the Bedminster board of directors realized that the situation was unsustainable and virtually sacrificed their club on the altar of the City’s ambitions in 1900. It was more of absorption than an amalgamation. However, five Bedminster members joined the Bristol City board, and the Bristol Coat of Arms that proudly adorned the City’s red shirts in the 1900-01 season was woven in Bedminster’s maroon and old gold colors.

With two grounds at their disposal, City shared their home matches between St John’s Lane and Ashton Gate during the initial season, but with election to the Football League in 1901, they had to choose. Despite the better facilities at Ashton Gate Stadium, where England had beaten Wales 4-1 some two years earlier, St John’s Lane was chosen.

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The decision seemed to reflect the wishes of the fans as indicated by a poll in The Bristol Magpie, which, by the start of the season, had produced a vote of 582 to 470 to retain the City’s original home. However, an FA Cup tie with Sheffield United, which saw a record crowd of 17,909 (receipts of £754.11s.9d) crammed into the ground on February 6, 1904, made the directors realize that the scope for improvement at the Lane was somewhat restricted, especially as they were unable to increase the length of the lease.

Consequently, money was spent on redeveloping Ashton Gate, and the venue was re-opened on August 27, 1904, when some 5,000 supporters saw the Probables beat the Possibles 9-0 in a pre-season trial.

st georges park in bristol

Other Local Teams

While other local clubs, such as Staple Hill (formed in 1888), an early Bristol football team that opened the scoring against Manchester United away in the FA Cup in 1905-06. Bristol Amateurs began from the rump of the Bedminster Club when they turned professional in 1898. Bristol East (1899), which took over the Chequers Ground, Mangotsfield (1888), and St Paul’s (1887), which played in Bower Ashton, adjacent to Clifton Bridge Station, gained some measure of prominence around this time.

Warmley, Bristol St George, Clifton Association, Bristol Rovers, Bedminster, and Bristol City dominated the local scene in the early days of Bristol football. Both Warmley and Bristol St George subsequently reformed as amateur clubs, with the latter continuing to this day, having frequently made a name for themselves in the FA Amateur Cup as well as in the Gloucestershire County League and such like.

Defunct Bristol Football Teams

A history of defunct football teams in Bristol can be found in this section.

bedminster football club

Bedminster FC

There was an English football club called Bedminster Football Club located in Bristol. It began playing at Ashton Gate in 1887 as Southville. In 1892, they were founding members of the Bristol & District League, which became the Western League in 1895. The team won the Division One Amateur title in 1897-98. The club became professional at the end of the season and entered a team in the Southern League. A merger with Bristol City led to the club’s demise in 1900. The club played at St John’s ground until 1904 when they moved to Ashton Gate. Stadium.

Bristol Aeroplane Company FC

As the works football team of the Bristol Aeroplane Company, Bristol Aeroplane Company Football Club was an English football club based in Bristol. It played in the Western Football League before and after World War II, but left in 1950. As well as participating in the FA Cup, they also played in the League Cup.

bristol city supporters

Clifton Association

In the late 19th century, Clifton Association Football Club was a football club based in Bristol’s Clifton area. Clifton Association founded the Western League (then called the Bristol and District League) in 1892 and was instrumental in creating the Gloucestershire Cup in 1888. In 1893, Clifton dropped the word Association from its name. As soon as the 1897–98 season began, the team resigned from the league.

Port of Bristol

The Port of Bristol Football Clubs existed from 1978 to 1992. A trust was responsible for running the club. In home matches, they wear purple and black, but in away matches, they wear red and black. Their highest finish in the Bristol Suburban League was in 2020, and the club dissolved in the same year. Shirehampton Colts and Bristol Manor Farm were Port of Bristol’s rivals.

Portway Bristol

Until 1987, Portway Bristol Football Club played in the Western League as a non-league association football team. Shirehampton Recreation Ground, located in Penpole Lane, was the team’s home ground. They finished bottom of the Western League Premier Division in 1983, then placed mid-table in Division One, followed by two successive League titles, but failed to meet the minimum ground requirements for promotion. They finished runners-up again in 1987 but withdrew from the league after failing to be promoted again.

St Philips Marsh Adult School F.C

St Philip’s Marsh Adult School

In the St Philip’s Marsh area of Bristol, St Philip’s Marsh Adult School Football Club played association football. They won Division Two of the Bristol and District Football League in their first season. In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, St Philip’s Marsh Adult School played in the FA Cup.


The Soundwell Football Club is an association football club based near Bristol. The club is now defunct, but it competed in the Western League and the FA Cup during the 1940s and 1950s. There were several Soundwell players who progressed on to become professionals, mostly with Bristol Rovers. Geoff Bradford, who played for England, is one of their former players.

Bristol Derby

Staple Hill

In Staple Hill, Bristol, Staple Hill Football Club was an English football club. In 1893–94, the club joined the Bristol & District League, renamed the Western League in 1895. Following the formation of the professional section in 1897, Staple Hill was placed in Division Two of the league after being joint runners-up in Division One in 1895-96. Two times, in 1898-99 and 1906-07, they won this division, and twice, they finished runner-up. The club regularly entered the FA Cup, reaching the First Round Proper in 1905-06 at Manchester United’s Bank Street ground, where they lost 7–2 to Manchester United.

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In Warmley, near Kingswood, England, there was a football club called Warmley Football Club. Their formation dates back to the first organized football match against St George. As founding members of the Gloucestershire Football Association, they were joined by Clifton, St George, and Eastville Rovers. In 1892, they were one of the founding members of the Bristol & District League (now the Western Football League).


During the Victorian era, Waverley Football Club played association football in Bristol. In 1889, they became founding members of the Western Football League’s second division (the Bristol & District League). Knowle’s Talbot Inn stood behind their home ground.

bristol derby

Rivalry in Bristol

Bristol Derby

The Bristol derby is a football match between Bristol City and Bristol Rovers. There is a heated atmosphere at these matches because both teams’ fans consider the other their main rival. The teams have often met in the Football League. They used to meet annually in the Gloucestershire Cup.

A friendly match held at St John’s Lane in Bedminster on 22 September 1894 marked the beginning of a fierce rivalry between Bristol South End (later renamed Bristol City) and Eastville Rovers (later Bristol Rovers).

Cardiff City is the Bristol football teams second rival, followed by Swindon Town.

severnside derby history

Severnside Derby

Welsh club Cardiff City plays English club Bristol City or Bristol Rovers in the Severnside derby in soccer in the United Kingdom.

The rivalry is a tradition among local Cardiff and Bristol football teams, as it crosses the Wales-England border, adding to the hostility. In addition to bragging rights, the matches are considered international contests in the eyes of the fans. They use patriotic songs to taunt each other.

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