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Oldest English Football Clubs: A Look At The Founder Teams

On October 26, 1863, at the Freemasons’ Tavern in Great Queen Street, near Holborn tube station, was the birth of football as we know it today. The oldest English football clubs came together to discuss the collective future of modern football.

A handful of London and district clubs playing their own versions of football met “to form an association with the purpose of establishing a definite code of rules for the regulation of the game”.

freemasons tavern

At the meeting were twelve of the oldest English football clubs: Barnes, War Office, Crusaders, Forest (Leytonstone), No Names (Kilburn), Crystal Palace, Blackheath, Kensington School, Perceval House, Surbiton, Blackheath Proprietary School, and Charterhouse.

The Crystal Palace listed have no connection to the current Crystal Palace FC, so the only survivors are Civil Service FC, formerly War Office, who now play in the Southern Amateur League’s Senior Division One, and were invited to play in the first official game of football on Buckingham Palace grounds on October 7, 2013.

Ebenezer Morley founder of the fa

Ebenezer Morley

Founder of Barnes Football Club in 1862, Ebenezer Morley, a London solicitor, could be called The Football Association’s father. Several public schoolboys joined his club which is one of the oldest English football clubs. Ebenezer was not a public schoolboy, and there were ‘feverish’ disputes over how the game should be conducted.

A new Association couldn’t stand on its own without laws, and it took six meetings over 44 days for it to become an independent entity. At first, the Football Association was formed. Then the rules were formulated and Morley was known to work on the rules from his home. Subscriptions were a guinea per year, and changes to rules or laws were advertised in sporting papers. During the third meeting, useful discussion was had about drafting the laws.

The Founding Football Clubs

A look at the founding clubs of the Football Association is presented here:

barnes football club

Barnes (Represented by Ebenezer C Morley and PD Gregory)

Barnes Club, one of the world’s oldest clubs, was founded in 1839, according to some reports. Barnes played in the first game governed by the FA on December 19, 1863, against Richmond. They also took part in the first-ever FA Cup.

Civil Service (George Wawn)

As a founder member of both the Football Association and the Rugby Football Union, the club originally played both football and rugby. The founders’ meeting was attended by War Office official George Warne, which led to them being referred to as the War Office Club. During the first FA Cup competition, the War Office Club participated.

royal engineers football club

Crusaders (Herbert Steward)

Crusaders were established in 1863. They entered the FA Cup during the 1880s and 1890s but never came close to winning the trophy.

Forest FC (John Alcock)

The club was founded as Forest FC in 1859 and changed to Wanderers in 1864. Wanderers were one of the most successful and oldest English football clubs in the early years of organized football, winning the FA Cup five times, including the first final against Royal Engineers in 1872. This feat of winning the FA Cup three times in a row has only been replicated once. The club’s fortunes had declined by the 1880s and it was reduced to playing only an annual match against Harrow School.

charterhouse school colors

NN Club Kilburn (Arthur Pember)

NN – an abbreviation for “No Name” – was based in the Kilburn district of London. Founders’ meeting was attended by Arthur Pember, the FA’s first president.

Crystal Palace (James Turner, F Day)

Crystal Palace was rumored to have been formed by groundskeepers working at the building of the same name which was built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. Despite reaching the first FA Cup semi-finals, the club lost a replay against the Royal Engineers. Records of the original amateur club disappeared after 1876. Crystal Palace FC as it is known today was founded in 1905.

Blackheath FC

Blackheath FC (Francis Campbell, FH Moore)

Blackheath FC was founded in 1858 and is a founding member of both the Football Association and Rugby Football Union. The rugby team is currently in National League One. Francis Campbell was elected treasurer at the first FA meeting but later withdrew the club from the FA due to his dissatisfaction with the direction of the organization.

Kensington School (W MacKintosh)

Kensington School was established in 1830 and was famous for producing high-caliber athletes.

Perceval House (GW Shillingford)

Blackheath school representative GW Shillingford participated in the inaugural meeting of the Football Association. Shillingford was among those in favor of “hacking” and handling the ball. Perceval House resigned from the organization after its proposal was rejected by the majority of the teams.

surbiton football club

Surbiton (H Bell)

The now-defunct Surbiton team was founded in 1863, although little is known about what happened after its early involvement in the formation of the FA.

Blackheath Proprietary School (WH Gordon)

Blackheath Proprietary School was founded in 1830 and played a key role in the early development of both football and rugby.

charterhouse football school

Charterhouse (Bertrand Hartshone)

Having queried the newly formed FA to promote a passing style of football in its rulebook, Charterhouse went on to establish the Old Carthusian Football team – comprised of Charterhouse alumni – which became one of the nation’s leading amateur teams following their formation in 1876 and won the FA Cup in 1881, beating Old Etonians 3-0 at the Kennington Oval.

Morley’s original draft laws were finally approved at the sixth meeting on 8 December 1963, and the oldest English football clubs agreed that hacking would no longer be allowed. A booklet costing a shilling and sixpence was published by John Lillywhite of Seymour Street.

Weeks later, Barnes and Richmond played a match at Limes Field in Barnes as part of the FA’s commitment to seeing its laws in action. The match ended in a 0-0 draw.

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