London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

London's Footballing Tradition

14/06/2003, By Sergio Burns

Reader Rating: 3 from 679 votes


There is a commonly peddled myth that football is a working class game. This, however, is not the whole story. The truth is football, in this country, grew out of the southern public school system, and its roots can be traced back to such obscure origins as the Eton wall game and before.

The cradle of the modern football game, however, and for that matter rugby football, or rugby union, as it is perhaps better known, was London. It was here in the capital at the Freemason's Tavern, Great Queen Street, Holborn on October 26 1863 that The Football Association was founded. A Freemason's hall is still listed in the A to Z in this vicinity. The meeting, organised by a group of gentlemen, as the newspaper report of the time referred to them, had taken place to thrash out a set of universal laws that would standardise the game across the country.

Stamford Bridge

Attended by representatives from Harrow, No Names (Kilburn), Forest School (who later became the famous Wanderers), Barnes and Blackheath to name but a few, thirteen fundamental laws were drawn up and given approval by the majority of those present. Some did object, however, to the proposed banning of the tradition of "kicking shins" and "carrying the ball in the hands", and did not comply with or pledge themselves to the new rules. This group, albeit small, became the nucleus for the foundation of the rugby union game.

Since this pivotal moment, the nation's biggest city has given birth to no fewer than fourteen Football League clubs, fifteen if we count the mysterious Thames club who played in the Football League Division Three South in seasons 1930/1 and 1931/2, before sinking without trace. In alphabetical order Arsenal 1886, Barnet 1888, Brentford 1889, Charlton Athletic 1905, Chelsea 1905, Crystal Palace 1905 (there are records for a Crystal Palace side in 1861 but this club were unrelated to the modern side), Fulham 1879, Leyton Orient 1881, Millwall 1885, Queens Park Rangers 1885, Tottenham Hotspur 1882, Watford 1881, West Ham 1895 (this club emerged from Thames Ironworks FC), and Wimbledon 1889, all originate from the London or Greater London area.

Woolwich Arsenal Station

The first of these clubs to appear was Fulham in 1879. Originally formed as Fulham St Andrews Sunday School Football Club, the idea was to provide a recreational outlet for healthy young men. In 1888 they adopted the name Fulham and played their first competitive league match versus Hull City in a Second Division tie on September 3 1907.

In one of those fascinating twists of fate it was Fulham Football Club who indirectly gave impetus to the formation of southwest six near neighbours, Chelsea. Today Chelsea are the club with the most affluent supporters in England (apparently they have more season ticket holders earning 30,000 or more than any other club in the league), though in those days they might never have existed at all if Fulham had accepted Mr H.A. Mears offer to rent Stamford Bridge sports stadium for home matches.

The Arsenal

Fulham turned down the offer, arguing that the rent asked was too high and elected to remain at Craven Cottage. Mears, meanwhile, toyed with the idea of selling the ground to the Great Western Railway, but was persuaded by Mr Frederick Parker of the financial potential of having a major sporting venue, and he formed Chelsea in 1905 to play football at the stadium. When Chelsea's application to play in the Southern League was subsequently blocked, The Blues turned their attention to the Football League and gained admission to the Second Division.

On the eastern side of the city Morton's Jam Factory on the Isle Of Dogs was the unlikely setting - if you pardon the pun - for the origins of Millwall Rovers (later to become Millwall). The majority of workers in the factory were Scottish, so it seemed natural to choose blue as the club's colours, and the lion rampant as their badge symbolising the club's Caledonian connection.

Formed in 1885, the club changed their name to Millwall Athletic before finally agreeing on Millwall, though they did not enter the Football League until as late as 1920, when they were a founder member of Football League Division Three (South). In one of those strange twists of history and fate Millwall played their first league match against against Bristol Rovers, who coincidently provided the opposition for the club's last game at the old Den, before the team moved across the River Thames to their new home at Zampa Road, Bermondsey.

Arsenal Team

In this era of 100,000 a week football players, player's image rights a la David Beckham and Luis Figo, multi-million pound transfer deals and massive ticket prices at the gate, it is sobering to consider that one of the founding members of London's most successful club, Arsenal, was once forced to walk from his home in Durham to the capital in search of work. Jack Humble, one of the inspirational forces behind the beginnings of Arsenal Football Club in 1886, made the journey to find employment and was rewarded with a job at the Dial Square workshops of the Royal Arsenal ordnance factory.

Indeed it was as Dial Square that the club made their competitive debut, before, almost immediately, metamorphosing into Royal Arsenal before becoming Woolwich Arsenal in 1891. In these early days the club's impromptu dressing rooms were the toilets of a local pub called The Royal Oak, now renamed The Pullman, and can still be found on Woolwich New Road, next to Woolwich Arsenal railway station.

On September 2 1893 Woolwich Arsenal had the honour of being the first of the city's clubs to play in the Football League when they drew 2-2 with Newcastle United in a Second Division fixture. This particular game announced the arrival of London as a serious football city, a situation that has developed until the capital is now one of the major centres of English and European soccer.

Sergio Burns

Pictures: First two Copyright Chelsea FC, and the last three Copyright Arsenal FC.

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Re: London's Footballing Tradition

By Chrissy Murphy 01/07/2003, (Rating: 2.8 from 552 votes)

Really enjoyed this piece, don't know a lot about football, but my interest has now been aroused! Excy article, excy pictures, and very interesting to boot. More articles like this in the future, please.

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Re: London's Footballing Tradition

By Faith Carlin 01/07/2003, (Rating: 2.8 from 509 votes)

Interesting historical facts. London is a fascinating place. And now I know why players need shin guards!!

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Re: London's Footballing Tradition

By Chris Lindsey 02/07/2003, (Rating: 2.8 from 552 votes)

Excellent reading - loads of fascinating facts that I had no idea of. Even if one is not a big football fan, it's a compelling 'must read' article full of interest about Britain's favourite pastime!

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Re: London's Footballing Tradition

By Shirley Duke 05/07/2003, (Rating: 2.8 from 512 votes)

Super web site... glad I found it.... fascinating information... especially enjoyed reading about the Football teams formation... shall have something to contribute to my all-male household now.... thanks

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Re: London's Footballing Tradition

By Richard W. 09/08/2003, (Rating: 3 from 506 votes)

As a typical Yank,I grew up with little knowledge of "football"...the kind played without helmets and heavy protection...Your article was informative and fun...Cheers,y'all
laughingsalmon@yahoo.com

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