Published in ISFA History



In the nineteenth century independent schoolboys played leading roles in the amateur teams which won the F.A. Cup. However, the clash between amateurism and the rising tide of professionalism was to prove controversial and costly.

The old boys of the public schools played a prominent part in the formation of many of today’s League clubs. In the 1860s Charterhouse old boys are know to have played a part in the formation of Stoke City F.C.; the precise details are unclear but it is believed that Old Carthusians who were working as apprentices at the North Staffordshire Railway met with others at the works to form a club that was then known as Stoke Ramblers. Blackburn Rovers F.C. were formed in 1875 after old boys of Blackburn Grammar School (now QEGS) and Malvern College called a meeting in a pub to discuss the promotion of football in the town. Meanwhile, old boys of Shrewsbury School played a prominent part in the early days of Shrewsbury Town F.C. which was formed 1886. 

C.W Alcock and other prominent Harrow footballers played a leading role in the formation of the Forest Club, which played at Snaresbrook in the Epping Forest, in 1859. However, in 1864, with only limited numbers of local players joining the club, they renament the club The Wanderers and moved to The Oval. The Wanderers were to be the dominant force in the early years of football’s first national competition. 

Inspired by the house knock-out football competition at Harrow, which aroused great excitement and interest, in 1871 C.W. Alcock proposed the introduction of a Challenge Cup in which all clubs belonging to the Football Association would be allowed to compete. In the first Final, in 1872, Alcock had the pleasure of playing in the winning team, the Wanderers, who defeated Royal Engineers 1-0 in front of 2,000 spectators at Kennington Oval. In those early years of the F.A. Cup, the competition was dominated by the southern amateur teams, full of public schoolboys and the Wanderers in particular won the Cup 5 times in the first 7 years. 

Forest School, still today situated at Snaresbrook, near the home of the original Forest Club of 1859, remains a leading football playing independent school. Forest is the only school team ever to have taken part in the F.A. Cup, which it did on four occasions between 1875 and 1879. In two of those years, they won through a round but in the second round of 1879, they suffered a heavy 10-1 defeat against eventual cup finalists Clapham Rovers and did not take part again. 

Public schoolboys featured prominently in those early F.A. Cup finals, playing for The Wanderers, Oxford University or the Royal Engineers. In 1879 and 1882 the Old Etonians won the Cup and the Old Carthusians were triumphant in 1881 (when they defeated the Etonians in the Final). However, the early 1880s saw a significant shift in power from amateurism to professionalism, and from south to north. In 1882 the Etonians had defeated Blackburn Rovers, the first northern side to appear in the Final but, in the following year’s final, the Etonians were defeated by Blackburn Olympic. No amateur club would ever appear in the Final again. 

Professionalism was gaining ground rapidly, particularly in the Midlands and the North where working men wanted to play but the best players often did not have the means to take the necessary time off work. The answer was professional football. To the southern amateurs, however, this was taking “a game” too seriously. The F.A., made up to a large degree of southerners and many public schoolboys, frowned on professionalism and it remained illegal for a while although everybody in the north knew it was going on. Once again the Harrovian Alcock displayed his leadership as an administrator. He realised the danger of the game splitting in two on class lines and professionalism was eventually legalised by the F.A. in 1885. 

The formation of the Football League for the professional clubs in 1888 emphasised the different attitudes between north and south. The Football League consisted entirely of professional clubs from the Midlands and the North. In the south the game was still dominated by the amateurs, many of whom believed that playing for money corrupted the purity of the game. Of course it was easy for a public school old boy to adopt such lofty attitudes, in contrast to a working man who could not afford to take time off work. 

At the professional game took an increasing hold, the F.A. introduced the F.A. Amateur Cup which was won in its inaugural year by Old Carthusians in 1894. The Carthusians thus became the only club to have won both the F.A. Cup and the F.A. Amateur Cup, a record that only Wimbledon (when they won the F.A. Cup in 1988) have subsequently matched. The Carthusians won the Amateur Cup again in 1897 and the Old Malvernians were victorious in 1902. Also in response to the increasing domination of the professional game, the Arthur Dunn Cup, for public school old boys’ teams, was instituted in season 1902-03, Old Carthusians and Old Salopians sharing the trophy in its inaugural year. 

However, the early years of the twentieth century saw increasing tension between the amateur and professional games. The amateurs believed that the F.A. had lost interest in them and they resented their declining influence. In addition, it must be acknowledged, there was a feeling in some quarters that a sport in which players were paid must be socially inferior. As a result, in 1906 amateur clubs in the south established a breakaway governing body, the Amateur Football Association. This split between the two bodies had the unfortunate effect of preventing many of the leading amateurs, who played for AFA clubs, from playing for the full England side alongside the professionals 

For the public schools an important result of the split between the F.A. and the AFA was the defection of a large number of public schools to rugby union which was seen as a genuine amateur sport and therefore perceived by some as a more socially acceptable activity for a gentleman. However, Edward Grayson, in his book Corinthians & Cricketers remarked pointedly: 

“Many schools small in mind, tradition and size, regarded the time as opportune for changing their winter game from soccer to the then more socially-fashionable rugby. They ignored the attitude of those guardians of the English Public School tradition: Eton, Winchester, Charterhouse, Westminster, Shrewsbury, Repton, Malvern, Bradfield, Lancing, Brentwood, Forest, Aldenham, Ardingly, Chigwell, Wellingborough and Highgate, who all remained firm in their adherence to the pure football game . . . So whatever the rugby game may have gained in quantity, it could have appreciated by little, if at all, in social quality”. 

However, the damage was done and could not be put right even when the split was healed in 1914 and the AFA rejoined the Football Association which was still administered by public schoolboys Kinnaird and Alcock, both of whom had the foresight to see the importance of ensuring football remained genuinely a sport for everybody. In that same year, for the first time, King George V attended the F.A. Cup Final, thus emphasising the social acceptability of the sport as was acknowledged in one national newspaper: 

“Professional football of the best kind is no longer regarded as a spectacle suitable only for the proletariat. The King’s presence at the Cup Final, let us hope, will put an end to the old snobbish notion that true blue sportsmen ought to ignore games played by those who cannot afford to play without being paid for their services”. 

Perhaps the saddest casualty of this entire disagreement was the loss to rugby of Harrow, a school which had contributed as much as any to football’s early years, not least in the form of C.W. Alcock.

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