It is possible that an organisation of football players existed in London between 1421 and 1423, but the game as we know it today was still relatively in its infancy. The oldest football club with a well-documented, continuous history is the Dublin University Football Club, founded in 1854 at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. The club now plays rugby union.
Sheffield Football Club, in Sheffield, England is the oldest documented non-university club, and was founded in 1857. It initially played a code of its own devising. The club joined the English Football Association (FA) in 1863 and is recognised by both the FA and FIFA as the world’s oldest club now playing association football.
The club’s rules influenced the FA including handball, free kicks, corners and throw-ins’; it did not adopt the Association’s code in full until 1877. Cambridge University Association Football Club has been described by both the university and the BBC as the oldest club now playing Association Football.
According to Charles Astor Bristed, in the early 1840s at Cambridge, there were games played between clubs from different colleges and houses. Cambridge rules dates from 1848 and football is documented as being played on the original club ground, Parkers Piece, as early as 1838. The earliest existing evidence of the Cambridge University Football Club comes from “The Laws Of The University Football Club” dated 1856, and held at Shrewsbury School.
First steps in West Bromwich
Imagine this a group of young men hanging around the streets after work. Nothing to do except drink, gamble, fight or wander around aimlessly, nothing change’s! The folk of West Bromwich had always enjoyed their ‘sports’. These along with the people who engaged in them were none too refined. In the yards at the back of the local pubs many of these sports took place.
Cock-fighting, rat killing and dog fighting was common. Wagers or bets were laid amidst intakes of the local brew and raucous crowds cheered on their ‘favourite’. These were tough times and the moralist view of such sports, whilst voiced and legislated for, found little favour with the locals. Even when laws were introduced, these pastimes continued.
Bored that the cricket season was over after all many were keen cricketers and were looking for a sport to play during the winter months to occupy themselves. There had been talk of setting up a football team but as football was in its infancy and had not really made an impact in West Bromwich due to the activitys of the above mentioned alternative sports. The rules of the game still at the time being drawn up, what inspired these young men to form a team that would eventually be internationally recognised.
A few of the young men had seen a couple of games and decided to try it out. One essential thing was missing a ball! As there were no sports shops at that time in West Bromwich that stocked football equipment and the tram fare would have taken most of the funds to buy the ball it was decided to take a stroll down to nearby Wednesbury were the nearest sports stockist was situated the men knew they could purchase a ball there.
Wednesbury boasted a few fine teams at that time Wednesbury Old Athletic who played at The Oval, which is where Wood Green School is now, and Elwells FC. The stroll to Wednesbury not only gave them a ball but also the name which they were to play under for the next year or two “West Bromwich Strollers”.
1878 – Year when the club was founded
The club was then founded in 1878 as West Bromwich Strollers in West Bromwich, the team played their first match on 23 November 1878, drawing 0-0 in a 12-a-side game against workers from Hudson’s, a local soap factory which was situated were Tesco’s is now. Most of the Strollers players worked at George Salter’s Spring Works.
They were renamed West Bromwich Albion in either 1879 or 1880, becoming the first team to adopt the Albion suffix. The name Albion was taken from a district of West Bromwich where some of the players lived or worked, close to what is today Greets Green.
The next problem the team encountered was somewhere to play the game. Dartmouth Park and Coopers Hill were chosen to host the matches. The New Street entrance to the park was the site of the first “Albion” game although sometimes the Beaches Road entrance and occasionally if the weather was bad they would use The Herbert Street side. Can you imagine playing football in the park now the Health and safety brigade would have a field day.
No official markings, no crossbar as we know it, little more than two sticks with a piece of tape across no corner flags just a piece of grass, a goal keeper who could catch the ball anywhere on the field he felt like. Hence the introduction of pitch markings probably just two parell lines four times the length of a cricket pitch and a line to show the goal line then a box of 18yds to keep the goal keeper under control.
Later a full circle added to give the team kicking off control instead of a straight line half way across the field and everyone kicking lumps out of their opponents. The next step a penalty spot 12yds from goal, and then a box 6yds from the goal to stop goal kicks being taken from the edge of the 18yds box. Finally a quarter circle added at the by line and goal line to stop the attacking player gaining ground from a corner kick.
For the first two seasons of their existence, Albion played local sides on parks pitches throughout West Bromwich, Smethwick and Wednesbury, occasionally travelling as far afield as Stourbridge to get a game. The real breakthrough came at the start of the 1881-82 season, when they decided to pay a subscription to join the Birmingham & District Football Association, thus becoming eligible for their first competition, the Birmingham Senior Cup.
It was their run to the quarter finals of that tournament beating, as they did, established sides such as Elwells FC from Wednesbury and Calthorpe Edgbaston that made their name in the Birmingham press. Suddenly, the local papers began to take notice of the club, and began reporting on their games. And the big journey had started!