Football History On The Doorstep

Mike Ebdy shares with us some of the football secrets hidden in our City’s streets

Most sports fans are well aware of the prominent role that Preston North End played in the early years of the Football League. In the League’s first season, 1888-89, North End won the League without losing a match and the FA Cup without conceding a goal. Champions again the following year, they finished second in each of the next three seasons. Sadly, such glories have been in short supply in recent years.

The drinkers in the wine bars in the City may well be watching the football on the big screens, but very few of them will know that their watering hole played a crucial role in the early years of the league. In the first years the league secretary was Harry Lockett of Stoke City, but in 1902 the job was taken on by Tom Charnley of North End. He worked from his home at 248 St Paul’s Road, but soon found that larger premises were needed. In 1903 the league moved to 13, Winckley Street, just off Fishergate. The building is currently taking shape as an upmarket bar.

After ten years in Winckley Street, the League moved to Castle Chambers in Market Street, and then successively to 30 Winckley Square, 102 Fishergate, and 6 Starkie Street. In 1959 the headquarters moved to Lytham St Annes, coincidentally next door to the League’s secretary Alan Hardaker.

However, in 1999 the EFL moved back to Preston Docks, and finally, in 2017, to brand-new purpose-built premises at the junction of West Cliff and Fishergate Hill. Remarkably, of the nine Headquarters in the history of the League, eight are in Preston and one in Lytham, which illustrates the importance of this area in the genesis of the game. Here is a quote from the Lilywhite magic website which sums this up nicely: “As a Preston man and PNE fan I take special pride relating how Preston North End played a leading role in forming the Football League and how the town of Preston itself was the cradle of a league now copied throughout the world” – Dave Bond.

Even before all this happened, Preston was at the centre of the major football controversy of the day, which was professionalism. The early years of the game were dominated by public school teams, Royal Engineers and Oxford University, whose players were either gentlemen of leisure or professional salaried men who could take time away from work whenever they chose. Naturally enough, this put the Northern working man, paid by the hour, at a considerable disadvantage. The upper class amateurs who founded the FA believed that money would damage the sporting ideals of the game, but this stance was undermined by the advent of the FA Cup. So great was the desire of every team to win “The little tin idol”, that the subversive growth of professionalism began.

In 1867 a young man called Billy Sudell joined a rugby club called Preston Nelson. They moved to play on Moor Park, and thus became Preston North End. In 1875 they moved again and from then played their home games at Deepdale Farm, where they remain to this day. In time they switched from the oval ball to a round one, possibly due to competition from Preston Grasshoppers. Sudell had graduated from player to Chairman. By 1881 he was scouring the big Scottish clubs for players, mainly in Edinburgh, and offering them money to come South. This was strictly against the rules of the time, but the Football Association seemed powerless to stop it, hard though they tried.

In 1882 a rule was brought in prohibiting any player receiving any payment other than strictly controlled expenses, with offending clubs being expelled from the FA. This was an alarming prospect, but Sudell was determined to bring about change, and stood firm. Perhaps the biggest factor in his favour was that everyone was paying players, and “shamateurism” was widely practised but completely ignored. Along with other clubs, North End were barred from entering the FA Cup, but Sudell responded by threatening to lead a breakaway organisation and merge with Scottish clubs in a British FA. This could have produced a similar situation to the split in the Rugby football, with a professional League and an amateur Union, but payments were so widespread that the FA capitulated. On 20th July 1885, at a meeting in Fleet Street, London, Sudell’s triumph was complete, as the FA voted to legalise professionalism by 55 votes to 15. It is no coincidence that 1885 was also the last time that an amateur club (Queen’s Park, Glasgow) reached the FA Cup final. Again, Preston had played a major role in shaping the greatest sport in the world.

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Tedd Walmsley

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Tedd Walmsley managing director of Live Magazines shares his views on the latest topics in media.

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