Although football had been played in one form or another for hundreds of years in Britain, it was not until the Victorian period that clubs formed and proper rules were put in to place. This led to a more organized and professional version of the game.
The Factory Act of 1850 stated that all work must stop at 2 pm on Saturday afternoons. This gave workers a chance to rest and spend time with their families. For the first time, normal working-class people had free time on their hands.
Before this, football and sporting activities were only really reserved for the wealthy, and particularly public schools. It was here that the origins of modern game took root, but only after the changes in law in 1850 that the rules and structure to the game started to take form.
The First Victorian Football Clubs
The first Victorian football clubs were started by churches as a way to promote clean living and abstinence from alcohol. Sporting pursuits were considered a good thing and helped people to have fun and stay healthy. They were also good for creating solidarity and bonding amongst the workforce, taking grievances out on the pitch. Churches worked with the employers of the factories to encourage healthy pursuits, a benefit to church and employers alike.
The first association teams were formed from church groups, universities, factory groups and military groups. The oldest surviving association club is Sheffield F.C – founded in 1857 and still playing the beautiful game to this day.
The Football Association
The Football Association (FA) is the governing body of football in England. It was formed in 1863, and is the oldest football association in the world.
The FA was formed to create a set of rules for the game of football. These rules would be uniform across the country and would be fair for all players. The FA also helped to organize and professionalize the game of football.
The FA has been instrumental in the development of football around the world. It helped to create FIFA, the world governing body for football and has been a member of FIFA since its inception. In it’s position, The FA also helped to create the UEFA, the European governing body for football.
The FA Cup
The FA Cup is the oldest football cup competition in the world. It was first competed for in 1871-72. The FA Cup is open to all Football Association-affiliated clubs in England. There are three rounds of qualifying before teams enter the main draw.
The final is the most prestigious match in the English football calendar. It is held at Wembley Stadium in London and is attended by over 80,000 fans. The FA Cup has been won by some of the biggest clubs in England, including Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal.
Which was the most successful football club of the Victorian era?
In the earliest days of the association game there were no cups or leagues with which to measure success. Football’s first competition was the Youdan Cup, a Sheffield-based tournament won in 1867 by Hallam FC. But it wasn’t until 1871/72 that the FA instigated its national Challenge Cup, with the first final won by Wanderers. The Football League kicked-off in 1888/89, with Preston North End the first winners.
Our table, below, ranks Victorian football clubs according to total FA Cup and Football League wins from season 1871/72 to 1899/1900. The FA cup was considered much more prestigious than the league title at the time.
Aston Villa won eight major honours during the Victorian era – three cups and five league titles. Blackburn Rovers and Wanderers each won five FA Cups. Only three clubs – Aston Villa, Preston North End and Sheffield United – won both the cup and the league in the Victorian era.
Preston North End and Aston Villa both won ‘the double’ in a single season – in 1888/89 and 1896/97 respectively.
There is no place in the table for Manchester United (then called Newton Heath) or Liverpool, the two most successful football clubs of the 20th century. Chelsea didn’t exist in the Victorian era, Arsenal weren’t successful until the 1930s, and the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Newcastle United didn’t win major honours until the Edwardian era.
The table only includes English clubs (although Scottish, Welsh and Irish clubs did participate in the FA Cup). Queen’s Park won the Scottish Cup on ten occasions in Victorian times, so they can perhaps make an alternative claim to be the most successful British club of the era.