Clapham Rovers will probably be known to most people outside Clapham as the answer to the pub quiz question “Who won the FA Cup in 1880”. Up to a few years ago the team was also known indirectly from the answer to two other questions “who is the youngest person to have played for England in an international?” and “who is the youngest person to have played in a Cup Final?” - the answer in both cases being James Prinsep of Clapham Rovers in 1879. I will come later to the circumstances in which his records were overthrown.
Football historians will be more familiar with Clapham Rovers, since they will know it as one of the leading teams of the 1870s, and will recognise the 1860s and 1870s as key decades in the evolution of the game as we know it today. Or to be more precise, the games, since those were the years which saw the creation of the codes for the two very different games, that which we call football, but is strictly association football or soccer, and rugby. (In this talk I will normally use the term football in its modern sense to cover soccer, but will occasionally use it as a generic term for both games – I hope without causing too much confusion.)
Clapham Rovers was founded in 1869 and folded during the First World War. I will set out their history so far as it is known over those forty five years, against the background of the games as they evolved in those years, but will deal in most detail with the glory years of the 1870s and some of the players of that period. But first I need to go back in time, to explain how and why the 1860s and 1870s saw the emergence of club competitive football, both types, played to rules we recognise today, even though much about the games has changed, especially at the top levels.
Football has been played since ancient times. In England, there are references to the game in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. But it is misleading to call these games. They were violent knock-abouts between groups of youths, which we can call football only because they involved kicking a ball. The authorities often tried to ban them, since they were disorderly, dangerous, and interfered with what young men were expected to do, which was to practice their archery. To get to the origins of the modern games, we have to forget about the village and town knock-abouts, and go to a perhaps unlikely source, the early nineteenth century public schools. At these, football was a popular pastime for the boys; they organised the games themselves, and like popular football anywhere, played with only the loosest of rules. Essentially, they were large scrummages, in which your side aimed to get its ball past the posts at your opponents’ end. As well as kicking, handling was allowed; a player could catch the ball, but then had to kick it and not run with it. The big innovation of the 1820s came from Rugby, where running with the ball came to be allowed.
Gradually in the first half of the nineteenth century, the game as played in the schools became more formalised, and schools devised their own codes of rules. But while the rules had much in common, they did not provide a basis for playing elsewhere than the places where they were devised. As university education expanded, that became a source of frustration for undergraduates, since it tended to restrict players to their fellow old boys. One of the main issues in contention was handling. In 1848 at Cambridge, there was an acrimonious match between old boys of Eton and Rugby. A man who was there recalled “how Eton howled at the Rugby men for handling the ball.” The other issue was the rugby style of tackling. This included not just the full body tackle familiar in rugby today, but also hacking, in other words kicking your opponent’s shins – in really rough games, whether he had the ball or not.
A group of Cambridge students drew up rules which aimed to settle these issues. The 1848 Cambridge Rules had a strong influence on subsequent rules, but did nothing to bring about a consensus. Then in October 1863, representatives of the leading clubs in the London area decided that the time had come to unite the clubs under a national governing body. They founded the Football Association, and made a brave shot at devising rules which would merge together the kicking and handling games. The first draft of the rules allowed both running with the ball and hacking; but this proved too contentious, with some members calling it “uncivilised”. So the Association back-tracked and decided to allow the old practice of catching and taking a free kick, but to bar running with the ball and hacking. This led to a walk-out by the representative from Blackheath, who said that without hacking “you will do away with the courage and pluck of the game, and I will be bound to bring over a lot of Frenchmen who would beat you with a week’s practice.”
After this, the rugby game continued independently, but within it the rights and wrongs of hacking became a matter of hot debate. In the end Richmond and Blackheath concluded that hacking should stop, and in 1871 took the initiative which led to the founding of the Rugby Football Union. Representatives of the leading rugby clubs met in a London restaurant. Only one leading club was missing; the representative of Wasps turned up at the wrong place on the wrong day. That is what Wasps say to this day – though others claim that he got the right day but went to the wrong place and by the time he discovered his mistake was too drunk to make it. Whatever the truth of that, the Secretary of Clapham Rovers, William Rowlinson, got to the right place, and subsequently Reginald Birkett of Clapham Rovers was elected to the RFU’s original committee.
Clapham Rovers had been founded two years previously, on 10 August 1869, at a meeting at the Alexandra Hotel. John Tayloe was elected Captain and Rowlinson Secretary and Treasurer. They rapidly arranged a programme of fixtures for the season, and their first match was played on the Common on 25 September, in front of a large number of spectators. It was against Wanderers, who were one of the top football teams of the day, and were captained by Charles Alcock, who was shortly to become secretary of the FA and is remembered as one the most important people in the development of the game. The Rovers won by one goal to nil.
This was just the start of a very successful first season. At football, the Rovers won 8, lost 1 and drew 2, while at rugby they won 9 and lost 2. The final event was on 2 April, an athletics match on the cricket field which was where Lillieshall Road is now. The Clapham Gazette commented that “a club which plays both codes of rules, and can claim such men as the brothers Tayloe and R Birkett amongst its Rugby rule payers, and A Nash, EA Field and Daly of the Association team, must be considered dangerous to any, even the most formidable, opponents.”
I think we can deduce from these results that the new team did not spring from nowhere, and that many of the players were well known in the London sporting arena. There was already a club called CCC Clapham, which had been founded in 1865 and which also had fixtures against Wanderers. John Tayloe was a member in 1868. It continued into the early 1870s and then disappeared. I have seen nothing to explain the relationship between the two clubs, and certainly nothing in the local press to hint of tensions or disagreements, but CCC played only football, not rugby, and the answer may simply be that a number of good players wanted a club which would play under both rules.
What do we know about the players who formed the new club? Since it did so well right from the start, one question which immediately arises is how far the members came from Clapham or how far the club gathered in good players from elsewhere. The censuses are some help in answering this. In the early years, the club was strongly local, but with a sprinkling of very good non-Clapham players; but at the end of the 1870s, the years of Cup Final glory, very few of the top players were local.
Among the founders were three Clapham families. There were three Tayloes, sons of a medical practitioner living at South Lodge on South Side. The two Field brothers were sons of a wine and spirit merchant living in the High Street. Charles Bryden’s family lived in one of the big houses in the Cedars Terraces. William Rowlinson, the first Secretary, was not a Clapham man by origin but was living in lodgings in the High Street. What all these men had in common was that their families were in the professional or City trading classes, and they themselves were pursuing similar careers – trainee lawyers, brokers, clerks to financial businesses. I have found very few players whose families were lower down the social scale, and even then, I cannot be certain I have identified them correctly in the Census. One of the early players may have been living in Wandsworth Road and working as a clerk to a railway company. One of the players the Clapham Gazette described as dangerous was A Nash, and I was very tempted to identify him with a young blacksmith living in North Street called Alfred Nash. But that it is unlikely in the social stratification of the 19th century, and when I found that the footballing Nash served on the Committee of the FA, I am afraid I had to send the blacksmith off for an early bath.
Of those who came from outside Clapham, the most important for the Rovers’ early successes were the Birketts – three brothers, Reginald, Louis and Perceval. They were sons of a distinguished surgeon, Professor John Birkett, and lived in the West End near Grosvenor Square. What brought them first to Clapham is not known. But Reginald, the oldest, was to become a hide broker in the City, and so did Charles Bryden. In 1871 both were junior clerks, and my guess is that is how the Birketts’ connection with Clapham Rovers came about. It was to play a significant part in the team’s success.
If we could be transported back to the 1870s, how far would we recognise the games as they are played now? The answer depends very much on which end of the 1870s our Tardis takes us to.
For football, at the beginning of the period, perhaps the first difference we would have noticed was that the goal consisted of two upright posts with a tape between them; solid crossbars appeared in the later 1870s and nets in the 1890s. Controlling the game, there were two people on the pitch and a third either on the pitch or on the touch line. The two on the pitch were umpires and the third man was the referee – he made decisions only when the umpires could not agree, hence his name. The umpires intervened only when appealed to, and even an obvious goal had to be the subject of an appeal, and until some time in the 1870s we would not have heard a whistle. Up to 1875, the teams would change ends at half time only if neither had scored, but would always change ends when a goal was scored. There were other developments – corner kicks came in the 1870s, throw-ins were one handed, and there were various changes in the offside rule.
But far more important than all this, the 1870s were the years of significant change in the style of the game, as it shifted from being strongly individualistic to a team activity. In the early period, a player with possession of the ball would try to keep it, and the most prized skill was dribbling. In the 1860s, there was little sense of position, or differentiation of function, and backs could take the ball as far forward as they were able to. The position of goal keeper was not regarded as specialist. There were no substitutes, so an injured player was often sent to keep goal. One of the first specialist goalkeepers was Reg Birkett. But by 1870, the defenders were expected to stay in place. Big changes took place in the forward game. At first, “dribbling was everything”, as Alcock put it, but as the decade went on, passing skills became more important, and passing ability and teamwork was a feature which differentiated top teams like Clapham from the rest.
Rugby games were also controlled by umpires and a referee, with decisions being given only after an appeal. There was also a major shift in the style of the game, even more so than with football. At the beginning of the period, internationals had twenty men on each side; the normal team size for club matches was fifteen, but that was only because few club pitches were large enough for teams of twenty. Of the fifteen, ten would be forwards, leaving only five for the backs. The forwards formed large scrums which spent long periods shoving each other; when the ball occasionally emerged there would be a burst of action by the backs. Because the large and tight scrums took a long time to break up, the back who had the ball had only to dodge the five backs on the other side to get to the try line. As a spectator sport, it was incredibly tedious.
Things improved from the mid-1870s; fifteens became the rule, and with other rule changes a faster and looser style of play developed. The forwards went down from ten to nine, scrums were looser and broke up quicker, while at the back, the three-quarters developed, both as defenders against the rush of the forwards, and as the players who would do the long brilliant runs. As with football, the top clubs began to work as teams, with passing becoming one of the more important skills.
Back to the Rovers, and the achievements of their first decade. In 1869-70, as we have seen they had 22 fixtures, half football and half rugby. Next season they played 14 at football and won 11. At rugby they played 15, won 7 outright and drew 6; but at that time a game in which only tries were scored counted as drawn, and the Rovers finished ahead on tries in four of the six draws. They had 85 members, and played in their colours of cerise and French grey. I am not clear where they played, and it may have been both on the Common and on the cricket filed. But it was about this time that they lost the use of the cricket field, developed for housing as Lillieshall and Macaulay Roads. Whether because of this or because of growing numbers, they moved their pitch to Bedford Hill, changing at the Bedford. They may have used a sports ground there, or they may have played on Tooting Bec Common. The Secretary was now Charles Bryden, succeeded two years later by Perceval Birkett, the middle in age of the three Birkett brothers.
By 1877, with 180 members, they had moved again, this time to Wandsworth Common, where they were to remain, and changing at the Surrey Hotel, later called Surrey Tavern, at the junction of Trinity and Bellevue Roads. I do not know where they played, but it could have been on Wandsworth Common or possibly on the sports ground across the road from the Surrey Tavern. The Secretary was now Arthur Stanley, a stockbroker, and like Birkett not a Clapham man (he lived with his parents in Lancaster Gate, near the original headquarters of the FA). The fixture list had grown, to 22 rugby games, of which 15 were won, and 18 football, of which 10 were won. Club activities also included cricket, athletics and tennis, though I have not found where they took place.
From 1871 internationals were bring played, at first only against the other nations of the British Isles, and Clapham Rovers players were taking part from the start. In rugby, Reginald Birkett played in the first match, against Scotland. The first try was a pushover by Scotland, but the first individual try was scored by Birkett. Later in the match, the winning Scottish try was strongly disputed, giving rise to the comment by one of the umpires: “When an umpire is in doubt, I think he is probably justified in deciding against the side which makes most noise. They are probably in the wrong.” Reg Birkett played for England four times, and was one of only three people to represent England at both rugby and football. His brother Louis also played for England. (Reginald’s son John also played for England, and for a time held the record for the number of international appearances.) Two other Clapham brothers, Charles and Henry Bryden, were also England internationals. (Henry was also a long distance runner and for a time held the world mile record (4 min 24.5 secs).)
At football, there is a well known engraving of an international between England and Scotland at the Oval; one source puts it as 1876, another as 1879. I have not found which is right, but it does not matter. If it is the earlier date, the England team included Edgar Field and WS Buchanan from the Rovers; if the later date, Rovers players were Reginald Birkett, Norman Bailey and James Prinsep. That was the occasion on which Prinsep became the youngest player to represent England, a record he held until 2003, when he was overtaken by Wayne Rooney. I think this happened basically because by that time free use of substitutes was allowed; Rooney was substituted in the second half of a friendly against Australia.
By the later 1870s, Clapham Rovers were starting to attract more and more first rate players with no apparent Clapham connection, and this was to be the basis for their FA Cup triumph in 1880.
In 1871, on the initiative of Charles Alcock the FA had set up, to give it its full title, the Football Association Challenge Cup Competition. Subsequently a similar idea was much discussed in rugby circles but never came to anything. Had it done so, we might well now be remembering Clapham Rovers as a great rugby team. As it is, interest of sports historians in the FA Cup has in my view created a distorting impression of Clapham’s interests.
At the FA meeting in October 1871 which agreed the rules, Clapham Rovers were represented, and they took part in the first season. Jarvis Kenrick scored for them the first goal to be scored in a Cup tie; but they were knocked out in the second round by Wanderers. This was nothing to be ashamed of. In those early years, Wanderers won in six years out of eight, and under the rules as they then were, won the Cup outright – they handed it back with the stipulation that it could never be won outright again. The other three dominant teams were Royal Engineers, Oxford University and Old Etonians, and in the next few years, Clapham Rovers were usually knocked out by one or other of them. The best they did was in 1873-4, when they got to the semi-final, losing 1-0 to Oxford University.
Sometime after 1874, a Wanderers player and England international, Robert Ogilvie, joined the Rovers, and worked hard at building up the team. Then in 1878, they had a real windfall. One of their regular fixtures was against Charterhouse, which had an old boys’ association, but despite being one of the leading football schools did not have a properly organised Old Carthusians football team. That year, the school had three exceptionally talented leavers, all recruited by Clapham Rovers. One of them was the 17 year old James Prinsep, said to be the best half-back the school had ever produced. And so for the first time, the Rovers reached the Cup Final.
They had an easy path to get there, much easier than their opponents Old Etonians. Their only difficult match was against Cambridge University, which they won 1-0 after extra time. Etonians by contrast had to face two replays against Darwen, winning in the end because the Darwen players were worn out by the repeated journeys to London, where the final three rounds then had to be played. (That produced an interesting landmark in football history; the town set up a London Fund to pay for the players rail tickets, and was gripped by what a history of the Cup has called “the first case of that grave derangement known as ‘Cup fever’.”)
Like almost all the early Finals, this one was at the Surrey Cricket ground at Kennington Oval. There was ample room at the Vauxhall end for the pitch and the few thousand spectators – football was still a minority interest, and drew far smaller crowds than the Boat Race. It was not until 1893 that the crowds had grown and the cricket pitch was being encroached upon that Surrey forced the Cup Final out.
So now it is time for the Rovers’ team to run onto the pitch.
Name Age at Final Lived in (where known) Occupation (1881 census)
Goal RH Birkett 29 Mayfair hide broker’s clerk
Full-backs RAMM Ogilvie (Capt) 26 Kensington insurance broker
E Field 24 accountant
Half-backs NC Bailey 21 Streatham solicitor
JFM Prinsep 17 army cadet
Right side FL Rawson 19 electrical engineer
AJ Stanley 25 stockbroker
Centres EF Growse 18 undergraduate
CE Keith-Falconer 18 Kensington in militia
Left side HS Bevington 27 The Temple furrier
SW Scott 25 Lancaster Gate stockbroker
The formation is the standard one of the time – two backs, two halves, six forwards. The average age of the players was 23. I have included what I have been able to find out about where the players lives and what they did (in both cases usually from the 1881 census). Where it is known where they lived, it is not Clapham; and apart from Prinsep, Growse and Keith-Falconer, the three Carthusians, they tended to work in the professions or the financial and commercial markets. On this occasion, Prinsep became the youngest person to have played in a Cup Final, remaining so until 2004. In that year, in the last few minutes of the Final which Manchester United was clearly going to win, Millwall substituted a young man called Curtis Weston, presumably just to take the record. He has had a rather less memorable career than Rooney, now with Gillingham, by way of Swindon, Leeds and Scunthorpe.
The 1879 match was watched by a record crowd of 5,000. The Etonians were slight favourites. At first the play was very even, but towards the end of the first half, the Rovers became more aggressive and the Etonians had trouble holding them. But after half time, when it hailed, the Rovers’ forwards started to flag, and twenty five minutes before the end, the Etonians scored. For the rest of the game, neither side prevailed, and it ended 1-0 to the Etonians,
Before the next season, the Rovers had to face major changes. In particular, the three Carthusians left, Growse to Oxford University and the others to a newly formed Old Carthusian side. Of the 1879 team, there remained only five:
Position Name Lived in (where known) Occupation (1881 census)
Goal RH Birkett Mayfair hide broker’s clerk
Full-backs RAMM Ogilvie (Capt) Kensington insurance broker
E Field accountant
NC Bailey Streatham solicitor
AJ Stanley stockbroker
Their numbers were made up by incomers :
Position Name Age at final Lived in (where known) Occupation (1881 census)
Goal RH Birkett 31 Mayfair hide broker’s clerk
Full-backs RAMM Ogilvie (Capt) 27 Kensington insurance broker
E Field 25 accountant
Half-backs VE Weston 24 Putney stockbroker
NC Bailey 22 Streatham solicitor
Right side H de V Brougham 21 Wallington barrister
AJ Stanley 26 stockbroker
Centres F Barry 21 Lewisham merchant’s clerk
FJ Sparks 24 Barnet commission agent’s clerk
Left side CA Lloyd-Jones 21 Clapham indigo broker
EA Ram 21 Penge architectural student
The incomers came from the same background of their predecessors, and similarly lacked any known family connections with Clapham. Even Lloyd-Jones, who was living in Hetherington Road, near the junction of Acre Lane and Bedford Road (strictly Brixton, but near enough to have booted a football across the parish boundary) came from Shropshire and was living in lodgings.
Clapham Rovers had an uneventful path to the final, as did their opponents, Oxford University. The game drew a record crowd of 6,000, including many students who had come to London for the match, hoping to see the University win for the first time since 1874. Despite Rovers winning the toss and putting Oxford to play the first half into a strong cold wind, the University dominated most of the first half. Birkett in goal for the Rovers was fortunately on top form and made three good saves. In the second half, the game appeared to be heading for a draw, until ten minutes before the end. Then Sparks made a good run down the centre, only to be intercepted by Charles King, an Oxford back known as a brilliant and powerful kicker, but also with a reputation for being erratic. Fortunately, he lived up to his reputation and mis-kicked, enabling Lloyd-Jones to score for Clapham Rovers – amid, as the press put it “vociferous cheering, throwing up of hats, and other demonstrations of delight from their supporters”. So Clapham Rovers became the fifth team to get their name on the famous Cup.
The Rovers never did as well again. They continued to compete in the FA Cup; they got to the quarter-finals in 1881-2, but after that they faded and in 1886, their last appearance, they were knocked out by Old Brightonians in the first round by 0-6. As early as 1882, the Charterhouse School magazine wrote that their performance showed “how melancholy a decay had begun in their club”. That said, they remained numerically strong; in 1890, they were able to field two or even three teams for football and one for rugby in the same afternoon. But the world of football was changing very fast. A major landmark was in March 1883, when Blackburn Olympic took the FA Cup from Old Etonians. In the top ranks of football, the working men’s athletic clubs, many in the north, were starting to displace the gentlemen of the south. Professionalism was creeping in, much against the wishes of the southern amateurs. This was an issue on which the FA could have split, but Charles Alcock steered it to acceptance of paid players. Rugby Union went the other way, remaining resolutely amateur until recent times, the consequence being the breakaway of the Rugby League. In 1907, however, the football amateurs broke from the FA to form their own Association and Clapham Rovers went with them. The club finally disappeared during the First World War, about 1915.
The name however remains popular – I will admit to using it in pub quiz teams. A few years ago, a club for boys and girls, organised by their parents, played under that name on Clapham Common. And the Amateur Football Alliance has no less than three teams playing under that name, one in Clapham in Bedfordshire, one in a five-a-side league in Stanmore, and one which is genuinely local, though playing in Mitcham. I have yet to discover whether they play in the authentic cerise and French grey.
Let me finish by saying more about some of the leading players. A good and bad place to start is with a picture which appeared in the Boys’ Own Paper, Famous English Football Players 1881. Good, because no less than three of the seventeen portrayed had played for Clapham Rovers; but bad because although sometimes reproduced as authentic, it easy to see that these are not real-life portraits – the players are much too similar.
On the right, in white and seated, is Francis Sparks, who played in the Rovers’ winning 1880 team; in the third round of that season he scored a hat-trick when the Rovers knocked out Pilgrims by 7-0. About the same time he was in three internationals, and was on the Committee of the FA. Apart from sport I cannot trace any connection with Clapham: his family moved around a lot, and in 1881 he was leaving in Barnet. His father was a City merchant and commission agent, and Francis worked for him as his clerk.
In the centre, seated and holding a ball which looks to me oval, is Norman Bailey. He was almost local, since the family lived in Leigham Court Road in Streatham. His father was a solicitor, as he was. He played in both the Rovers’ Cup Finals, but his real claim to fame is a long career playing for England, over ten seasons from 1878 to 1887. He made nineteen appearances and was captain in fifteen of them. He played for a number of teams, probably joining Clapham Rovers from Wanderers in the late 1870s, but in 1882 was a founder-member of Corinthians; he might well have recognised that it was time for a top footballer to move on from Clapham. He was Vice-President of the FA from 1887-1890.
I think Bailey is probably wearing a Clapham Rovers shirt, since they were in halves, though the colours are not quite right, and should be cerise and French grey. Standing behind him and in the hooped shirt of Old Carthusians, is James Prinsep, the best known of all the Clapham players, and a man whose life really reads like a Boys’ Own Paper story. He was born in India in 1861, into a distinguished family of British Indian administrators. When he was nearly thirteen, he was sent home to school, to Charterhouse, recently moved from the City to new buildings near Godalming. There he proved a brilliant all-round sportsman, in the first XI for football and cricket and also doing well at rackets and athletics. He left in the summer of 1878 with a view to a military career by way of a cadetship at Sandhurst, but did not start there until February 1881. In the intervening period, apart from football, we do not know what he was doing or where; my guess is that he was with a crammer, one of a number of people often ex-Army, who coached students to pass the difficult very competitive entrance exam. (Some years later, the young Winston Churchill did the same.) Prinsep passed at the second attempt.
At Sandhurst he captained the football team, played rugby and cricket (top of the batting averages) and took part in athletics. Later he was to play polo and was also a good water-colour artist and musician – he is said to have taken a dummy piano with him on football tours to keep in practice.
After graduation he was commissioned into the Essex Regiment, and in 1884 found himself in Egypt on one of imperial Britain’s more unfortunate ventures, to rescue General Gordon who was besieged by rebels in Khartoum. The expedition went slowly up the Nile in light boats which could be portaged up the cataracts, and it was hazardous trip. At one point, Prinsep’s boat nearly capsized in the rapids, and a man who could not swim fell in. Prinsep fully clothed dived in and saved him – for which he got a medal from the Royal Humane Society. The expedition failed, reaching Khartoum two days after Gordon had been killed.
Egypt was nominally independent but in reality under British rule, and Prinsep remained there, on secondment to the Egyptian army. He performed another rescue in the Nile, this time of a Sudanese sailor. In 1888, he took part in an expedition to relieve a siege of Suakin, a Sudanese port on the Red Sea held by Egypt. He was mentioned in despatches for his conduct in the siege and the battle which ended it.
In 1891 Prinsep married Evelyn Campbell, the daughter of a retired Indian Civil Servant. It was a love match: at only thirty, and with no family wealth, he did not really have the money to support a wife and family (they quickly had three sons) in the style thought appropriate for an army officer, and both sets of parents disapproved. So did Kitchener, the British head of the Egyptian Army, and Prinsep found himself transferred to the Egyptian coastguard service. The marriage was sadly short-lived: some websites say that Prinsep was killed in action, but actually he died on a family holiday in Scotland. He played golf while suffering from cold, which turned to pneumonia, and after seven weeks of illness died of blood poisoning and kidney failure. He was only 34; Evelyn was heart-broken and died five years later.
When I was researching Prinsep, I got hold of a copy of the registration of his death. I was excited to see that the person notifying the death was his uncle, James Grant-Peterkin – the great-grandfather of my old friend and long-standing Clapham Society member Keith Grant-Peterkin.
There is one further player not in the Boys’ Own Paper picture who I think we should note – the man who scored the 1880 winning goal, Clopton Allen Lloyd Jones. He was born at Hanwood in Shropshire in 1858, where his father was the village squire. Educated at Trent College, Nottingham, where he was an outstanding footballer and played for the school against Nottingham Forest, he came to London in the late 1870s to work for a relative in a firm of indigo brokers. A keen all round sportsman, between 1877 and 1879 he played football for a club in Walthamstow, before joining Clapham Rovers for the 1879-1880 season. Here as well as football, he played cricket and tennis.
His connection with Clapham was short-lived. In 1884, he moved to Shrewsbury, where he set up as a commission agent, that is, a credit bookmaker. He continued his active involvement in sport, playing cricket for Herefordshire, Shropshire and Radnorshire. At football, he joined Castle Blues, though not for long: the team disbanded in 1886 after being found guilty of violent and dangerous play. As his parents were Welsh, he was selected for Wales in 1884-5 but was unavailable to play. In his later years he was active in sports organisations around Shrewsbury, as events organiser, judge or more frequently starter at athletics events. He died in 1918. His FA Cup Winner’s medal was recently sold at a Bristol auction for £4,200.
He evidently looked back with pride on his Clapham days. So I have a final picture to leave to leave you with – not on the screen but to be imagined. In 1892, he entered a fancy dress ball held by the Shrewsbury Amateur Dramatic Society in the character of a member of ‘Clapham Rovers CC’. He won no prize; but if the cricket colours were the same as for football, he would have been a striking figure in cerise and French grey.
Peter Jefferson Smith
20 May 2009
Alcock, CW (ed). The Football Annual, issues from 1871 onwards
Green, Geoffrey. The History of the Football Association (1953)
Jefferson Smith, Peter. The life and times of James Prinsep (Soccer History, Issue 7, Spring 2004)
Shearman, Montague, and others. Football (Badminton Library series, 1899)
Titley, UA and McWhirter, Ross. Centenary History of the Rugby Football Union (1970)
Warsop, Keith. The Early FA Cup Finalists and the Southern Amateurs (2004)
Local Clapham newspapers in Lambeth Archives
Numerous internet sites on football and rugby history