James Forrest was born in Blackburn on 24th June, 1864. On 5th November 1875, two friends, John Lewis and Arthur Constantine, organized a meeting at the St Leger Hotel in Blackburn to discuss the possibility of establishing a football club in the town. Seventeen men attended the meeting and it was decided to establish the Blackburn Rovers Football Club.
John Hargreaves and Fred Hargreaves, who both worked in the legal profession, became important figures at the club. They had both played football for Malvern College and advocated that Blackburn Rovers adopted the quartered shirt design of their school shirts. However, they suggested that the traditional green should be changed to the light blue worn by the Cambridge University football team.
James Forrest was only a teenager when he started playing for Blackburn Rovers. He was only nineteen when he played in the 1884 FA Cup Final. Their opponents were Queens Park, the best team in Scotland. Forrest played at right-half. The Scottish club scored the first goal but Blackburn Rovers won the game with goals from Blackburn lads, James Forrest and Joe Sowerbutts.
In January, 1884, Preston North End played the London side, Upton Park, in the FA Cup. After the game Upton Park complained to the Football Association that Preston was a professional, rather than an amateur team. Major William Sudell, the secretary/manager of Preston North End, admitted that his players were being paid but argued that this was common practice and did not breach regulations. However, the Football Association disagreed and expelled them from the competition.
Blackburn Rovers, who denied they were paying their players, beat Old Carthusians 5-0 in the semi-final of the FA Cup. Once again they had to play Queens Park in the final. Blackburn Rovers was now a team full of internationals. This included James Forrest, Jimmy Brown, Herbie Arthur, Joseph Lofthouse, Hugh McIntyre and Jimmy Douglas. A crowd in excess of 12,000 arrived at the Oval to see the what most people believed were the best two clubs in England and Scotland. With goals from Brown and Forrest, Blackburn Rovers won 2-0.
At the end of the 1883-84 season Preston North End joined forces with other clubs who were paying their players, such as Aston Villa and Sunderland. In October, 1884, these clubs threatened to form a break-away British Football Association. The Football Association responded by establishing a sub-committee, which included William Sudell, to look into this issue. On 20th July, 1885, the FA announced that it was "in the interests of Association Football, to legalise the employment of professional football players, but only under certain restrictions". Clubs were allowed to pay players provided that they had either been born or had lived for two years within a six-mile radius of the ground.
Blackburn Rovers immediately registered as a professional club. Their accounts show that they spent a total of £615 on the payment of wages during the 1885-86 season. Despite the fact that clubs could now openly pay their players, Blackburn Rovers continued to dominate English football. They reached the 1885 FA Cup Final by beating Darwen Old Wanders (6-1), Staveley (7-1), Brentwood (3-1) and Swifts (2-1) Seven of the Blackburn Rovers team were appearing in their third successive final, whereas Jimmy Brown, Fergie Suter, Hugh McIntyre and Jimmy Douglas were playing in their fourth final in five season. The game against West Bromwich Albion at the Oval ended in a 0-0 draw.
The replay took place at the Racecourse Ground, Derby. A goal by Joe Sowerbutts gave Blackburn Rovers an early lead. In the second-half Jimmy Brown collected the ball in his own area, took the ball past several WBA players, ran the length of the field and scored one of the best goals scored in a FA Cup Final. Blackburn Rovers now joined the Wanderers in achieving three successive cup final victories.
James Forrest won his first international cap for England against Wales on 17th March, 1884. England won 4-0. The following year he was selected to play against Scotland. Scottish officials complained as they argued that Forrest was a professional. At the time he was receiving £1 a week from Blackburn Rovers. Forrest was eventually allowed to play but he had to wear a different jersey from the rest of the team. Forrest is now acknowledged as being the first professional to win an international cap.
The decision by the Football Association to allow clubs to pay their players increased their out-goings. It was therefore necessary to arrange more matches that could be played in front of large crowds. In March, 1888, William McGregor, a director of Aston Villa, circulated a letter suggesting that "ten or twelve of the most prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home and away fixtures each season." The following month the Football League was formed. It consisted of six clubs from Lancashire (Blackburn Rovers, Preston North End, Accrington, Burnley and Everton) and six from the Midlands (Aston Villa, Derby County, Notts County, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers). The main reason Sunderland was excluded was because the other clubs in the league objected to the costs of travelling to the North-East.
The first season of the Football League began in September, 1888. Preston North End won the first championship that year without losing a single match and acquired the name the "Invincibles". Blackburn Rovers, who had lost most of their best players to retirement, finished in 4th place, 14 points behind Preston.
Blackburn did slightly better the following season finishing in 3rd place, six points behind Preston. However, they did win the FA Cup Final beating Sheffield Wednesday 6-1 with Billy Townley scoring a hat trick.
James Forrest died in 1925.