A well-respected referee, Mitchell was the first man to officiate at games in all four home countries, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Mitchell was
In 1884 Tom Mitchell became secretary/manager of Blackburn Rovers. At the end of the 1883-84 season Blackburn Rovers joined forces with other clubs who were paying their players, such as Preston North End, 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 Fergie Suter, Hugh McIntyre, Jimmy Brown 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 James 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.
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."
Tom Mitchell agreed with McGregor and played an important role in establishing the Football League. 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.
At the beginning of the 1889-90 season Tom Mitchell, the club secretary, recruited four top players from Scotland: Tom Brandon, Johnny Forbes, George Dewar and Harry Campbell. These players joined local men, James Forrest, Herbie Arthur, John Barton, Billy Townley, Nathan Walton, Joseph Lofthouse, Jack Southworth, John Horne and James Southworth.
Tom Mitchell was particularly concerned with the position of goalkeeper. Herbie Arthur, at 36, was coming to the end of his playing days. Mitchell initially signed Ted Doig from Arbroath. However, he found it difficult to settle and after playing only one game he returned to Scotland. Eventually, John Horne took over as Blackburn's goalkeeper. The defence did not perform well that season letting in 45 goals in 22 games.
Blackburn Rovers had little difficulty scoring goals. The team beat Notts County (9-1), Stoke (8-0), Aston Villa (7-0), Bolton Wanderers (7-1) and Burnley (7-1). Top scorers that season were Jack Southworth (22), Harry Campbell (15), Nathan Walton (14) and Joseph Lofthouse (11).
In the 1889-90 season Blackburn Rovers finished in 3rd place, six points behind Preston North End. They did even better in the FA Cup. On the way to the final they beat Sunderland (4-2), Grimsby Town (3-0), Bootle (7-0) and Wolverhampton Wanderers (1-0).
Blackburn were odds-on favourites to win the cup against Sheffield Wednesday, who played in the Football Alliance league. Blackburn selected the following players: (G) John Horne, (2) Johnny Forbes, (3) James Southworth, (4) John Barton, (5) George Dewar, (6) James Forrest, (7) Joseph Lofthouse, (8) Harry Campbell, (9) Jack Southworth, (10) Nathan Walton and (11) Billy Townley.
Blackburn Rovers took the lead in the 6th minute when a shot from Townley was deflected past the Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper. Campbell hit the post before Walton converted a pass from Townley. Blackburn scored a third before half-time when Southworth scored from another of Townley's dangerous crosses from the wing.
Townley scored his second, and Blackburn's fourth goal in the 50th minute. Bennett got one back for the Sheffield side when Bennett headed past the advancing Horne. Townley completed his hat-trick when he converted a pass from Lofthouse. Ten minutes before the end of the game, Lofthouse completed the scoring and Blackburn had won the cup 6-1. As Philip Gibbons pointed out in his book Association Football in Victorian England: "The Blackburn side had given one of the finest exhibitions of attacking football in an FA Cup Final, with England internationals, Walton, Townley, Lofthouse and John Southworth at the peak of their form."
After their 1890 FA Cup success, the Blackburn Committee negotiated a 10 year lease with the Ewood racecourse ground. The cost was £60 per annum for the first five years and then £70 per annum for the remaining period. It was also decided to spend £1,000 to improve Ewood Park.
In an effort to improve the quality of Blackburn's defence, Tom Mitchell signed a new goalkeeper, John Gow from Scottish club Renton. However, he was eventually lost his place to local lad, Rowland Pennington.
Although the defence did slightly improve that year, Blackburn Rovers was not as successful in front of goal and the club finished in 6th place in the league. However, Blackburn had another good run in the FA Cup and beat Middlesborough Ironopolis (3-0), Chester (7-0), Wolverhampton Wanderers (2-0), West Bromwich Albion (3-2) to reach their second successive final.
Notts County were their opponents. Mitchell selected the following players: (G) Rowland Pennington, (2) Tom Brandon, (3) Johnny Forbes, (4) John Barton, (5) George Dewar, (6) James Forrest, (7) Joseph Lofthouse, (8) Nathan Walton, (9) Jack Southworth, (10) Coombe Hall and (11) Billy Townley.
Blackburn Rovers put Notts County under pressure from the beginning and in the 8th minute, centre-half Dewar scored from a Townley corner. Before the end of the first-half, Southworth and Townley added further goals. Jimmy Oswald of Notts County did score a late consolation goal but Blackburn finished comfortable 3-1 winners and won the FA Cup for the 5th time in 8 years.
At the beginning of the 1891-92 season John Barton suffered a serious injury that brought an end to his football career at Blackburn Rovers. Jack Southworth and James Forrest also missed a lot of games that season as a result of injuries. The club also lost the services of Tom Brandon who was transferred to Sheffield Wednesday after an argument with the Blackburn Committee.
Blackburn Rovers also got into trouble with the Football Association after a game against Burnley in December 1891. Joseph Lofthouse was fouled by Alexander Stewart. The two men started fighting which resulted in both men being sent off my the referee. The Blackburn players thought that Lofthouse had been treated too severely and except for the goalkeeper, Herbie Arthur, walked off in protest. Arthur then refused to restart the game with a free-kick and the referee was forced to abandon the game.
Blackburn Rovers won their first game in the 1892-93 season against Newton Heath. Blackburn then began a bad run hat brought five draws and five defeats from their next 10 League games. Tom Mitchell, the club secretary, once again went to Scotland to recruit players. He signed Scottish international defenders, George Anderson (Leith Athletic) and Harry Marshall (Hearts). Johnny Murray, who had also played for Scotland, arrived from Sunderland.
Blackburn still had problems with the goalkeeping position. Rowland Pennington lost his place after letting in seven goals in two games. Herbie Arthur was brought back into the side but he was dropped after conceding ten goals in three games. Mitchell then made the strange decision of putting inside forward Nathan Walton in goal. That year Blackburn finished in 9th place in the league.
28,000 spectators watched Blackburn Rovers beat Sunderland, 3-0 in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. There was a record gate of £760, the previous best being £454. One Blackburn supporter wrote after the game: "Southworth is the finest centre-forward and Anderson the finest half-back the world has ever seen, or ever will have the luck to see." Unfortunately Blackburn lost 2-1 in the semi-final to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The 1893-94 season saw Blackburn Rovers encounter serious financial problems. The costs of developing Ewood Park had not resulted in the expected higher attendances for marches. Only the visit of Sunderland brought a 10,000 plus crowd. Tom Mitchell was forced to sell his main asset, Jack Southworth, to Everton for £400.
Adam Ogilvie was signed as the new goalkeeper. He joined fellow Scotsmen, George Anderson, Harry Marshall, Johnny Murray, Johnny Forbes, George Dewar, Coombe Hall, Tom Brandon and Harry Campbell in the side.
Blackburn's defence was now completely made up of Scotsmen. However, the club did have three talented Englishmen in the forward line: Harry Chippendale, Jimmy Whitehead and Jamie Haydock. In fact, Chippendale and Whitehead both obtained their first international caps in March 1894 in a game against Ireland. That year Blackburn finished in 4th place in the First Division of the Football League.
In 1894 Blackburn Rovers signed Patrick Gordon from Liverpool. Gordon replaced Jamie Haydock in the team. This upset the supporters and one man wrote to the local newspaper and claimed "Gordon is scarcely worth his place in the team after all. The wiseacres on the Rovers' committee think him a dashing outside-right. But he is not. Haydock is the best they have had for a long time."
Gordon's form was not good and Haydock eventually got his place back. On May, 1895 Patrick Gordon was sacked from the club for what was described as "refractory conduct" during a tour of Scotland. It was also stated that he refused to play for the reserve team after he was replaced by Jamie Haydock.
Blackburn continued to have trouble balancing the books and in 1895 the club made a public appeal for £1,500. A club bazaar raised £1,200 and all the players decided to contribute a week's wages to the fund.
The 1895-96 season was a major disappointment. New signing Peter Turnbull, a centre-forward with a good goal scoring record when he played for Glasgow Rangers, Bolton Wanderers and Burnley, only managed seven in 25 games for Blackburn. The all-Scottish defence played well but the lack of goals resulted in the club finishing in 8th place in the league.
Blackburn also lost the services of James Forrest, a man who had played in five winning cup finals for the club. Forrest left the club in October 1895 after he refused a request from the Blackburn Committee to register as an amateur in order to avoid paying him a wage.
In October, 1896, Tom Mitchell, resigned as Blackburn's secretary/manager. His replacement was Joseph Walmsley, a local cotton mill manager. It seemed Blackburn missed Mitchell as they slumped to 14th place in the First Division of the Football League.
After an opening day win (in the 1892-93 season), a narrow 4-3 victory over Newton Heath at Ewood Park, the Rovers then began on a sequence that brought five draws and five defeats from their next 10 League games. It was during the later stages of this sequence that Tom Mitchell was again dispatched to Scotland to find players of genuine quality. Within a matter of a month the club had made several significant signings. George (known as Geordie) Anderson was signed from Leith Athletic to occupy the centre-half position, while Harry Marshall, an outstanding Scottish international half-back, was signed from Hearts.
Mr. T. B. Marshall, who for a long period was an important figure in the football world... Mitchell was a prime mover in the establishment of the Football League. A noted referee.. among his engagements were an international match at Glasgow, two final ties in the Irish Division of the Association Cup competition when clubs other than those in England and Wales were allowed to enter; and a final for the Welsh Cup Fond of all kinds of sport, Mr. mitchell was a dead shot with a gun, and as an owner of greyhounds met with more than average success at club meetings. On his appointment as secretary, a position he held about 12 years, he gave whole-hearted service to the club, which during his regime twice carried off the Association Cup.