Blackburn played a very important role in the development of Association Football in England. Blackburn Rovers was established in November 1875. The town also had several small clubs and in August 1877, Black Star and James Street joined forces to establish Blackburn Olympic. The club was funded by Sidney Yates, the owner of a local iron foundry.
Whereas Blackburn Rovers was mainly made up of players who attended public schools, the Blackburn Olympic team largely contained men from the working-class and was funded by Sidney Yates of the local iron foundry. The two clubs played each other on 15th February 1879 but Olympic, now one of the best teams in the country, won 3-1.
In 1882, Blackburn Rovers became the first provincial team to reach the final of the FA Cup. Their opponents was Old Etonians who had reached the final on five previous occasions. However, Blackburn had gone through the season unbeaten and was expected to become the first northern team to win win the game.
The Old Etonians scored after eight minutes and despite creating a great number of chances, Blackburn was unable to obtain an equalizer in the first-half. Early in the second-half George Avery was seriously injured and Blackburn Rovers was reduced to ten men. Despite good efforts by Jimmy Brown, Jack Hargreaves and John Duckworth, Rovers were unable to score and lost the final 1-0.
Blackburn Olympic decided to enter the FA Cup in 1882-83. Coached by former England player, Jack Hunter, Blackburn beat Lower Darwen 9-1 in the second round of the competition. This was followed by victories against Darwen Ramblers (8-0), Church (2-0) and Druids (4-0). Hunter, who also played at centre-half for Olympic, led his team to a 4-0 victory over Old Carthusians in the semi-final of the competition.
Jack Hunter decided to take his team away to Blackpool to prepare for the Cup Final against Old Etonians. As Marc Keech pointed out in the Encyclopedia of British Football : "This was the first recorded occasion of sustained systematic training, with players leaving home for a period of time to live communally."
Over 8,000 people arrived at the Kennington Oval to watch Blackburn Olympic play Old Etonians in the final. Blackburn selected the following team: Thomas Hacking (dental assistant), James Ward (cotton machine operator), Albert Warburton (master plumber and pub landlord), Thomas Gibson (iron foundry worker), William Astley (weaver), John Hunter (pub landlord), Thomas Dewhurst (weaver), Arthur Matthews (picture framer), George Wilson (clerk), Jimmy Costley (spinner) and John Yates (weaver).
Old Etonians were appearing in their third successive FA Cup Final. Their captain, Arthur Kinnaird, was playing in his ninth final and his side were hot favourites to win. Goodhart gave the public school side a 1-0 lead at half-time. The fitter Blackburn Olympic began to take control of the game in the second-half and Arthur Matthews scored a well-deserved equalizer. Despite being the much better team Olympic was unable to score a winning goal during normal time. After 17 minutes of extra time, Thomas Dewhurst ran at the defence, centred the ball to Jimmy Costley, who volleyed the ball past the goalkeeper. Blackburn Olympic had become the first northern team to win the FA Cup.
Blackburn Olympic had another good cup run in the 1883-84 season. They beat both Old Wykehamist and Northwich Victoria 9-1. However, they lost to the Scottish side, Queen's Park in the semi-final. What made it worse was that Olympic's deadly rivals, Blackburn Rovers, beat Queen's Park, 2-1, in the final.
Jack Hunter left the club in 1887. Blackburn Olympic now went into decline and in September 1889, their rented ground was taken over by the Blackburn Railway Clerks Club.
At the end of the previous season we had been fortunate enough to defeat the Blackburn Olympic by five goals to one. As you know, the Olympic were that year particularly strong and our great victory is to be accounted for that we played upon our own ground and that the hard training they had been undergoing had begun to have its effect upon them by the time we met them. But in September, 1883, we went to Blackburn to play the return and by this time the Olympic had picked up again. It was a very hard match indeed and in the end we were defeated by two goals to one. We did not send over our strongest team, I ought to say, while the Cup-holders were in splendid form and the captain, Jack Hunter, played a grand game. The second part of the game was full of excitement and we made a desperate effort to avoid the defeat, but could not succeed in scoring.
The season having thus opened, football became all the rage in the Midlands and 1 never remember the enthusiasm being greater. A topical writer of the time said:- 'Football is the game of the day. Before it cricket pales and croquet hides it insipid head; quoits and bowls become elderly and suburban and even lawn tennis is a feeble pastime of sunshine and flirtation. The vigorous and hearty football has virtually kicked all other games out of the field. Not only do teams travel hundreds of miles to play matches, but enthusiasts travel hundreds of miles to see them do it. From Glasgow to London will believers journey and doubtless from Dan to Beersheba should football permeate Palestine.
Special reporters take football in hand and columns are written about it daily. Decidedly, too, the sport is gaining favour with the fair sex. At a late encounter in these parts the ladies stood five deep in the enclosure and evinced the most lively interest in the tremendous 'kicktip' that was going on. The dear creatures have mastered the slang, too and talk occult football lingo gaily and glibly...
I can remember when we first started the Villa that it was difficult to get reports of matches in any newspaper and our captain or secretary had to write them himself. But that is all altered now and in the Midlands the Villa assisted materially in the change. Whenever we left town to play a match big crowds went over with us and when we returned big crowds were waiting to meet us. Football reports were eagerly read and during the last ten years nearly all the cheap popular papers devoting special attention to this branch of sport have been started.