In 1871, Charles W. Alcock, the Secretary of the Football Association, announced the introduction of the Football Association Challenge Cup. It was the first knockout competition of its type in the world. It was also a competition for amateur teams. The FA prohibited the payment of players. Many clubs did not enter for financial reasons. All ties had to be played in London. Clubs based in places such as Nottingham and Sheffield found it difficult to find the money to travel to the capital. Each club also had to contribute one guinea towards the cost of the £20 silver trophy.
New clubs in the textile towns of Lancashire such as Blackburn Olympic, Blackburn Rovers, Darwen and Preston North End began to attract quite large crowds. This enabled them to unofficially pay their players small sums of money to cover their costs of appearing on a Saturday afternoon.
Blackburn Olympic was funded by Sidney Yates, the owner of a local iron foundry. The club entered the FA Cup for the first time in the 1882-83 season. 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.
Over 8,000 people arrived at the 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. Unlike previous winners, they were not really an amateur team. It was later revealled that Sidney Yates was paying the players £1 appearance money. No amateur club was to win the FA Cup again.
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. Sudell admitted that his players were being paid but argued that this was common practice and did not breach regulations. However, the FA disagreed and expelled them from the competition.
Major William Sudell, the secretary/manager of Preston North End admitted that he had improved the quality of the team by importing top players from other areas. This included several players from Scotland. As well as paying them money for playing for the team, Sudell also found them highly paid work in Preston.
Newton Heath (later renamed as Manchester United) was originally established by workers of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (LYR) in Manchester. In the early 1880s Newton Heath began offering good jobs to talented footballers in the railway industry. This included international players from Wales and Scotland. This included John Doughty, Roger Doughty and Jack Powell. As the Football Association insisted that football clubs could not pay players, the provision of good jobs for good players was known as "shamateurism".
Blackburn Rovers was also involved in "shamateurism". In the 1883-84 FA Cup they beat Padium (3-0), Staveley (5-0), Upton Park (3-0), and Notts County (1-0) to reach the final. After Blackburn beat Notts County the club made an official complaint to the Football Association that John Inglis was a professional player. The FA carried out an investigation into the case discovered that Inglis was working as a mechanic in Glasgow and was not earning a living playing football for Blackburn Rovers.
John Inglis played in the final against Queens Park at outside left. Other Scots in the team included Jimmy Douglas (outside right) Fergie Suter (left-back) and Hugh McIntyre (centre-half). The Scottish club scored the first goal but Blackburn Rovers won the game with goals from Blackburn lads, James Forrest and Joe Sowerbutts.
Blackburn Rovers beat Witton (6-1), Romford (8-0), West Bromwich Albion (2-0) and Old Carthusians (5-0) to reach the final. Once again they had to play Queens Park. 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.
James Forrest of Blackburn Rovers won his first international cap for England against Wales on 17th March, 1884. 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. Over the next few years international sides contained more and more professional players. It was another sign of the decline in amateur football.
Several football teams from industrial towns were paying their players small sums of money. 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.
The accounts of Blackburn Rovers show that they spent a total of £615 on the payment of wages during the 1885-86 season. That year they reached the 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 had achieved three successive cup final victories.
In 1887 Sunderland beat Middlesbrough 4-2 in an early round of the FA Cup. Middlesbrough protested that three of Sunderland's players (Monaghan, Hastings and Richardson) were living in Scotland and was lodged at the Royal Hotel at the club's expense. In January 1888, the Football Association examined the Sunderland books and discovered "a payment of thirty shillings in the cash book to Hastings, Monaghan and Richardson for train fares from Dumfries to Sunderland". Sunderland was kicked out of the FA Cup and ordered to pay the expenses of the inquiry. The three players concerned were each suspended from football in England for three months.
The decision to pay players increased club's wage bills. It was therefore necessary to arrange more matches that could be played in front of large crowds. On 2nd March, 1888, William McGregorcirculated a letter to Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End, and West Bromwich Albion suggesting that "ten or twelve of the most prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home and away fixtures each season."
J. J. Bentley of Bolton Wanderers and Tom Mitchell of Blackburn Rovers responded very positively to the suggestion. They suggested that other clubs should be invited to the meeting being held on 23rd March, 1888. This included Accrington, Burnley, Derby County, Notts County, Stoke, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Old Carthusians, and Everton should be invited to the meeting.
The following month the Football League was formed. It consisted of six clubs from Lancashire (Preston North End, Accrington, Blackburn Rovers, Burnley, Bolton Wanderers 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. McGregor also wanted to restrict the league to twelve clubs. Therefore, the applications of Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest, Darwen and Bootle were rejected.
The first season of the Football League began in September, 1888. It was the start of what we now call professional football.
The Rovers were overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy as all of their team, bar Jimmy Southworth and Jack Horne, were of international status. Jack Southworth, Jack Barton, Jimmy Forrest, Joe Lofthouse, Billy Townley and Nat Walton were all English internationals, while John Forbes, Geordie Dewar and Henry Campbell had represented Scotland.
The rovers looked immaculate when they took to the field, being attired in white dress shirts that had been hastily acquired from a London outfitters once it was realised that Sheffield would be turning out in blue jerseys. Prior to the match a representative of the Blackburn Times spoke to someone who had been in the dressing room area and he had reported that while the Rovers players were singing and laughing the men from Sheffield were fraught with nerves. He predicted an easy victory for the Rovers and so it turned out. Billy Townley was undoubtedly the star of the show and he became the first man to score a hat-trick in the FA Cup Final as the Rovers romped to a 6-1 win.
On Saturday, January 25, 1896 a most unusual game was staged at Derby County’s Baseball Ground – a testimonial billed as “Derby County versus The Gentlemen of England”.
At face value, the contest was unremarkable. Foul weather restricted the gate to a disappointing 5,000, as Derby County ran out winners by 4-3.
And this was no thriller – in truth Derby’s well-drilled professional players, fresh from a training break at a state of the art hydropathic establishment in Ashover, won at a mere canter.
But thereby hangs the tale. The Derby County players were the new breed of hard-bitten thoroughbred professionals, mostly working class men who played for money without a hint of shame.
Football to them was a job. In contrast, the “Gentlemen of England” were the old breed of unpaid amateurs – all highly-talented players in their own right, but mostly university-educated men of privileged background and professional standing who played for the love of the game rather than “filthy lucre”.
That made the friendly fixture an unlikely one indeed, since voluntary fraternisation between the “pure” amateurs and “tainted” professionals was hardly to be encouraged.
The man in whose honour the yawning gap was bridged was Derby County’s own “gentleman professional” John Goodall, whose fine character and reputation for fair play was held in such universal esteem that he earned the sobriquets “Honest John” and “Johnny Allgood”.
So the John Goodall Testimonial was far more than just another friendly fixture – the Baseball Ground that day witnessed a symbolic moment in football history. It was the moment the posh old guard paid public homage to the common new breed – the day when professional football, hitherto reviled by much of educated society, truly came of age.
It was generally agreed that Blackburn had a little too much FA Cup experience for Wednesday, for whom Morley, Brayshaw, Mumford and Bennett performed splendidly. However, 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.