In the 18th century football was played by most of Britain's leading public schools. There is documentary evidence that football was played at Eton as early as 1747. Westminster started two years later. Harrow, Shrewsbury, Winchester and Charterhouse had all taken up football by the 1750s.
In 1848 a meeting took place at Cambridge University to lay down the rules of football. Teachers representing Eton, Shrewsbury, Harrow, Rugby, Marlborough and Westminster, produced what became known as the Cambridge Rules. One participant explained what happened: "I cleared the tables and provided pens and paper... Every man brought a copy of his school rules, or knew them by heart, and our progress in framing new rules was slow."
Former public school boys also played football at university. Many continued to play after finishing their education. One group of former public schoolboys formed Forest Football Club in 1859. Based in Leytonstone, Forest became one of the founders of the Football Association in October, 1863.
In 1864 Forest changed its name to the Wanderers and began playing in Battersea Park. The team's captain was Charles W. Alcock. He was also secretary of the FA and in 1871 he announced the introduction of the Football Association Challenge Cup. It was the first knockout competition of its type in the world. Only 12 clubs took part in the competition: Wanderers, Royal Engineers, Hitchin, Queens Park, Barnes, Civil Service, Crystal Palace, Hampstead Heathens, Great Marlow, Upton Park, Maidenhead and Clapham Rovers.
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.
In the 1872 final, the Wanderers beat the Royal Engineers 1-0 at the Kennington Oval. They also won it the following season with with Arthur Kinnaird getting one of the goals. The team was full of internationals and included R. W. S. Vidal, who had the reputation of being the finest dribbler of the ball in England, Charles Wollaston and Hubert Heron.
The Wanders also won the competition in 1876, 1877 and 1878. The Wanderers disbanded soon afterwards as individual public schools began to form their own football clubs.