Fred’s sporty genes have not made it down the family tree to me but I am finding the history of pre-league football oddly compelling. Footballs and cricket feature largely in Fred’s life but I don’t think I realised quite how much until this latest episode. Fred mentions that he “Played at football Attercliffe v Surrey” on 29th November 1879 which later he later refers to as the ‘cup tie’. This turns out to be part of the season for the 1879/80 Sheffield Football Association Challenge Cup (most of the matches have been recorded here).
When Fred and his mates were playing, professional football as we understand it now didn’t yet exist. However this was starting to change:
“Between 1875 and 1885 almost every football club in Britain was embraced by a local
association, some of which conducted fiercely contested cup competitions. […]the oldest of these was the Sheffield Association, an organisation that was very highly developed, including, from 1873, the Sheffield Football Accident Fund, an insurance scheme for contracting players.
From the middle of the 1870s the Sheffield Association consisted of between thirty and forty subscribing clubs and a membership numbering as many as 5,000 players. Naturally, the revenue generated by such numbers was sufficient to enable the Sheffield Association to purchase a fifty guinea trophy in 1876 and establish a challenge cup competition.”
From ‘Football: The First Hundred Years’ by Adrian Harvey
The Attercliffians got through to the quarter finals that year after beating Talbot 2-1 on a very cold night despite being a man down at half time. The match was recorded in both the Sheffield Independent and the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (below) although frustratingly Fred has been incorrectly recorded as ‘J’ and not ‘F’ Shepherd:
The match against Heeley on the 13th of December and Fred mentions it in an early letter to Jane, and moans about having to go all the way to Meersbrooke Park and that he’s not sure if he’s been selected to play yet. But he also sounds disgruntled by a possibly fatal lack of kissing:
“Supposing I see you tomorrow night that will only make twice this week, instead of four times as it is usually, you will see a dejection in my appearance corresponding to the number of times but I haven’t seen you, rather kissed you, and seeing that your kisses are as life to me (poetical?) It stands to reason that I am half-dead“
Fred records the events of the 13th of December as “Saturday, December 13. Cup tie Attercliffe v Heeley. Heeley won 2 to 0. Afterwards went to Circus with J.”
We have more detail about the football than any restorative kissing due to the account in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph:
Attercliffe (and Fred) also went on to lose a match 0 – 2 to Stavely (the eventual Cup Tie winners) on 20th December and Fred’s footballing exploits for 1879 were looking rather glum. However, the club managed to recover glory before the year was out as they took part in a traditional Boxing Day match and headed off to Birmingham to play Aston Villa.
I’ve looked in newspaper archives and search online and the only record I have (so far) of this match is Fred’s own diary record: “Friday, December 26. Went to Birmingham to play at football Attercliffe V Aston Villa. We won 4 goals to 1. Got home at 2.0 am on Saturday.”
I have found a photo of that seasons team for Aston Villa and it’s rather lovely to know that it was perhaps some of these chaps that Fred and his team played: