Four small pocket books and
three bundles held in the National Archives of Scotland (NAS)
contain the membership lists and accounts of an Edinburgh
football club between 1824 and 1841. The Foot-Ball Club may
be the earliest known football club in the world.
The records are part of the papers of John Hope deposited in the
NAS (NAS ref. GD253). In 1824 Hope, then a 17 year old trainee lawyer,
organised a season of games for the Foot-Ball Club he had formed
in Edinburgh. During the first recorded season the members met on
Saturday afternoons to play a form of football. This was not football
in its modern form. The club's games probably resembled the rough
and tumble of traditional ball games played in many places. A letter
of 1825 (NAS ref. GD253/183/14/12) refers to a game involving 39
players, and 'such kicking of shins and such tumbling'.
Sticks marked the goals. The only surviving club rules (NAS ref.
GD253/183/7/3) forbade tripping, but allowed pushing and holding
and the lifting of the ball. A 'chairman' seems to have
acted as a referee.
Their first known ground was the park on the Dalry estate in the
city's south-west suburbs. Hope had been born in Dalry House
in 1807, the son of James Hope WS. In 1828 John Hope followed his
father into the Society of Writers to His Majesty's Signet.
The club was dominated by young lawyers and other professionals,
and the sons of the Edinburgh legal fraternity and the landed gentry.
Almost all of them lived in the New Town of Edinburgh. Starting
with 61 members, the club grew to 85 members in 1826-7 season.
The subscription began at 1s. 6d., which paid for the hire of the
park, the equipment and a boy, who was probably responsible for
blowing up the football. The most frequently purchased items were
the bladders, which evidently frequently burst, and covers for the
ball. Later, as the park rent increased, the subscription rose to
In 1831 they moved to Greenhill parks in Bruntsfield, where they played one of their short summer seasons, which usually attracted fewer members. For the main season they played from 26 November 1831 to 1 July 1832. In 1839-40 the club was meeting 'at present in Grove Park west of Gardeners Crescent'. The last item (NAS ref. GD253/183/6/13), dated February 1841 is an enquiry concerning temporary membership, which shows the club was still active. What happened thereafter is not clear, because there are no further records. The papers of the Foot-Ball Club (NAS ref. GD253/183/1-7) are currently not available in the Historical Search Room at General Register House while conservation and digital imaging is carried out.