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Wednesday 22 February 2017

News: "Such kicking of shins and such tumbling"

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.

Members list of the Foot-Ball Club, Edinburgh, 1824-1825 (NAS ref. GD253/183/1)

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 6s.

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.

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