Founding fathers, mothers and schoolboys: A look at the quirkiest beginnings in the Premier League

Most football fans know the year their teams were founded, and majority of us have seen sepia-toned pictures of our sides’ first ever side, all grimly Victorian and moustachioed. Yet when you stop to consider just how your club came to be, it’s often an interesting tale.

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Who’d have thought Sunderland would have a hidden debt to pedagogues? Or that Stoke City would owe a lot to a certain Charterhouse School? Let’s take a look at the most unexpected club beginnings in the Premier League. Prepare to be surprised. The majority of English football clubs owe their existence to either a group of workers or the nearby church or the local cricket club.

Sunderland AFC were founded by workers, too, but not your usual coal mining or railway types. Instead, James Allan got together with fellow schoolteachers in 1879, forming (as safc.com tells us),  ” . . . Sunderland and District Teachers’ Association Football Club. After the first year, non-teachers were allowed to join and the name was changed to Sunderland AFC.” Think of all the young Black Cats daydreaming in class over the years. Who knew they had teachers to thank for the chance to see their heroes every weekend?

From the school halls to the slums of late 19th century east Mancunia, things were not rosy as hundreds of residents would regularly be involved in gang warfare, unemployment was rife and sanitation was for most but a dream. The traditional approach of helping people to help themselves was left to the church, but preaching doesn’t always work. Vicar’s daughter Anna Connell thought that sports clubs were the way forward for the disaffected young men of the area; connellsixthformcollege.com notes that together with Willam Beastow and Thomas Goodbehere, Connell founded St Mark’s Church Cricket Club, among others. Such was its success, Connell helped set up a football team, which became Gorton AFC in 1884. Three years later, the team moved to Hyde Road, and became known as Ardwick. Not until 1894 were they first called Manchester City.

It seems strange that Connell is one of the only known women to have had a direct involvement with founding a football club (some still question the actual extent of her link with City’s origins). Yet Victorian society was far more gender-defined than 21st century Britain; it was controversial enough when Nettie Honeyball set up the first known female football club in 1895. Another woman forming a sports club for men outside the safety net of charity would probably have been impossible.

The Potteries had its fair share of slums back in the day, and it’s easy to imagine a group of hard-working potters temporarily leaving the heat of the pot banks behind to found a football club, except, they didn’t. A group of Surrey public school boys created the team that was to become Stoke City FC, one of the oldest football clubs in the world. Legend has it that Henry Almond and fellow former Charterhouse School pupils started a side in 1863, while apprentices with the North Staffordshire Railway. As Stoke’s website points out, it’s hard to prove that Almond and pals did play any football, until an 1868 report in ‘The Field’, which stated that “a new Association Football club [Stoke Ramblers] had been formed in Stoke-on-Trent . . . [whose] founding member was ex-Charterhouse School pupil Henry Almond.”

Leicester City also have old school boys, albeit grammar school ones, to thank for their existence; in 1884 a number of old Wyggestonians met in a shed behind the Fosse Road South, and set up Leicester Fosse. As thebeautifulhistory.wordpress.com tells us, Miss Westland thought that land off Walnut Street would be good for the Fosse. From 1891, Leicester played at the more commonly known Filbert Street, becoming Leicester City in 1920, and moving to the Walkers Stadium – now the King Power Stadium – in 2002.

All the clubs mentioned so far have their one great rival, but few owe their existence to the nemesis. If it wasn’t for Everton, there would be no Liverpool, as liverpoolfc.com details. Founded in 1878 by another Reverend, BS Chambers, St Domingo’s Football Club was quickly named after the area it played in: Everton. A certain John Houlding did much to develop the Toffees in their early days, but by 1892, disputes with the board had come to a head. Everton FC acquired land north of Stanley Park – yes, they had played at Anfield prior to playing at Goodison – while the newly-formed Liverpool FC played their first match at Anfield outside the Football League, against opponents Rotherham, in September 1892. The rivalry between Red and Blue has remained strong on Merseyside ever since.

Does your club have a weird or wonderful founding tale? Whether league or non-league, let us know at @OffsideRulePod!

Follow Emma @emmalucywhitney

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