150 years ago: The Football Association discusses ‘dissolving’

In March 1867 things were not going well for the Football Association. Four years after the launch at the Freemasons tavern, Ebenezer Cobb Morley considered dissolving the organisation because of the lack of interest in clubs taking up the code. Only six people attended the 12th February 1867 F.A. Annual General Meeting

“Mr. MORLEY said he was a little discouraged at the paucity of attendance that evening, when he remembered that at the commencement of the association in 1863 they had a crowded room, and much more enthusiasm was displayed by those who attended in the interest of the pleasant pastime of football than had ever been shown since. The only way he could account for it was the supposition abroad that the Football Association had accomplished the objects for which it was established, and that there consequently was no further need of its services.”

Fortunately for the F.A. one of those six people attending was Sheffield FC’s indefatigable Hon. Sec. William Chesterman; he brought with him a letter of support and encouragement for the F.A., not just from his own club but the recently founded Sheffield Association, which represented all the fourteen clubs that played regularly under the Sheffield rules, representing in excess of 1000 members. (My research in fact suggests there were sixteen clubs in 1867).

Without the intervention of the Sheffield Football Association and the message they conveyed down to London with William Chesterman, I think the Football Association would have voted to dissolve that night. Which leads to lots of interesting alternate theories to what would have happened to the ‘ball-dribbling’ code. Would London and the south have become a Rugby stronghold, leaving Sheffield to lead the Association message from south Yorkshire? And if so what would have happened when the Sheffield Association was faced with the problems of professionalism? They were devout amateurs and much less open to compromise than Charles W. Alcock was in July 1885; the probable outcome would have been the Association game splitting into two halves with Lancashire running the professional game.

An interesting alternate universe that could have happened if William Chesterman had not made the long journey south from Sheffield to London in March 1867.