John Charles Clegg was born 170 years ago : Athlete, England international and chairman of Wednesday FC, the Sheffield Football Association and the Football Association

Charles Clegg was firstly an ‘Eminent’ athlete:

Charles Clegg aged 25 Front page ‘The Athletic News’ 25/9/1875
‘The Athletic News’ 25/9/1875

Charles and William Clegg were the sons of William Johnson Clegg who established the family legal business Clegg and Sons in 1868. The family legal firm would merge over the years and is still represented in Sheffield today in the guise of Wake Smith Solicitors. Charles (as he was known throughout his life) was born on 15th June 1850 and William two years later on the 21st April 1852. Both sons followed their father’s trade and became solicitors, inheriting a strong sense of right and wrong, which is illustrated by their ceaseless work for the Temperance Movement. But the brothers’ early passion was for sport and by 1868 Charles was regularly appearing in the local press playing cricket. In May 1869, representing Sheffield Norfolk FC, Charles easily won the 440-yard flat race at a competition held at the Trent Bridge Ground in Nottingham. He also won the same event in 1870 at the Sheffield Football Club Athletic Sports day, whilst still representing Sheffield Norfolk FC.
Charles played just one international football match against Scotland in 1872 (first ever official international)and did not enjoy the match:
“It was a bitter experience. Clegg scarcely got a kick and became convinced that his mostly old school and varsity team mates were deliberately not passing to him: as he recalled, ‘Some members of the England eleven were awful snobs and not much troubled about a ‘man fra’ Sheffield’ (J. A. H. Catton, Wickets and Goals)
William and Charles continued to play a key role in the developing Sheffield football scene, the pair captaining the two sides in the first ever floodlit match at Bramall Lane in 1878.


Charles Clegg was a proponent of the amateur game but had a pragmatic approach to professionalism; a tough no-nonsense man. Once when a young player had been brought before him in a disciplinary meeting for ungentlemanly remarks to a referee, Clegg asked what had been said. The player responded: ‘Well, I said ‘I’ve shit better referees’’ ‘I see,’ said Clegg. ‘All right, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll give you a week to prove you can do just that. But if you can’t, I’m afraid you’ll have to pay a £1 fine.’
Over time his position on amateurism evolved; he oversaw Wednesday’s transition to professionalism and was involved in the foundation of Sheffield United in 1889, a club designed to be professional from the start.

(Association Football and the Men who Made it 1905)

Charles was chairman of Wednesday FC and of the Sheffield Football Association; he was the most powerful man in English football between 1890 and 1919 in his capacity at the Football Association as the first and longest-standing chairman. Charles Clegg refereed both the 1882 and 1892 F.A. Cup Finals and in 1899 became chairman of Sheffield United; he became President of the club in 1924.

The cartoon below is of the Clegg brothers saluting the Sheffield FC players , when they won the FA Amateur Cup for their first and last time in 1904:


The headquarters of the Sheffield & Hallamshire County FA is called Clegg House in his honour and a handsome bronze hangs in reception:

He was knighted in 1927 and his Wednesday FC Presidency only lapsed on his death in 1937. Sir Charles Clegg died at his home on June 26th, 1937, shortly after his 87th birthday. and he was buried in the family tomb at Fulwood churchyard, where he joined his fellow knight and brother William who had passed away five years earlier.

You can read more in my book ‘A History of Sheffield Football 1857-1889’: