Pa Jackson : how did the non-public school boy and son of a Devonian cattle salesman gain entrance to the inner circle on the FA Board ?

Nicholas ‘Pa’ Lane Jackson (1 November 1849 – 26 October 1937) is best known as the man who vehemently fought against the growing tide of football professionalism and insisted that the birthplace of the Association game was from the public schools; yet he was born in Hackney and never went to University. He claims to have played regularly for Upton Park FC and founded Finchley FC and history has his name synonymous with the Corinthians FC as he convened the original meeting to organise their foundation and was their first Hon. Sec.

Association Football N.L. Jackson 1899

For the non-university educated son of a working man he knew absolutely where the game originated:

‘It is indeed, fairly well established,that the Association game owes its origin to Cambridge University’

Association Football N.L. Jackson 1899

In his 1899 book he says that due to the conscientious efforts of football history writers, Alcock , Shearman, Vincent and Rev. F. Marshall that:

… historians of the future can hope to make few further discoveries, for little indeed can be added to the information already placed at the disposal of posterity.

Association Football N.L. Jackson 1899

Reminiscences from 1894 about his start in football:

Mr. N. L. Jackson is one of the autocrats of the Southern football field – a gentleman who has for a number of years pulled the wires of high-class amateurism, and generally directed the fortunes of that influential coterie of sporting youths known as the Corinthians. “I had been playing Rugby for five years” said Mr Jackson to an interviewer the other day, “but when I settled in London I joined the old Upton Park F.C., of which Mr. Barnett was secretary. I then conceived the idea of getting together a band of amateurs – they were all amateurs in those days – and under the name of N. L. Jackson’s Eleven we used to go touring, playing Eastbourne, Dorking, and other South-country clubs. Up to 1882, when the Corinthians proper was formed, we were never beaten! Once at Brigade Priory we had a terrible squeak, and up to ten minutes of time they were leading 4 – 1. The Bastard – we were playing centre forward together – said to me: ‘I shall go for W. W. Read’s wind; we can’t get past him otherwise; and very soon after that Walla-Walla had to retire! We just equalised 4 – 4, on the stroke of time.” Mr. Jackson is a member of the London Football Association, and also of the Sports Clubs. He is a tall, military looking gentleman, with an iron-grey moustache, and is one of the most familiar figures at all the Corinthian matches. Wells Journal – Thursday 22 November 1894

He was the son of a Devon farmer’s boy born in Hackney, east London, where his father had found employment as a cattle salesman. By the 1861 census his father is the licensee of the Lilford Arms pub in Lambeth. In his autobiography section of his book he claimed to have played for Upton FC but he has only been located as playing one game in 1878/79. (East of London Family History Society). In 1932 Jackson reminisced about playing ‘many an enjoyable game’ for Upton Park FC but I can find no evidence of these in the British Newspaper Archive.

Intriguingly in the biography section of his book (‘Association Football’ by N.L. Jackson) he also says that he played a species of Rugby football in the West of England , which suggests he wasn’t resident in London as a young man . He goes on to say he became a convert to Association football in 1874; yet just six years later he was elected onto the FA committee, having being proposed by F.J. Wall. The voting process was out of the ordinary and he’s says as a result ‘he felt like an intruder’.

Finchley FC (1871-present)

The origin of Finchley FC starts with a rugby club called Petrel FC in 1871 by someone presumably with ornithological leanings:

Hendon & Finchley Times – Saturday 03 May 1879

The the first mention I found for Jackson in the history of Finchley FC was as acting Hon. Sec. According to 1881 Alcock Football Annual we have N.L. Jackson as Hon. Sec., living at Long lane, Church End, Finchley. He is around 32 years old and the foundation date submitted by Jackson shows as 1876. In the 1882 Annual Jackson is still Hon. Sec. and the foundation has gone back to 1872. The foundation date now looks more accurate, but excludes his claim to have founded the club.

In his book ‘Association Football’ 1899, he says he started Finchley FC in 1875, written in the third person in his biography section.

I think it a nice touch to clearly feature himself as the gold-embossed footballer on the front of his book:

Corinthians (1882-present)

Jackson convened a meeting to organise the foundation of the Corinthians but it seems other people were also involved in the starting of the club. In Edward Charles Bambridge’s obituary, it was said that he was also one of the founders of the Corinthians. According to an article by J.A.H Catton in 1927, H. A. Swepstone the Pilgrims goalkeeper was also one of the founders in 1882 and was the man that came up with their name.

They realised that if the new club avoided playing in cup ties he could lure the cream of the “Old Boy” clubs to play for his team. It is thought that they modelled their concept on the ‘I Zingari’ cricket club formed by Old Harrovians in 1845 and Jackson was the club’s first Hon. Sec. The formation was a statement of intent against the ‘evil’ of professional football.

Between 1883 and 1890, of the 88 England caps awarded against Scotland, 52 went to ‘Corinthians’. In 1894 and 1895 (both games against Wales), the full side of England was filled by the Corinthians. They promoted soccer around the world, going to Canada, USA, South America and South Africa. In 1910 they made a tour of Brazil; the ‘Corinthians Paulista’ were named after them.

Jackson was motivated by the rise of professionalism to create a team that he felt exemplified the gentleman amateur ethic:

It is amusing to read the divergent opinions about the Corinthians that were current in the provinces at this period. For example, during one of their tours, it was stated in a Sunderland newspaper that ‘the Corinthians who were not playing viewed the game from the stand, gently clapping their kid-gloved hands when applauding the team, or encouraging their men with a “Well played, old chappie”, uttered in a listless, drawling style.’ In violent contradiction to this was the accusation which appeared the same week in a Lancashire paper to the effect that the Corinthians systematically indulged in rough play and were the most dangerously cruel team that ever-opposed provincial footballers. The absurdity of this latter charge was amply proved by the fact that until Graham, of the Preston North End, was hurt in the match that had just taken place there; the Corinthians had never once had an opponent permanently retire from the game. (‘Association Football’ by N.L. Jackson).

In the opinion of Jackson amateurs were innately better footballers than professionals:

Amateurs usually supply better backs than professional. They learn to kick cleanly and well at school, and generally show better judgement in placing the ball to their forwards than the professors, who do a lot of vigorous charging and hard wild kicking, but are not a rule finished players.

(‘Association Football’ by N.L. Jackson).

Below is a quote from his book where he addresses his thoughts on the sportsmanship of the working classes:

(‘Association Football’ by N.L. Jackson).

The Corinthians would probably have won the FA Cup if their own rules had not excluded it; their original rules forbidding the club to compete for any challenge cup or prizes of any kind. For example, shortly after Blackburn Rovers beat Queen’s Park in the 1884 final, the Corinthians beat Blackburn 8–1; five years later, they were good enough to defeat Preston North End (the League champions) 5–0 and as late as 1904 and 1905 respectively, they
thrashed Bury (Cup-holders) 10–3 and Manchester United 11–3 (which still stands as United’s worst defeat today). The Corinthians eventually entered the FA Cup for the first time in 1922/23 and were exempted from the qualifying rounds until 1933, but they never progressed beyond the third round.

In his book ‘Association Football’ he covers the 1880s in detail and it is a rich source for what was happening behind the scenes at the Football Association, for example that following extensive research, the detailed accounts of the FA for 1864 and 1865 do not exist.

Jackson also says:

There was a great desire on the part of some individuals in Lancashire to get the headquarters of the Association transferred to Manchester. they knew that Mr Alcock could not act as secretary if this was done, and therefore hoped to acquire the coveted position for one of their leaders. Fortunately, the Midland clubs and those in the far north held aloof from these intrigues, and thus prevented them from being effective.

(‘Association Football’ by N.L. Jackson).

But it seems in his world the unpalatable victory of Blackburn Olympic FC’s victory over the Old Etonians never happened. he nostalgically looks back when the game did not require an umpire and when the subject of the ‘gate’ never came up.

In late 1893 Albert Neilson ‘Monkey’ Hornby had a public falling out on the topic of the inherent hypocrisy of the Corinthians and broken time pay (payments that were made to compensate players for time off work), with Pa Jackson:

‘Monkey’ Hornby replied a few weeks later:

It seems that one area of Jackson’s legacy is in tact was his aptitude for journalism. In his biography he says he started ‘The Athlete’ in 1881, ‘Football’ in 1882, which was later incorporated Pastime. The latter gave him a large platform to expound his strong views that the Amateur game must be protected at all costs.

Given Jackson’s start in life and lack of public school education his rise in the world of Association football was meteoric. He was probably not a gifted footballer but he was superb networker and administrator who was driven by his love of the amateur ethos.


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Gloucestershire Echo – Tuesday 26 October 1937

There is more information on all these topics in ‘England’s Oldest Football Clubs 1815-1889‘ .