Sheffield FC 1875 medal won by William F. Pilch (Wednesday FC’s founder): Is it the world’s third oldest extant Association football club medal?

Copyright Martin Westby
The medal pictured above was won by W.F. Pilch on the 5th July 1875 for the first prize in boxing (Catch Weights). Copyright Martin Westby

Oldest extant football club medals (closed membership and open)

1851 Edinburgh University students to the soldiers of the 93rd Regiment*

1872 Wanderers Football Club, first ever FA Cup

1874 Queen’s Park Football Club, Scottish Cup final. James J. Thomson

1875 Sheffield Football Club, William Frederick Pilch **

(* Edinburgh University would eventually form Edinburgh Academical Football Club in 1858, my research points to the fact that they are the world’s oldest Rugby club in existence)

(** World’s oldest Association football club in existence)

Oldest extant Association football club medals (open clubs that evolved to Association code)

1872 Wanderers Football Club, first ever FA Cup

1874 Queen’s Park Football Club, Scottish Cup final. James J. Thomson

1875 Sheffield Football Club, William Frederick Pilch

(It can be argued that Wanderers FC were also a closed club comprising originally of old Harrovians, but they evolved to accept other players).

The world’s oldest Association football club Sheffield FC (f.1857) were devoutly amateur and didn’t enter knock out cups until 1873/74 when they signed up for the first time to the FA Cup. They decided not to enter the world’s first knock out Cup, Sheffield’s Youdan Cup in 1867, a historic mistake as they would have been firm favourites, leaving open the door to the eventual victor Hallam FC (the world’s second oldest Association football club-1860 f.). Sheffield FC did not enter their local Sheffield Football Association Challenge Cup until 1888 and did not win the trophy until as late as 1993. However, they gave out many engraved tankards and medals every summer when they ran the Sheffield Football Club Athletic Day, which started in 1858. An accolade never mentioned in the long list of Sheffield FC’s achievements is in the field of athletics. Before 1858, ‘Athletic Sports’ events had been conducted by the military and some schools but never in an ‘open’ context. I have not found British Athletic sports meetings earlier than the one run by Sheffield FC in April 1858. The Amateur Athletic Association did not form until 1880.

Twelve silver medals were presented to the winners of the inaugural Sheffield Football Association Challenge Cup in 1876 (Wednesday FC) but to date none have appeared on the memorabilia market. Sheffield FC chose not to enter the competition presumably to continue to focus on inter-county matches and to continue to spread the Sheffield Rules message. A medal was recently sold from the 1878/79 Sheffield FA Challenge Cup final when Thursday Wanderers won the tournament but no earlier Sheffield footballing medal pre-dates the one issued by Sheffield FC to William Pilch.

According to my research there are three older extant football club medals. The oldest football medal in the world is from 1851 and was presented by Edinburgh University students to the soldiers of the 93rd Regiment. The story and the research are the work of Andy Mitchell at fine medal is usually on display in the regimental museum at Stirling Castle.

The world’s second oldest football medal celebrates the Wanderers winning the first ever FA Cup in 1871/72. An argument can be made that this is the oldest Association football medal in existence. According to Andy Mitchell the FA gave the winners a prize ‘of trifling value’ which was probably a silk badge, none are known to have survived. However, Wanderers FC commissioned a gold medal for their players, and these were presented at the club’s annual dinner a month later. Only one is known to have survived:

National Football Museum

This 1872 medal is now in the National Football Museum, which bought it at auction in for £60,000 in November 2010: The medal was part of a small house clearance consignment of scrap metal bought by a jeweller in the Seven Sisters Road, London in the 1950s. However, the shop owner was a keen football fan and recognised its potential value and saved it from the smelter.

The second oldest extant Association football is the one won by James J. Thomson’s at the inaugural Scottish Cup final of 1874 which is displayed at the Scottish Football Museum. He captained the winning team Queen’s Park FC to a two-nil victory over Clydesdale FC.

Very few other football club medals exist from the 1870s and are all later than 1875. There is the 1876 Scottish Cup final medal of Joseph (Joe) Taylor, who played in the first​ six Scotland internationals and won the first three Scottish Cups with Queen’s Park. There is more information and a photograph of the medal at Andy Mitchell’s website

A Third Lanark medal from 1876 was recently on sale at Ebay with a starting bid of £1,500.00.

Andy Mitchell also identified the magnificent President’s Chain of Office for Queen’s Park, which is made up of their collection of early medals.

Pictured below are 1876 and 1877 medals both won by Wanderers FC, player unknown. Illustrated in a book, from a private collection. 

Source Andy Mitchell

The highest price ever realised for a football medal was £164,800.00 in May 2005 at Christie’s auction house for Alan Ball’s 1966 World Cup medal.

Who was William Frederick Pilch?
William F. Pilch was the founder of the Sheffield Skating Club, the treasurer of the Sheffield Gymnasium Club and a sports outfitter. His major footballing legacy is that he was on Wednesday football club’s founding committee in 1867 and when he died in 1927, he was the last surviving member of that original committee.

According to ‘The Origins of Sheffield Wednesday’ By Jason Dickinson:

William F. Pilch was the first man to open a sports outfitter shop in Sheffield based near to the Adelphi hotel which was the ‘only complete cricket and lawn tennis outfitter in Sheffield’. He was in his physical prime in the 1860s and 1870s, participating in all the sports that appealed to the ‘gentry’ of the town, including cricket, football, fencing, gymnastics and skating. As well as being on the football club committee for a single season, William also served on the cricket club’s committee for the same period of time…A multi-talented sportsman, William also won medals as an amateur boxer and played football and cricket for Wednesday, only retiring from the former after a dislocated knee. He married Matlock girl Alice and after his playing career ended William continued to run his sports shop-it was said that he never missed a Yorkshire CCC game at Bramall Lane. Despite only serving the football committee for one season, Pilch often lent a hand when required stewarding at the club’s athletic day. He later became president of the Rustlings Lawn Tennis Club and was still vice president when he suffered a seizure on Christmas Eve 1927, dying the following day at his Broomhall home, leaving a son named Fuller, after his famous relative.

William’s uncle Fuller Pilch was a famous cricketer ranked only second to W.G. Grace in the era in which he played. Fuller Pilch earned his living as a tailor but he soon became a professional cricketer. His first appearance at Lord’s was a three-day match in July 1820, playing for Norfolk. He later played for Kent from 1836 to 1854. At over six feet, Fuller Pilch was a very tall man and also liked to wear a top hat while batting, giving the impression of a tall, slim and graceful performer.  

 His batting was stylish, characterised by forward play, and he developed a particular style of stroke called ‘Pilch’s poke’. This was a long forward lunge, taking the ball early before it had time to ‘shoot or rise or do mischief by catches’, according to Arthur Haygarth, writing in 1862 in his Scores and Biographies. By 1827, Fuller Pilch was in great demand when he played in the England games against Sussex. His greatest personal triumph came in 1833, when he easily beat the renowned northern player, Thomas Marsden, at Norwich and Sheffield in single wicket games played for the championship of England. By the time Fuller Pilch was on the scene, underarm bowling was replaced by roundarm bowling. When the new style was publicly tested at Lord’s in 1827, Fuller was the highest scorer, with 38 runs.

His medal-winning nephew, William Frederick Pilch was born on the 8th November 1841 in Norwich and died in Sheffield on Christmas day in 1927 aged 87 at his home on Victoria Road, Broomhall, leaving £8,086.00 in his will.

His father William (1797-1866) a cobbler and mother Harriet Harmer (1815-1888) were also from Norfolk but would end their days in Sheffield. William and Harriet had ten children:

William Fuller (1833- ?)

Ann Harriet (1835- ?)

Nathaniel George (1839- ?)

Fuller (1839 -?  )

William Frederick (1841-1927)

Jeremy (1848- ?)

Fanny Lucy (1849-?)

Mary A, (1852-?)

Polly (1853- ?)

Richard (1854-?)

William Frederick Pilch’s nephew Richard George Pilch (1877-1957) started a sports equipment and clothing shop in the early 1900s which became a Norwich institution for generations of children and sports people. In 2005 the seven-generation-run company was rebranded as Jarrold Intersport and moved to London Street in 2006.

Presumably, the inspiration to open the shop in Norwich came from Uncle William Pilch who had opened a Cricket supplies shop as early as the summer of 1861 at the King & Miller Hotel, Norfolk Street in Sheffield. The adverts of the day explain that the Pilch shop sells bats, balls and pads and that: ‘NB. We have a good billiard table and excellent wines and spirits are always on hand.’

He moved the shop in 1888 to new Surrey street by which time he was selling a ‘buttonless’ football. It is not clear when and why William F. Pilch originally moved to Sheffield. In the 1851 census he listed as a visitor at his brother Nathaniel’s house in Holt, Norfolk, aged 7. By the time of the 1871 census he was not listed with Harriet Pilch listed as head aged 58 with five children at 7 Norfolk Street, Sheffield. William married Alice Annie Fox (1862- 1911) in 1889 and in the 1891 census he was living at 51 Victoria road, Sheffield with his 30-year-old wife Alice and single servant, working as an outfitter. In the 1901 census he was living in 51 Victoria road, Sheffield with his wife Alice Pilch and a single servant, and his occupation was listed as ‘Athlete Outfitter Clothier’. Alice Pilch died in January 1911.In the 1911 census William was listed as a retired manufacturer and merchant aged 69 with his son William Fuller Pilch aged 19 and a servant living at 51 Victoria road, Sheffield.

England’s Oldest Football Clubs 1815-1889: New chronological classification of early football (Folk, School, Military, County, Rugby, & Association)’ Includes a PDF version for search £24.95.

Englands Oldest Football Clubs
Englands Oldest Football Clubs

A History of Sheffield Football 1857-1889:

A History of Sheffield Football - Second Edition - by Martin Westby
A History of Sheffield Football – Second Edition – by Martin Westby