World’s first photograph of a football team in a newspaper?

More about Sheffield football history in my book ‘A History of Sheffield Football 1857-1889: Speed, Science and Bottom’

Photography was invented  in the early 19th century but the very first images printed in modern newspapers were made from engravings, because ink could be applied to engravings in the same manner as it was applied to moveable type on the printing press.The first halftone photographic image in a newspaper dates from the 1873, though widespread use didn’t happen until the 1880s.

There is an 1862 photograph of the Charterhouse school football team and the oldest ever photograph of an ‘open’ football club is of Forest FC  (the forerunners of the famous Wanderers FC)  from October 1863, featuring the two Alcock brothers. The Football Association owned the original but it has since been lost and didn’t appear in the press of the day.

According to my research, the world’s first photograph of a football team to appear in a newspaper was of the Sheffield representative team in the ‘Sheffield Portrait Gallery’, A Journal of Literature, Science, and Art’. published by Martin Hurst. 23 Church Street, Sheffield. Price Twopence. The photograph was taken in anticipation of a match on the 20th November 1875 against a representative Birmingham eleven to be played at Bramall Lane in front of 2.000 spectators. The event was devised to raise money for the Sheffield Football Players Accident Society.

The Sheffield eleven won by six goals to nil. The photograph did not appear in the ‘Sheffield Portrait Gallery’ until five months later in April 1876 ; the publisher worded the headline ‘The Sheffield Football Team”. This has led to confusion down the last 140 plus years, with the photograph becoming specifically associated with Sheffield FC . Any doubt on this matter is dispelled by the presence of Jack Hunter who never played for Sheffield FC and became a thorn in the Sheffield establishment’s side with his desire to be paid for his undoubted footballing skills. (In the photograph below he even looks an outsider with his different jersey). He was soon to leave for Lancashire where he became  player/coach of Blackburn Olympic; the first northern club to break the hegemony of the southern clubs by winning the FA Cup in 1883.

I recently secured an edition of the April 1876 Sheffield Portrait Gallery newspaper which features the historic photograph. What is fascinating is the discovery that it is an actual photograph attached to the newspaper. Inside the eight page publication it explains:

‘To remove the photograph,the back of it should be moistened with cold water, when the photograph can be removed without injury.It should then be mounted in the Album or Scrap book, or on a card’.

It is surprising to find the original photograph still attached to the publication in this instance as presumably the vast majority would have been removed. The decision by the publisher to go to the expense of affixing actual photographs rather than reproducing the image in newsprint is also very interesting. We could also say that this is the first ever example of a publication giving away a football picture gift. An inspired idea that has echoed down the years; from Topical Times giving away panel portraits of players in the 1930’s, up to the modern day Panini cards.

An outstanding riddle of the photograph is the question of the identity of the two ladies who have inserted themselves behind the back row of players.

Sheffield Portrait Gallery April 1876

Sheffield Portrait Gallery April 1876

The Sheffield line up is:

W.E. Clegg, J.C. Clegg, W. Wilkinson, E. Bowling, J. Morton, R. Gregory.
Ryecroft (Umpire in suit), J. Houseley, W. England, W.H. Stacey, W. Orton, G. Anthony, J. Hunter.

I had the paper restored in February 2018

The earliest known photograph of an England football team was recently unearthed, taken before England’s fifth international match on March 4 1876, some four months after the above Sheffield photograph was taken. (The England team photograph was not used by newspapers of the day.)

If anyone out there has evidence of the second oldest newspaper photograph (not an engraving) of a football team or player (or if you have found an earlier example than April 1876) please email me at

More about Sheffield football history in my book ‘A History of Sheffield Football 1857-1889: Speed, Science and Bottom’




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