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IT WAS PERHAPS THE ROMANS who first
brought the game of football to Tyneside, albeit a crude
contortion of the sport. In the days when Hadrian's Wall was in
its glory and Pons Aelius was astride the Tyne, Romans and local
Brits, the Geordie forefathers of old, played the game of
Fought out on a rectangle of land, it was a sort of football
match that engaged two teams with each endeavouring to take a
ball - by any means - to the opposing base line. Following the
Romans' departure, the Normans arrived and brought to Tyneside
their early form of soccer, La Soule, another rough contest. And
a wild game it was. It is recorded that in 1280 at Ulgham near
Ashington, Henry son of William de Ellington was killed when
playing football with a large number of friends. In the course
of play he ran fatally against David le Kell's dagger!
Football, in its modern form, arouses passions on Tyneside like
no other sport or pastime. Yet the region was one of the
country's late developers and not until around 1890 did Tyneside
see rapid progress made, several years after other parts of the
country. Even then support was a trickle compared to the 60,000
crowds that were to roar encouragement to Newcastle United in
Football had been around the north-east in various forms
throughout history as an undisciplined game. Following on from
the cohorts of Rome and the early Normans, the game developed in
a crude way and was actually banned by Royal decree on several
occasions. In 1579 a certain John Winkell of County Durham was
sent to prison for a week and had to pay a public penance for
playing football, while in the same year Sir Thomas Elyot wrote
that the sport was a 'game giving no pleasure but beastlie furie
and violence', and Philip Stubbs recorded in 1583 that football
was, 'Rather a friendlie kinde of fyghte than a play or
recreation - a bloody and murthering practise than a fellowly
sport or pastime.'
Macaulay's History of England noted in May 1690 that, 'letters
from Newcastle give an account of a great match at football,
which had been played in Northumberland, and was suspected to
have been a pretext for a large gathering of the disaffected, ie.
Jacobites.' The legendary record of England went on. In the
crowd, it was said, were 15O horsemen well mounted and armed, of
whom many were Papists.'
Early such games were played between rural villages, on sports
or carnival days, at places like Alnwick and Chester-le-Street.
But it was only during the mid-19th century that the medieval
brawl game evolved in a form that can be recognised as the sport
of today. The first rules were drawn up in 1848 at Cambridge
University. Notts County were the first senior club to be
formed, in 1862, followed by Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham
Forest. The Football Association was set up in 1863 and the game
flourished rapidly thereafter.
In the north-east football's advance lagged some way behind. It
was more than a decade before any semblance of a football club
saw the light of day. The first recorded game on Tyneside took
place on 3rd March 1877 at the Elswick Rugby Club when a few
keen enthusiasts formed two scratch teams - eight against nine -
the nine winning 2-0. Shortly after Newcastle's, and the
region's, first club was born. Tyne Association was formed in
1877 composed largely of public school men and keen rugby and
cricket players. They played at the Northumberland Cricket
Club's ground on Bath Road, then on a pitch in Jesmond at
Brandling Village on the site of the present Royal Grammar
School playing field. Tyne was the north-east's first entry into
the FA Cup, as early as November 1879, when they lost 5-1 at
Blackburn before a lowly crowd of 300 souls.
Other fledgling sides took to the game. Newcastle Rangers were
formed in 1878 and first played on the Drill Field, Alexandria
Road in Gateshead because they couldn't find a pitch in their
native town. They eventually moved across the Tyne taking over
an enclosed ground close to Leazes Terrace in September 1880.
The pitch was immediately referred to as St James' Park. The
following month the Newcastle Journal noted that the Rangers
club had 'inaugurated their new ground close to Leazes Terrace
on Saturday by a match between the first team against 15 of
others. After a pleasant game of two hours it was found the
captain's team was victorious over his numerous but less
experienced opponents to the extent of 6 goals to 1.'
St James' Park was on the map. The local press concluded, 'The
new ground is very nicely situated and is close to the centre of
town. It is 120 yards x 60 yards broad and is completely level.'
In spite of the latter statement the pitch in fact had a
notorious slope, a drop of fully 18 feet from the north to south
The first controlling body was set up on 23rd January 1880 when
the Northumberland and Durham Football Association was formed at
a meeting in the Turk's Head Hotel. Ten clubs were in membership
and from the outset the new association began to form a network
of local teams. Football prospered enormously and new teams took
to the field all over the region. By 1881 Tyneside had
approximately 1,700 men and boys playing both association and
rugby forms of the game, and 12 months later the Daily Journal
recorded that in Northumberland and Durham. 'There are now
between 50 and 60 association clubs.'
The year 1882 was an important 12 months in the history of
Newcastle United Football Club as two of those new clubs who
arrived on the scene eventually led to the present-day Magpies.
Queen Victoria was on the throne and Gladstone was housed in
Downing Street ruling an upstairs-downstairs society. The nation
was very much locked in Victorian ideals with the British Empire
dominating the world. Tyneside was in the throes of tremendous
growth. There was a huge influx of Irish and Scots and the
sprawling suburbs of Elswick, Byker and Benwell were just
starting to take shape. Gosforth was still a village while
Jesmond and Heaton housed the town's upper classes.
Industry developed in a dramatic way with coal-pits expanding
and the great factories of Armstrong, Parsons and Palmer
becoming larger by the day. Huge manufacturing works sprung up
all over the district as Tyneside rose to unparalleled peaks of
prosperity. The city became a regional centre with a thriving
port and large banking institutions. The department stores of
Fenwick and Bainbridge sold goods from all over the world.
Horse-drawn trams ran through the elegant streets of Grainger
and Dobson, while a half-penny toll was charged for crossing the
High Level Bridge. The nearby Swing Bridge had recently been
constructed, the now famous arched Tyne Bridge not even thought
about. There was still much poverty though, and people worked
long arduous hours. Their leisure time was taken up with
gambling - on wrestling, whippets and horse-racing, the Blaydon
Races included - on drinking, music-halls and some took part in
cycling and rowing, then hugely popular sports.
On the football field in 1882 England had defeated Ireland 13-0
but had been crushed 5-1 by Scotland. The England eleven was
made up of players from the likes of the Old Carthusians,
Clapham Rovers and The Pilgrims. The Old Etonians won the FA
Cup, toppling Blackburn Rovers at Kennington Oval. The Football
League had yet to be formed and, on Tyneside, in the working
class suburb of Byker two clubs were starting to play the
emerging game with enthusiasm.
Newcastle United's origins are to be found with two minor
football clubs on the east of the city, Stanley and Rosewood.
Stanley had originated from a cricket team, formed on 15th
November 1881 - the rudimentary start of Newcastle United-
although the Northumberland Football Association's records note
that the club were playing an unorganised game a year earlier.
Following the cricket club's AGM in the house of a certain Mr
Allen of Shields Road in Byker, it was decided to form a sister
football club. The new Stanley FC had almost identical
membership as the cricket side. The name originated as recorded
by William Findlay, the founder, because 'they played on vacant
land near Stanley Street in South Byker.' They kicked off their
first match on 26th November 1881 against Elswick Leather Works
2nd XI and won 5-0.
As they progressed, Stanley were often confused with two other
local clubs, Stanley Nops and Stanley Albion, both of County
Durham, so they decided, at the request of the area's FA, to
change their name in October 1882 to Newcastle East End. The
Daily Chronicle noted the event with a two line report almost
hidden in the mass of teams for the following weekend's
programme: 'At a meeting of the Stanley Association Football
Club, Byker, held lately, it was resolved to change the name to
the East End.'
Rosewood had been formed a couple of months earlier under their
captain R.Marr and secretary R.Murray, but later in the year
joined forces with East End to form a stronger outfit - their
side being integrated as East End's reserve eleven.
The new club was to play in several colours over their formative
years. Records indicate they turned out in dark blue, chocolate
and blue stripes, on occasion black and white, as well as red,
or red and white striped shirts. The latter became their regular
attire while they also wore navy blue jerseys with an orange