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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 harpastum.
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 their heyday.

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 goal.

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 stripe.