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Football Clubs’ Religious Roots
In some ways, football has become akin to religion.
Every weekend for nine months, large groups of people make the pilgrimage to stadiums across the country to support their team. They often wear replica shirts or their team colors to identify themselves.
However, like religion, the rivalry caused conflict that often resulted in violence between the two sides. Of course, hooligans aren’t really thinking about religion when they beat up rival fans, but they still think they’re following them. true faith.
With the amount of money now at stake, it is often forgotten that several of the great clubs in the UK were actually formed by church groups. And ironically, suppressing violence was one of their founding goals.
Even today there are many plans to take young people off the streets and get them into sports, but religion does not play as big a role in society as it once did.
In the 19th century the Church was more influential and in several cases clubs founded by parishes developed into multi-million pound companies.
Brother Walfrid Bhoys
North of the border, there is one such club that still has links to religion: Celtic.
Several clubs were formed by Irish Catholic communities, the first such being Edinburgh’s Hibernian
(their name is Ireland in Latin).
However, unlike others, the connection between the Bhoys and their roots remains strong even today.
They were first thought of on 6 November 1887 by Marist Brother Walfrid (aka Andrew Kearns) in the hall of St Mary’s Church, Calton, Glasgow.
The club was founded with the intention of alleviating poverty in the East End of the city. The Celtic name was immediately adopted, reflecting the club’s Scottish and Irish roots. Amazingly, the club’s first official match was against Rangers on 6 November 1888, in what was probably the only “friendly” between the two teams.
The Bhoys became the first to claim bragging rights as they won 5-2, with several players in the starting eleven on loan from Hibernian.
Brother Walfrid himself wanted to keep the club amateur and had only charitable intentions for the club. However, he was denied his wish as local builder John Glass was to sign eight Hibs players without the commission’s knowledge in August 1888, offering them huge financial incentives.
With the club now a professional outfit, they soon established themselves as one of the top teams in Scotland, winning their first trophy (the Scottish Cup) in 1892 and their first league title the following year. From then on, along with Rangers (who were made up of rowers), they dominated Scottish football for over a century.
The second team to play at Anfield
Everton currently play their home games at Goodison Park.
But it’s often forgotten that they used to play on the other side of Stanley Park, now home to their mortal rivals Liverpool.
In fact, the Toffees can claim to be indirectly responsible for their neighbour’s formation.
Everton became the first of Liverpool’s major clubs to form in 1878.
St Domingo Methodist Church minister Reverend BS Chambers started a football club to keep members of the church’s cricket team busy in the winter.
The club was originally called St Domingo FC but this was changed to Everton the following November after men from outside the parish wanted to come and join.
Everton became one of the 12 founding members of the Football League in 1888 and until then the club leased Anfield, which was owned by John Orrell with his friend John Houlding as tenant.
Ultimately, Houlding was to buy the land from Orrell and quickly raise the rent, which Everton refused to do.
So in 1892 they left Anfield and moved to the other side of Stanley Park and their current home Goodison Park, leading to Houlding forming Liverpool.
But the religious links with Everton don’t end there, as Goodison Park is the only Premier League stadium with a church on site – St Luke the Evangelist.
The church is situated between the three-storey Main Stand and the Gwladys Street End and its walls are within meters of these two stands.
It also plays a role on match days as it sells refreshments.
While their more famous neighbors were the employees of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, the Rector’s daughter thought of the team from the blue half of Manchester.
Two years after Manchester United was formed, Anna Connell, whose
Father Arthur was rector of St Mark’s Church in Gorton, in the north-west of the city, and he tried to provide activities for men who had nothing to do in the winter.
Like Everton, there was already a cricket club and more activity was needed to reduce the level of violence and alcoholism in the local area.
Ironic, given that these are things now associated with being a football fan.
There were frequent drunken fights between different religious and racial groups, and the problems were compounded by the high unemployment rate in the area.
With the help of two churchwardens, William Beastow and Thomas Goodbehere, Connell founded West Gorton (St Mark’s) FC – the club that eventually became Manchester City.
The club played their first match against Macclesfield Baptist Church on 13 November 1880.
The initiative was so successful that the Archdeacon of Manchester remarked of Connell: “No man could have done it – it took a woman’s tact and skill to make it so successful.”
Eventually, the club was to move away from its roots.
In 1884 it dropped St Mark’s from its name to become Gorton AFC and three years later moved across town to Ardwick and turned professional.
It adopted the name of its new home before finally becoming Manchester City in 1894.
Pitt of uncertainty
Not only the most famous clubs are indebted to the Church, and in this case even the man of the skirt joined in the action.
There has long been debate as to when Swindon Town was founded, with the club going back and forth between 1879 and 1881 foundation dates.
For a long time the later date was considered official as on 12 November that year Swindon, under their previous Spartan Club guise, teamed up with St Mark’s Young Men’s following a match between the two teams.
But last year substantial evidence led the Robins to accept 1879 as the correct date.
It is now recognized that the Reverend William Pitt, curate of Christ Church in the city centre, founded the club in an attempt to unite the communities of Great Western Railway workers and those who had been there before the arrival of the GWR.
There are two main lines of evidence that suggest this was the case.
One of these is a local report discovered by former club statistician Paul Plowman of a match between Swindon AFC and Rovers FC on 29 November 1879.
The message included a team photo including Pitt himself.
Pitt severed his links with the club in 1881 when he was appointed rector of Liddington Church.
However, he provided a second piece of evidence during a speech in 1911 during which he was
he said the name was changed to the Spartan Club because members found the original name too much of a mouthful.
He also mentioned that his removal from Swindon led to his departure.
Two years after he left, Spartan Club became Swindon Town.
The clue is in the name
When Southampton moved from The Dell to St Mary’s Stadium in 2001, it represented a bit of a homecoming.
For the club, he moved back to the part of the city where they were originally founded in 1885.
The stadium’s name was a welcome change from the current trend of selling naming rights as it referenced a nearby church.
The club was founded by members of the Young Men’s Association of the Anglican Church of St. Mary, meaning his first name was rather wordy – leading to the local press referring to them as St. Mary’s YMA.
St. Mary’s have played at various venues across Southampton, Southampton Common being one of the first.
Or at least they tried to play there – Saints’ games were often interrupted by walkers wandering the pitch!
The club changed its name to Southampton St Mary’s when it became a joint-stock company in 1897 and ended its association with the church.
In 1898 Saints, now just Southampton FC, moved across town to The Dell before making the return journey 103 years later.
More fabric clubs
There are plenty of other football clubs with church roots – some more successful than others.
This season’s FA Cup semi-finalists Barnsley were originally a club trying to give football a foothold in an area dominated by rugby.
The Tykes were founded in 1887 by the delightfully named Reverend Tiverton Preedy of St Peters’, whose church gave the club its name as Barnsley St Peters’.
He wanted to create ‘a football club that won’t be crushed by rugby players.’
The club moved to Oakwell soon after, but by 1897 Preedy had left the area and their fan base now included those outside the local parish, leading to a name change to Barnsley FC.
Aston Villa had to contend with other sports when it was founded.
They were founded by members of the Villa Wesleyan Cross Chapel in 1874, who as several
of the other clubs mentioned were cricketers looking for something else to do during the winter.
It took them a year to find an opponent in an area where rugby was more popular and they were actually a rugby team.
In March 1875 they faced Aston Brooks St Mary’s, where the first half was to be played according to rugby rules and the second half football.
Villa won that encounter, keeping the first half goalless and scoring a solitary goal after half-time.
The Jewish links at Tottenham Hotspur are well known, but they were actually started by a Bible class.
Hotspur Football Club was formed in 1882 by a group of grammar school boys at All Hallow Church.
The boys then made their teacher, John Ripsher, the club’s first president, a position he held until 1894.
Ripsher died in poverty in 1907 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Dover – until Tottenham presented him with a proper headstone a century later.
The founding of Fulham in 1879 can be attributed to the Church of England Church on Star Road, West Kensington.
The Cottagers were originally a Sunday school team and began their existence, like Southampton, with the wordy name – Fulham St Andrews Church Sunday School.
The church still stands and a plaque in front recognizes its place in the club’s history.
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