Blackburn Rovers: English Football League History and Blackburn Rovers and Blackburn Olympic club histories

Football Association established: 1863

The Football Association, also known simply as The FA, is the governing body of football in England. Formed in 1863, it is the oldest national football association and is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the amateur and professional game in England.


The FA sanctions all competitive football matches in England at national level, and indirectly at local level through the County Football Associations. It runs numerous competitions, the most famous of which is the FA Cup. It is also responsible for appointing the management of the men's, women's and youth national football teams.


The FA is a member of both UEFA and FIFA and holds a permanent seat on the International Football Association Board (IFAB) which is responsible for the laws of the game. As the first football association, it does not use the national name "English" in its title. It is based at Wembley Stadium, London.


All of England's professional football teams are members of the Football Association. Although it does not run the day-to-day operations of the Premier League, it has veto power over the appointment of the League Chairman and Chief Executive and over any changes to league rules.


The Football League, made up of the professional leagues below the Premier League, is self-governing.


The FA Cup founded: 1871

The Football Association Challenge Cup, commonly known as the FA Cup, is a knockoutcup competition in English football and is the oldest association football competition in the world.


The FA Cup was first held in 1871–72. Entry is open to all teams who compete in the Premier League, the Football League and in steps one to five of the FA National League System, as well as selected teams in step 6.

Blaccburn Rovers extablished: 1875

The club was established in 1875, following a meeting at the Leger Hotel, Blackburn on 5 November 1875, becoming a founding member of The Football League in 1888.


It is one of only three clubs to have been both a founder member of the Football League and the Premier League, the others being Aston Villa and Everton.


It is the only Football Club to be founder members of the Premier League and Football League and Champions of both.


In 1890 Rovers moved to its permanent home at Ewood Park.

Blackburn Olympic established: 1878

Blackburn Olympic F.C. was an English association football club based in Blackburn,Lancashire in the late 19th century. Although the club was only in existence for just over a decade, it is significant in the history of football in England as the first club from the north of the country and the first from a working-class background to win the country's leading competition, the Football Association Challenge Cup (FA Cup). The cup had previously been won only by teams of wealthy amateurs from the Home counties, and Olympic's victory marked a turning point in the sport's transition from a pastime for upper-class gentlemen to a professional sport.


The club was formed in 1878 and initially took part only in minor local competitions. In 1880, the club entered the FA Cup for the first time, and three years later defeated Old Etonians atKennington Oval to win the trophy. This victory was a significant factor in the decision by the sport's governing body, The Football Association, to allow professionalism two years later. Olympic, however, proved unable to compete with wealthier and better-supported clubs in the professional era, and folded in 1889.


Most of Olympic's home matches took place at the Hole-i'-th-Wall stadium, named after an adjacent public house. From 1880 onwards, the club's first-choice colours consisted of light blue shirts and white shorts. One Olympic player, James Ward, was selected for the England teamand six other former or future England internationals played for the club, including Jack Hunter, who was the club's coach at the time of Olympic's FA Cup win.


Football Association legalises proffessionalism: 1885

The Football League founded: 1888

Formed in 1888, The Football League is the oldest league competition in the world. The brainchild of a Scot, William McGregor, the competition provided regular fixtures for the top professional English sides from Lancashire and the Midlands.


Over time, the competition has grown from a single division of twelve clubs to its present four tier structure of Premier League (which became independent in 1996), Championship, League One and League Two, with 92 clubs in membership.


Since 1986, automatic promotion and relegation between the Football League and National Conference has been in effect, making it theoretically possible for a club to climb from the very lowest level of the pyramid all the way to the English Premier League.


Since 1995 it has had 72 clubs evenly divided into three divisions, which are known as The Championship, League One, and League Two. Promotion and relegation between these divisions is a central feature of the League and is further extended to allow the top Championship clubs to exchange places with the lowest placed clubs in the Premier League, and the bottom clubs of League Two to switch with the top clubs of the Football Conference, thus integrating the League into the English football league system.


Although primarily a competition for English clubs, one club from Wales also takes part, while in the past Swansea City, Wrexham, Newport County, Merthyr Town and Aberdare Athletic have been members.


The Football League is also the name of the governing body of the league competition, and this body also organises two knock-out cup competitions, the Football League Cup and the Football League Trophy.


The operations centre of The Football League is located in Preston, Lancashire, while its commercial office is in London.


It was formerly based in Lytham St. Annes, Lancashire after its original spell in Preston.

The Second Division formed: 1892

A new Second Division was formed in 1892 with the absorption of the rival Football Alliance. Alliance clubs Nottingham Forest, The Wednesday (later Sheffield Wednesday) and Newton Heath (later Manchester United) were added to the new First Division, and Darwen were reallocated to the new Second, bringing the First Division total to 16 clubs. With the addition of Northwich Victoria (from The Combination), Burslem Port Vale (later Port Vale, from the Midland League) and Sheffield United (from the Northern League), the Second Division started with 12 clubs, as Alliance club Birmingham St George's disbanded at that point. The bottom clubs of the lower division were subsequently required to apply for re-election to the League at the end of each season.


The Second Division increased to 15 clubs for season 1893–94 with the addition of Liverpool from the Lancashire League, Middlesbrough Ironopolis and Newcastle United from the Northern League, Rotherham Town from the Midland League, and Woolwich Arsenal (later Arsenal), who became the first team from the South of England to compete. Accrington, relegated from Division 1, and Bootle resigned from the League. For the following season 1894–95 there was a net increase to 16 with the addition of Bury from the Lancashire League, Leicester Fosse (later Leicester City) and Burton Wanderers (who later joined with existing Second Division club Burton Swifts to form Burton United) from the Midland League along with Lincoln City FC, while Northwich resigned and Middlesbrough Ironopolis disbanded.


Both Liverpool and Bury won the division at the first attempt.


In 1895 Loughborough replaced Walsall Town Swifts. In 1896 Blackpool from the Lancashire League and Gainsborough Trinity from the Midland League replaced Burslem Port Vale and Crewe Alexandra.In 1897 Luton Town from the United League replaced Burton Wanderers.


Automatic promotion and relegation for two clubs was introduced in 1898 when the previous system of test matches between the bottom two clubs of the First Division and the top two clubs of the Second Division was brought into disrepute when Stoke and Burnley colluded in the final match to ensure they were both in the First Division the next season. At this point both Divisions of the League expanded to eighteen, with the addition of Barnsley from the Midland and Yorkshire Leagues, Burslem Port Vale, Glossop from the Midland League, and New Brighton Tower from the Lancashire League to the Second Division.

The Third Division (South) formed: 1920-1921

In 1920, leading clubs from the Southern League joined the Football League to form a new Third Division, which in 1921 was renamed the Third Division South upon the further addition of more clubs to the Football league when a new Third Division North was formed.


One club from each of these divisions would gain promotion to the Second Division, with the two relegated clubs being assigned to the more appropriate Third Division. To accommodate potential difficulties in this arrangement, clubs in the Midlands such as Mansfield Town or Walsall would sometimes be moved from one Third Division to the other.


Following this burst of post-war growth, the League entered a prolonged period of relative stability with few changes in the membership, although there were changes on the pitch. In 1925, a new offside law reduced the number of opponents between the player and the goal from three to two, leading to a large increase in goals, and numbers on shirts were introduced in 1939.


Between 1923 and 1926, Huddersfield Town were the first team to win three consecutive league titles (and never won another one, though they finished as runners-up for the following two years). This was equalled by Arsenal between 1932 and 1935, during a period from 1930 to 1938 in which they won five titles out of eight.


Manchester City (1936–37) became the only other club to be added to the list of Football League winners prior to the outbreak of World War II, the fourteenth club to achieve the feat since 1888–89.

The Third Division (North) formed: 1921

In 1921 upon the further addition of more clubs to the football League, a new Third Division North was formed.


One club from each of these divisions would gain promotion to the Second Division, with the two relegated clubs being assigned to the more appropriate Third Division. To accommodate potential difficulties in this arrangement, clubs in the Midlands such as Mansfield Town or Walsall would sometimes be moved from one Third Division to the other.

The Third Division formed: 1958

The Third Divisions were expanded to 24 clubs each in 1950, bringing the total number of League clubs to 92, and in 1958 the decision was made to end the regionalisation of the Third Divisions and reorganise the clubs into a new nationwide Third Division and Fourth Division. To accomplish this, the clubs in the top half of both the Third Division North and South joined together to form the new Third Division, and those in the bottom half made up the Fourth Division. Four clubs were promoted and relegated between these two lower divisions, while two clubs exchanged places in the upper divisions until 1974, when the number increased to three.

The Fourth Division formed: 1958

The Third Divisions were expanded to 24 clubs each in 1950, bringing the total number of League clubs to 92, and in 1958 the decision was made to end the regionalisation of the Third Divisions and reorganise the clubs into a new nationwide Third Division and Fourth Division. To accomplish this, the clubs in the top half of both the Third Division North and South joined together to form the new Third Division, and those in the bottom half made up the Fourth Division. Four clubs were promoted and relegated between these two lower divisions, while two clubs exchanged places in the upper divisions until 1974, when the number increased to three.


The Premier League founded:1992

The Premier League is an English professional league for association football clubs. At the top of the English football league system, it is the country's primary football competition. Contested by 20 clubs, it operates on a system of promotion and relegation with The Football League.


The Premier League is a corporation in which the 20 member clubs act as shareholders. Seasons run from August to May, with teams playing 38 matches each, totalling 380 matches in the season. Most games are played on Saturdays and Sundays, with a few games played during weekday evenings. It was known as the Premiership from 1993 to 2007. It is currently known as the Premier League.


The competition formed as the FA Premier League on 20 February 1992 following the decision of clubs in the Football League First Division to break away from The Football League, which was originally founded in 1888, and take advantage of a lucrative television rights deal. 


Since 1888, a total of 23 clubs have been crowned champions of the English football system. Of the 45 clubs to have competed since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, fiive have won the title: Manchester United (12), Arsenal (3), Chelsea (3), Blackburn Rovers (1) and Manchester City (1).


Blackburn Rovers

Centenary Year: 1975.
Centenary Year: 1975.

On 5th November 1875, two friends, John Lewis and Arthur Constantine, organized a meeting at the St Leger Hotel in Blackburn to discuss the possibility of establishing a football club in the town. Constantine had played the game while studying at Shrewsbury School. At that time, the game was dominated by formerpublic school students. Seventeen men attended the meeting and as Charles Francis pointed out in his book, History of Blackburn Rovers (1925): "all present, including several young fellows who had just finished their education at public schools, signified their willingness to participate in the game and the motion to create a club was carried unanimously."

The town itself already had other teams including Blackburn Olympic F.C. and Blackburn Park Road F.C.


Originally the club had no ground and its only income came from the members on the club’s books. Blackburn Rovers would play their first match on 18 December 1875.


On 28 September 1878, Blackburn Rovers became one of the founding clubs in the Lancashire Football Association. 

At the St Leger Hotel meeting, John Lewis agreed to be treasurer of Blackburn Rovers and Walter Duckworth, a former pupil of Clitheroe Grammar School and the son of a local timber merchant, was appointed as the club's first secretary. Two local businessmen, Alfred Birtwistle, directory of a local firm of cotton manufacturers, and Richard Birtwistle, whose family owned cotton mills in the Blackburn area, also became involved in running the club. Jack Baldwin, the son of a wealthy Blackburn businessman, also agreed to play for the team.


J. T. Syckelmoore, a former student of St. John's College, Cambridge and a teacher at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School in Blackburn also joined the club. So also did Thomas Greenwood, who was appointed captain of Blackburn Rovers. His two brothers, Harry Greenwood and Doctor Greenwood, also played for the club.

Two other brothers, Fred Hargreaves and John Hargreaves, who both worked in the legal profession, became important figures at the club. They had played football for Malvern College and advocated that Blackburn Rovers adopted the quartered shirt design of their school shirts. However, they suggested that the traditional green should be changed to the light blue worn by the Cambridge University football team.


Jimmy Brown was another local man who joined the team. He had played football for Mintholme College, and Blackburn Law Club before joining Blackburn Rovers.

Blackburn Rovers played their first game on 11th December 1875. The team included Alfred Birtwistle, Walter Duckworth, John Lewis, Arthur Constantine, J. T. Syckelmoore, Thomas Greenwood, Harry Greenwood and Jack Baldwin. The game ended in a 1-1 draw.


The team played its early games at Oozehead, a piece of farmland on the road to Preston. In 1877 they began playing matches at Pleasant Cricket Ground. At a game against Preston Rovers in December, Henry Smith, collapsed and died of a heart-attack. The following year Blackburn Rovers moved to the ground used by the Alexandra Meadows Cricket Club.


According to the author of The Book of Football: "It was a modest beginning, and as the enthusiasts had no idea of the future that was in store, no complete records were kept for the first few seasons." Those existing documents show that Arthur Constantine apparently left the club in 1877.

The first known photograph of Blackburn Rovers. The players are numbered:

John Duckworth (2), Richard Birtwistle (4), John Lewis (5), Fred Hargreaves (6),

Walter Duckworth (7), Alfred BirtwisGtle (8), Jack Baldwin (9), Thomas

Greenwood (10), Doctor Greenwood (11) and Arthur Thomas (13).


On 4th November 1878 Blackburn Rovers played its first floodlit game. As Mike Jackman has pointed out in his book, Blackburn Rovers: An Illustrated History (1995): "The visitors were Accrington and the ground was illuminated by the Gramme light - one being situated at the east end of the Meadows and the other at the west end. Each light was attached to a scaffold that rose some 30 to 40ft from the ground. An 8hp portable engine was required to work the battery and it was said that the system provided the equivalent of some 6,000 candle power. However, it was felt necessary to paint the ball white to aid both players and spectators."


Blackburn Rovers was not the best football team in Blackburn. Whereas Rovers was mainly made up of players who attended public schools, the Blackburn Olympic team largely contained men from the working-class and was funded by Sidney Yates of the local iron foundry. The two clubs played each other on 15th February 1879 but Olympic, one of the best teams in the country, won 3-1.


In the 1879 Blackburn Rovers entered the FA Cup for the first time. However, after beating Enfield in the first round they lost to Nottingham Forest 6-0. They had better luck in the Lancashire Cup and got to the final before being beaten by Darwen 3-0 in front of 10,000 spectators.


It became clear that Blackburn Rovers would have to persuade some better players to join the club. In 1880 the club signed Hugh McIntyre from Glasgow Rangers. McIntyre was attracted to the town by his appointment to run the Castle Inn. Another footballer who had learnt his trade in Scotland, Fergie Suter, who had been playing for rivals Darwen, also joined Blackburn. This enraged Darwen who accused Blackburn of paying Suter for his services. At this time football professionalism was illegal. However, Darwen did not make an official complaint as it was well known that Suter had given up his career as a stonemason as soon as he arrived in Lancashire. McIntyre and Suter had both played their early football in Scotland. So also did their third signing, Jimmy Douglas who had played for Paisley and Renfrew.


Blackburn Rovers played Darwen in a friendly on 27th November 1880. In an attempt to embarrass Blackburn Rovers for recruiting Scottish players, Darwen officials announced that their team would only include men who had been "Darwen born and bred". The score was 1-1 when in the second-half the players began fighting after an incident involving Fergie Suter. The crowd joined in and the referee was forced to abandon the game.


The team relied heavily on the three Scotsmen brought into the side: Hugh McIntyre, Fergie Suter andJimmy Douglas. However, the team included some of the men who originally formed the team such as Fred Hargreaves, John Hargreaves, Doctor Greenwood, Jimmy Brown and John Duckworth.


The men who ran Blackburn Rovers also decided to invest in a new ground. A lease was taken out on a ground on Leamington Street and £500 was spent on building a grandstand that could accommodate between 600 and 700 spectators. A wall was erected along the sides of the pitch in an attempt to stop crowd invasions. The first game at the new stadium was against their old rivals Blackburn Olympic. A crowd of 6,000 people saw Blackburn Rovers win 4-1.


Blackburn Rovers was now one of the best clubs in England. In 1882, Blackburn became the first provincial team to reach the final of the FA Cup. Their opponents were Old Etonians who had reached the final on five previous occasions. However, Blackburn had gone through the season unbeaten and was expected to become the first northern team to win win the game. Doctor Greenwood was injured the team included five players who had won international caps, Jimmy Douglas, Fred Hargreaves, John Hargreaves, Hugh McIntyreand Jimmy Brown.


The Old Etonians scored after eight minutes and despite creating a great number of chances, Blackburn was unable to obtain an equalizer in the first-half. Early in the second-half George Avery was seriously injured and Blackburn Rovers was reduced to ten men. Despite good efforts by Jimmy Brown, Jack Hargreaves and John Duckworth, Rovers were unable to score.


Blackburn Rovers did even better in that year's Lancashire Cup. After victories against Accrington Wanderers (7-0), Church (6-0) they beat Blackburn Olympic 6-1 in the semi-final. Blackburn won the cup by beating Accrington 3-1 in the final.

Blackburn Rovers won the Lancashire Cup in March 1883. From left to right,

back row: Doctor Greenwood, R. Howorth, John Hargreaves, Fergie Suter,

Middle row: John Duckworth, Hugh McIntyre, H. Sharples, Fred Hargreaves, Tot

Strachan, George Avery. Sitting on the floor: Jimmy Brown and Jimmy Douglas.


The following year Blackburn Rovers were in favourites to win the FA Cup. However, an injury hit Rovers were beaten 1-0 in the second round by local rivals Darwen. The Blackburn Times reported that this was a major surprise as the "play was so much in the Rovers' favour that Howorth (the goalkeeper) never handled the ball throughout the match." The defeat was made worse when the town's other main football club, Blackburn Olympic, became the first northern team to win the cup by beating Old Etonians in the final.


In the 1883-84 season Blackburn Rovers added another outsider into the team. John Inglis, a Scottish international, had recently been playing for Glasgow Rangers. The Blackburn Times reported: "There is one point about Blackburn Rovers that does not give entire satisfaction and this is the introduction of Inglis of the Glasgow Rangers. It is "hard lines" on Sowerbutts or whoever else is supplanted, that after the faithful services of the past he should be pushed out in this manner, and besides that there is a class of people in the town who would rather lose the Cup on their merits than win it with the aid of a specially introduced stranger." In fact, Joe Sowerbutts, a local lad, had emerged as one of the stars of the team, and retained his place alongside Inglis.


In the 1883-84 FA Cup Blackburn beat Padium (3-0), Staveley (5-0), Upton Park (3-0), and Notts County (1-0) to reach the final. After Blackburn Rovers beat Notts County the club made an official complaint to theFootball Association that John Inglis was a professional player. The FA carried out an investigation into the case discovered that Inglis was working as a mechanic in Glasgow and was not earning a living playing football for Blackburn Rovers.


John Inglis played in the final against Queens Park at outside left. Other Scots in the team included Jimmy Douglas (outside right) Fergie Suter (left-back) and Hugh McIntyre (centre-half). The Scottish club scored the first goal but Blackburn Rovers won the game with goals from Blackburn lads, James Forrest and Joe Sowerbutts.

Blackburn Rovers with the FA Cup, the Lancashire Cup and the Lancashire Charity

Cup that they won in 1883-84 season. Back row, left to right: Joseph Lofthouse,

Hugh McIntyre, Joe Beverley, Herbie Arthur, Fergie Suter, James Forrest,

Richard Birtwistle, Front row: Jimmy Douglas, Joe Sowerbutts, Jimmy Brown,

George Avery and John Hargreaves.

Blackburn Olympic

Blackburn Olympic, though less well known than Blackburn Rovers, hold a special place in the history of Association Football.

The club, of working-class origins, was formed in 1878 with the amalgamation of two working men's clubs from Blackburn; Black Star and James Street.


Blackburn Olympic was formed in opposition to the Rovers, then regarded as a 'gentleman's club'.


In 1878-1879 they never lost a match, and when the East Lancashire Charity Cup was first contested in 1882-1883, Olympic won it.

Its FA Cup success in 1883 was the first triumph by a team from the industrial working class. The cup had previously been won only by teams of wealthy amateurs from the so-called 'Home counties', and Olympic's victory marked a turning point in the sport's transition from a pastime for upper-class gentlemen to a professional sport.

Blackburn Rovers had reached the final and lost in 1882 but their team was made up of what was essentially a middle-class team which would not have felt out of place on the public school playing fields of southern England.

The social make up of the Olympic spectators was different too.

For the 1883 final, Olympic took 1,000 supporters on special trains, though outnumbered in the crowd of 12,000, they made far more noise.

A London paper reported, "London witnessed an invasion of Northern barbarians on Sunday - hot blooded Lancastrians, sharp of tongue, rough and ready, of uncouth garb and strange speech. A tribe of Sudanese Arabs let lose on the Strand would not arouse such amusement and curiosity. Strange oaths fell upon Southern ears and curious words, but expressive, filled the air."

Olympic went on to win the game 2-1.


The following season, Olympic again reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup, as did Blackburn Rovers. When the draw for the semi-finals was made, the club was paired with Queen's Parkin one match and Rovers with Notts County in the other, setting up the possibility of the two teams meeting in the final. The Olympic team, however, were defeated 4–0 by their Scottish opponents. The club lodged an appeal with the FA based on the encroachment onto the pitch of some of the 16,000 spectators, but to no avail.


Rovers went on to defeat Queen's Park in the final.


Olympic  was never again able to achieve its 1883 level of success.


In the 1884–85 season, Olympic lost in the second round of the FA Cup to rivals Rovers, who went on to cement their position as the town's leading team by winning the competition for the second consecutive season.


Blackburn Olympic's chief rivalry was with Blackburn Rovers. The first match between the two clubs was a game in February 1879, which resulted in a 3–1 win for Olympic. 

The clubs played each other forty times, but Olympic won only six of these matches.

The rivalry became especially fierce in September 1884 after Olympics FA Cup victory of 1883, amid accusations that Rovers were using underhand tactics in attempts to "poach" Olympic players.

However, the grip of public school sides had been forever broken by Olympic's success, and Association Football became for ever more closely linked with the working-class.

Football was gradually abandoned by the middle-classes as the working-classes took over as spectators and players. 

The game became imbued with working-class values that became ever more socially distinct from the middle-class.

However, football started to become big business and what middle-class businessman would not want some of that?

The Lancashire, the cradle of capitalism, was also the cradle of professional football.

Blackburn played its part in that development as Blackburn was at the forefront of the movement which forced the FA to accept professionalism. Blackburn Rovers were also the first club to lure Scottish palyers south of the border.

In 1884, after the FA refused to sanction professionalism, a meeting of Lancashire clubs exerted pressure by forming the British Football Association. 

The threat of a schism within the sport was averted in 1885 when the FA agreed to legalise professionalism.


In a town the size of Blackburn, however, Olympic found it hard to compete for spectators and sponsors with the longer-established and more successful Rovers, and as a result could not pay wages on a par with those offered by that club or by other professional clubs in Lancashire.


In 1886 the club's committee was forced to reduce the players' wages to a quarter of what was being offered by Preston North End. Many of the team's key players walked out in response and were quickly signed by wealthier clubs.


The Football League, the world's first association football league, was formed in 1888 by the leading clubs of the Lancashire and Staffordshire. 


Aston Villa chairman William McGregor, the driving force behind the new competition, put in place a rule stating that only one club from each town or city could join, and chose Rovers, rather than Olympic, to be Blackburn's entrant.


Some of the clubs not invited to join the League, including Olympic, formed The Combination, but this was a poorly organised competition which attracted only small crowds and collapsed before the end of the 1888–89 season.


Beset by heavy debts, the club's committee announced in early 1889 that all professional players were being released from their contracts with immediate effect and that henceforth the club would employ only amateur players.


This desperate measure came too late to save the club, which closed down in September 1889.


Blackburn Olympic's last match was a defeat away to Everton.


An unrelated amateur club based in the town adopted the name Blackburn Olympic in 1959.