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Football Clubs’ Religious Roots
In some ways, football has become like a religion.
Every weekend for nine months, large groups of people travel to stadiums around the country to support their team. They often wear replica shirts or their team colors to identify themselves.
However, as with religion, rivalries have led to conflict, often resulting in violence between both sides. Of course, hooligans don’t think about religion when they beat up rival fans, but they still walk around thinking they’re following the true faith.
With the money now in the game, it is often forgotten that many of the major clubs in Great Britain were actually formed by church groups. And, ironically, one of their goals in establishing them was to stamp out violence.
Even today, there are many schemes to take the youth off the streets and bring them into sports, but religion does not have the same place in society as it used to.
In the 19th century, churches became more influential and, in many cases, clubs founded by parishes developed into multi-million pound companies.
Bhoise of brother Walfrid
North of the border, there’s one club that still has ties to religion: Celtic.
Several clubs were formed by Irish Catholic communities, the first of which was the Hibernians of Edinburgh
(His name is Latin for Ireland).
Unlike others, the connection between Bhoi and his roots remains strong even today.
He was first preached by Marist Brother Walfrid (aka Andrew Cairns) on 6 November 1887 at St Mary’s Church Hall in Calton, Glasgow.
The club was founded with the aim of alleviating poverty in the east end of the city. The name Celtic was immediately adopted and reflected the club’s Scottish and Irish roots. Surprisingly, 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 were the first to claim bragging rights as they won 5-2, with several players from the starting XI taking over from Hibernian.
Brother Walfrid himself wanted to keep the club fun and had only charitable intentions for the club. However, he was not to get his wish, as local builder John Glass signed eight Hibs players without the committee’s knowledge in August 1888, offering them a large financial incentive.
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, followed by their first league title the following year. Since then they have dominated Scottish football for over a century, along with Rangers (who became Rovers).
Another team to play at Anfield
Nowadays, Everton play their home games at Goodison Park.
But, it is often forgotten that they previously played on the other side of Stanley Park, where their mortal rivals Liverpool now call home.
In fact, Toffees can claim to be indirectly responsible for their neighbor’s creation.
Founded in 1878, Everton became the first of Liverpool’s major clubs.
Minister of St. Domingo Methodist Church, Rev. BS Chambers set up a football club to give members of the church’s cricket team something to do in the winter.
The club was originally called St. Domingo FC, but was changed to Everton in November the following year after men from outside the parish wanted to join.
In 1888 Everton became one of the 12 founding members of the Football League and by then the club was leasing Anfield, owned by John Orrell, with his friend John Holding as the leaseholder.
Eventually, Holding bought the ground from Orrell and quickly raised the rent, something Everton refused to do.
So they left Anfield in 1892 and moved across to Stanley Park and their current home of Goodison Park, resulting in the holding becoming Liverpool.
But the religious links with Everton end there, as Goodison Park is the only Premier League stadium to have a church in its grounds – St Luke the Evangelist.
The church is located between the triple-tiered Main Stand and the Gladys Street End, and its walls come within meters of the two stands.
Even on match-days she plays a role, as she sells refreshments.
While Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company employees formed their more prestigious neighbours, the team from the blue half of Manchester was thought up by a rector’s daughter.
Two years after Manchester United came into existence, Anna Connell, whose
Father Arthur was rector of St Mark’s Church in Gorton, north-west of the city, and thought of providing activities for men with nothing to do during the winter.
Like Everton, a cricket club already existed and more activities were needed to curb the level of violence and drinking in the local area.
Ironic, considering these things are now associated with football fandom.
Drunken brawls often broke out between different religious and ethnic groups, and the problem was exacerbated by high levels of unemployment in the area.
With the help of two church wardens, William Bistow and Thomas Goodbeher, Connell founded West Gorton (St Mark’s) FC – which eventually became Manchester City.
The club played its first game on 13 November 1880 against Macclesfield Baptist Church.
The venture was so successful that the Archdeacon of Manchester remarked of Connell: ‘No man could have done it – it required the skill and skill of a woman to make it so successful.’
Eventually, the club had to move away from its roots.
In 1884 Gorton became AFC, renaming St Mark’s and three years later they moved across town to Ardwick and turned professional.
It adopted the name of its new home before finally becoming Manchester City in 1894.
Tormented by uncertainty
It’s not just the most famous clubs that have expressed their gratitude to the Church, and in this case the man of the cloth also got in on the action.
There has long been a dispute over when Swindon Town was founded, with the club changing between the foundation dates of 1879 and 1881.
For a long time the latter date was considered official on 12 November that year, Swindon, under their former club name Spartans, merged with St Mark’s Young Men’s following a match between the two teams.
But last year, solid evidence led Robbins to agree that 1879 was the correct date.
It is now accepted that the curate of Christ Church in the city centre, the Reverend William Pitt, founded the club in an attempt to unite the communities of Great Western Railway workers and people there before the arrival of the GWR.
There are two main lines of evidence that suggest this.
Among these is a local report, discovered by former club statistician Paul Plowman, on a match between Swindon AFC and Rovers FC from 29 November 1879.
The report includes a photo of the team with Pitt himself.
Pitt severed his association with the club in 1881, when he was appointed rector of Lidington Church.
However, he provided another piece of evidence during a speech in 1911, during which he
Members found the original name too offensive, so the name was changed to Spartan Club.
He also mentioned that he left after being sacked from Swindon.
Two years after he left, the Spartan club became Swindon Town.
There’s a clue in the name
When Southampton moved from Dale to St Mary’s Stadium in 2001, it represented a bit of a homecoming.
Because the club moved back to the part of the city where it was originally formed in 1885.
The stadium’s name was a welcome change from the current trend of selling naming rights, as it refers to a nearby church.
The club was founded by members of St Mary’s Church of England Young Men’s Association, meaning its first name was literal – so it was referred to as St Mary’s YMA by the local press.
St Mary’s is played at various venues around Southampton, one of which is Southampton Common.
Or at least they tried to play there – the Saints often had their play interrupted by pedestrians across the pitch!
The club changed its name to Southampton St Mary’s in 1897 after becoming a limited company and ending its association with the church.
In 1898, the Saints, now simply called Southampton FC, traveled across town to the Dale before making the return trip 103 years later.
Cloth more club
There are many other football clubs with roots in the Church – some more successful than others.
An FA Cup semi-finalist this season, Barnsley were originally a club trying to establish football in an area dominated by rugby.
The Tykes were founded in 1887 by the wonderfully named Reverend Tiverton Priddy of St Peter’s, whose church named the club Barnsley St Peter’s.
He wanted to ‘build a soccer club that wouldn’t be crushed by the Rugbyites.’
The club soon after moved to Oakwell, but by 1897, Preddy had left the area and their fanbase now included people from outside the local parish, leading to a change of name to Barnsley FC.
Aston Villa struggled in other sports as well.
They were founded in 1874 by members of the Villa Wesleyan Cross Chapel, who, like many
Among the other clubs mentioned were cricketers looking for something different to do during the winter.
It took them a year to find opponents in areas where rugby was more popular and they were, in fact, rugby teams.
In March 1875, they faced Aston Brooks St Mary’s in which the first half was to be played under rugby rules and the second football.
Villa kept the first half goalless to win the match and scored the only goal after half-time.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Jewish connections are well known, but it was actually founded by a Bible class.
‘The Hotspur Football Club’ was founded in 1882 by a group of grammar school boys from All Hallows Church.
The boys later 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 introduced 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 at the same time as Southampton, named Fulham St Andrew’s Church Sunday School.
The church still stands and a plaque outside recognizes its place in the club’s history.
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