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Saturday, 26 February 2011

Football Amongst Railway Workers on the GCR (1905-06, 06-07 seasons)

Sports were one of things that socially drew together late 19th and early 20th century railway workers. However, in the late 19th century cricket was the sport of choice for many individuals, as testified by the vast swathes of cricket scores found from 1881 onwards in the London and South Western Railway’s Staff Magazine, the South Western Gazette.[1] By comparison, football was still in its infancy, and while there were a great many large clubs in existence in by the early 20th century,[2] the formation of teams at grassroots level was still prolific. With highly inter-connected organisations, cooperative working and a sense of loyalty to railway Companies, it isn’t surprising that railway workers began to form teams and leagues of their own. Thus, this Blog post is about football amongst Great Central Railway employees.

Cricket was seemingly the sport of choice for many employees of the Great Central Railway (GCR) in 1905, and the first edition of the company’s staff magazine, the Great Central Railway Journal, detailed the matches that the Nottingham, Sheffield and Leicester Great Central cricket clubs played. Interestingly, many of these matches were against teams from other railway companies, revealing that inter-railway rivalry spread beyond just the speed of trains, the quality of the service or the shine of railway worker’s buttons. In May 1905 the Nottingham Club lost by 120 runs to 76 against the Nottingham Locomotive Department of the Midland Railway. However, they won against the Great Northern Railway’s Nottingham clerks by 82 runs to 45. The Leicester GCR team beat some London and North Western Railway men by 66 runs to 23. Furthermore, in addition to the inter-company games, the GCR cricket clubs also played teams from surrounding villages and groups.[3]

Yet, since the late 19th century, football had become a far more popular sport and the April 1906 edition of the Journal gave reports of Football matches that were occurring amongst GCR railwaymen. The team from Ardwick Station beat their colleagues from Openshaw, 3-0. The Doncaster District Superintendent’s Office (DSO) team beat Liverpool DSO staff members by four goals to none. Lastly, Blyton Station staff stunned the Sheffield Bridgehouses Goods Accounts Clerks by inflicting on them a 13-0 defeat.[4] This was unsurprising though, as the Blyton team was beaten only once in the 1905-06 season.[5] With footballing activity at a high level, it is interesting to note that the May 1906 edition of the GCRJ stated that there were not only teams amongst the GCR staff, but there were clubs also.[6]Indeed, a later correspondent cited that teams and clubs were established at Doncaster DSO, Hexthorpe, Mexborough, Wombwell, Stairfoot and Barnsley Goods Depot.[7] As a community of footballers, their undoubted crowning achievement of the 1905-06 season was that a united GCR team won the Hampstead and District League West London Charity Cup.[8]

In the May 1906 edition of the GCJ there was a description of the Doncaster DSO’s team that gave details of the nature of a GCR football team. It seems that its formation was a reflection of the community spirit that existed amongst the men. The team was formed because of ‘a desire on the part of some of the members of the office to meet in friendly games with the staff in the other district offices of the company.’ While the article didn’t specify a date of formation, it suggested that the team, while new, was one of the more established clubs. Growing from a small start it had become ‘a team capable of meeting many of the amateur teams in the district.’ Its star players were the Captain, Mr Storer, and the Vice-Captain, Mr Fennell, two players who were ‘capable of leading the team onto victory.’[9]

Amongst all the GCR teams the Blyton Station team stood out as being a well-established (and not to mention formidable),[10] as they were already partaking in a local league.[11] Thus, in the April 1906 edition of the GCRJ a Mr A.E. Bales, of the company’s Carriage and Wagon Workshops at Gorton, had a letter published suggesting that a company league be started. On the basis of the Blyton example he posited that ‘a league could be formed composed of employees from the GCR system.’ He suggested establishing more than one league, to be arranged in divisions, as well as a cup competition for the whole of the system. He felt that the cost would low and welcomed suggestions from ‘admirers of the winter pastime.’[12] This, therefore, would move the activities of footballers in the company to a more advanced phase of organisational development.

Many of the views were positive. E. Kimmery of the Blyton team offered his support and the use of a ground for teams that did not have their own.[13] He was supported by ‘W.A’[14] and a ‘would be football team’ from an unknown location, who suggested that it was ‘about time something was being definitely decided upon.’ They hoped that a league could be formed by the start of the next season.[15] ‘J.S.S.,’ ‘A.K.D.’ and ‘H.O.’ from Liverpool supported the idea, but raised the point that because of the size of the GCR the distances some teams would have to travel to play matches would be impractical. As an alternative they suggested two or more leagues in the districts, with occasional test matches being played between teams that constituted of the best players from both. They also suggested a central organisation to coordinate the leagues which would be based at Sheffield.[16] Subsequently, Kimmery took it upon himself to marshal the organisation of the league, writing to twenty-two stations about the proposals.[17]

Unfortunately, Kimmery reported in the November issue of the GCRJ that of the twenty two stations that he had written to, only four had replied. Subsequently, the idea was ‘to rest for the present time.’ However, he was willing to fix up friendly matches for Blyton with any GCR team.[18] Blyton in the 1906-07 season continued to be on top form, beating Chapeltown 5-1 on November 18th and the Hull Kingston Street team 11-0 on December 8th.[19]

Unfortunately, my research hasn’t taken me far enough to establish whether a football league was eventually formed in the 1907-08 season or beyond. However, it is hoped that this will be discovered soon. What this case study suggests is that football by the early twentieth was an increasingly popular pastime and that communities were arranging more than just individual matches. Cricket had dominated as the sport of choice in the 1900s. However, presumably because of the increased free time that railway employees had due to legislation that limited their working hours, football, a sport that was far more accessible and shorter in duration, quickly became popular amongst them.


[1] The National Archives [TNA], ZPER 11/5, The South Western Gazette, June 1885, p.8

[2] TNA, ZPER 16/2, Great Eastern Railway Magazine, March 1912, p.73-74

[3] TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, July 1906, p.7

[4] TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, April 1906, p.240

[5] TNA, ZPER 18/2, The Great Central Railway Journal, January 1907, p.185

[6] TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, May 1906, p.275

[7] TNA, ZPER 18/2, The Great Central Railway Journal, July 1906, p.23

[8] TNA, ZPER 18/2, The Great Central Railway Journal, March 1907, p.238

[9]TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, May 1906, p.268

[10] TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, April 1906, p.247

[11] TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, May 1906, p.275

[12] TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, May 1906, p.275

[13] TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, May 1906, p.275

[14] TNA, ZPER 18/1, The Great Central Railway Journal, June 1906, p.298

[15] TNA, ZPER 18/2, The Great Central Railway Journal, July 1906, p.23

[16] TNA, ZPER 18/2, The Great Central Railway Journal, August 1906, p.54

[17] TNA, ZPER 18/2, The Great Central Railway Journal, November 1906, p.134

[18] TNA, ZPER 18/2, The Great Central Railway Journal, November 1906, p.134

[19] TNA, ZPER 18/2, The Great Central Railway Journal, February 1907, p.234


  1. You're really bringing to life little known aspects of the railway business here. Finding time to play matches and keeping a consistent team together must have been difficult in such a 24/7 industry, with worker's spare time at a premium. Would be interesting to know what relationship railways had with rugby union - did managers play this in-house to mark themselves out as middle class?

  2. Another very interesting piece, David. Its surprising how many links there were between football teams and the railways - for instance Newton Heath LYR FC was set up by men of the Lancashire & Yorkshire - and later changed its name to Manchest United.

    Up here Inverurie Loco's was started by men of the works of the GNoSR - and there are many more.

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