1880-1890 Burnley Football Club are born

Last updated : 12 June 2013 By Tony Scholes

There were a number of clubs formed to play rugby union in the 1870s and a club named Burnley Rovers was one of them. Association Football, to give it its full name, was becoming established and the Lancashire Football Association had been formed but rugby remained the number one in Burnley.

Our next door neighbours Padiham had made the switch in the late 1870s but it would be two years later before the club we now support decided to make a similar change. That’s right it was 1881 when we started playing association football, the error on the new club badge in the 1970s leading to the confusion of today.

Bull Hotel
Bull Hotel - where the change of code was agreed on 18th May 1882
There were a number of clubs in the town who were all making the move and the then Burnley Rovers played their first game with the round ball late in 1881 and on 18th May in the following year the decision to change code was formally agreed at a meeting at the Bull Hotel, situated on the corner of Manchester Road and St. James Street.

The gentlemen who made that decision could never have known the result of their decision, that it would be affecting the lives of so many over 120 years later.

It wasn’t just Burnley Rovers who made this change, there were teams throughout the borough making the same decision and the Calder Vale based Rovers were by no means the biggest team in the town, they were just one of many and most of them, apart from those in more outlying areas carried the town’s name.

The Bull Hotel decision was soon followed by two more of equal importance and significance. The first was to drop ‘Rovers’ from the name, a decision cherished by the modern day supporter, and in 1883 they accepted an invitation from the town’s leading cricketers Burnley Cricket Club to join them on their land at Turf Moor.

The now Burnley Football Club moved to Turf Moor in January 1883 and only one club, Preston North End, have been at their current ground longer than Burnley.

Burnley played in an amber and black kit in those early days – so there would certainly have been no Clarets Mad around at the time – and initially, just as was the case with the rugby, it was all friendly games.

We were soon rebels too and took on the Football Association whose rules would not allow professionalism. Burnley paid some of their players, which was against all the rules, and because of his we had to play a complete reserve team of amateurs in an FA Cup tie against Darwen, it resulted in an 11-0 loss which is still the club’s heaviest ever defeat.

Burnley had led a group of other clubs in forming a breakaway called the British Football Association and eventually they forced the FA’s hands and from the summer of 1885 they had no option but to allow clubs to pay their players.

With the new rules Burnley were quick to establish themselves as the top club in the town and there were rumours that the better players were being paid as much as £2 per week with the lesser players also earning around 5/- per week.

Burnley needed some support, their main income was coming from donations from Charles Massey and the townsfolk gave them that support as the team got better and better as we were able to pay the wages.

Football was soon to change and the professional clubs of Lancashire and the Midlands formed the first ever league in 1888 – the birth of The Football League. Such was the stature of Burnley Football Club by then that we were invited to be part of this league and again those committee members responsible made the correct decision and joined.

It must have been an exciting time but for Burnley, by now playing in blue and white stripes, it didn’t get off to the best of starts and we were beaten 5-2 in our first ever league game at Preston. Most of us can remember the team from last week but how many can recall Burnley’s first ever team for a league game.

It read Smith, Lang, Bury, Abrams, Friel, Keenan, Brady, Tait, Poland, Gallocher, Yates. Gallocher and Poland scored our goals and a week later we recorded our first victory, beating Bolton 4-3 with Poland again on the scoresheet and Tait getting a couple.

The season was no great success, we finished in eighth place in the twelve team league but there was recognition of one of our players Jack Yates. He was called up by England and made his international debut against Ireland in March 1889.

He made an impression too, scoring a hat trick in a 6-1 win in the game played at Everton. It was a fantastic start to his international career but it never went on from there and he was never selected again. He remains the only England player to average three goals per game.

Lancashire Cup Winners
Lancashire Cup winning team from 1889/90 season
The following season, and the last full season in the decade, was heading for disaster when we drew four and lost thirteen of the first seventeen games. We were adrift at the bottom with only five games to go but then a change of form lifted us one place.

We won the next four games and drew the last one, scoring eighteen goals into the bargain, and it was vital. It left Stoke bottom and they became the first ever team to be relegated and were replaced by Sunderland.

Burnley Football Club were well and truly on their way and if you really needed any further proof, we won our first ever trophy in the 1889/90 season, lifting the Lancashire Cup. And who did we beat? You’ve guessed it, it was Blackburn Rovers and the score was 2-0.