Football in the 1890s

Many years ago I was browsing in a junk shop (they were junk shops then, ‘antique’, ‘retro’ or ‘vintage’ now) and came across a pile of book pages showing photographs of footballers and teams. Not unusual you might think but these were dated 1895! I’m not a football fan but can’t resist an interesting historical photograph and there were dozens of them, so I enquired about the price. “£250” said the man “and they are very rare”. The dealers’ mantra of ‘when I buy it’s junk, when I sell, it’s an antique’ came to mind and we started a lengthy negotiation. A price is usually right if the seller feels the price was too low and the buyer too high and I certainly did that day, having parted with £150!

However, after a bit of research, I discovered that they were from a book called ‘Famous Footballers’ published in 1895. It included photographs of teams and players that competed in the 1894/5 season of the Football League, which had been formed just a few years earlier in 1888. One of the pages is shown below, it measures 14 by 9.5 inches, the photos are high resolution and there are a couple of hundred of them. It turned out that I had a complete copy, even though the pages were loose and the covers were missing. And, the dealer was right, it is, indeed, a very rare book.


I was surprised to discover not only that professional football had been around much longer than I had previously thought but that, given that this book must have been very expensive to produce and buy, there was an active, and presumably lucrative, commercial side to it. It makes sense though, given the number of men (and maybe a few women) who attended matches. Many would have worked long hours in hard, physical jobs, five and a half days a week, and a Saturday afternoon at the footy with their mates would, understandably, have been the highlight of the week. And here’s the evidence, a wonderful magic slide from my collection, dating from the early 1900s.


Now that’s a crowd!

A surprising number of the teams in the photographs are still with us today and I’ve had greetings cards made of the images.

You can click on the images below to go to the appropriate listing in my Etsy shop.

550 ULR

Stoke Football Club later to become Stoke City F.C.


549 ULR

Sheffield United


548 ULR

Sheffield Wednesday


547 ULR

Derby County


546 ULR

Leicester Fosse, later to become Leicester City F.C.


545 ULR

Sunderland A.F.C.


544 ULR

Aston Villa


543 ULR

Royal Arsenal, later to become Arsenal F.C.


541 ULR

Preston North End


539 ULR

Wolverhampton Wanderers


535 ULR

Millwall Athletic


534 ULR

Middlesbrough F.C.


505 ULR

Blackburn Rovers


206 ULR

Newcastle United

If you found this interesting, please share it with your family and friends. If you’re not reading it on my ‘Magic Lantern World‘ website, then please visit. There are over one hundred illustrated articles about Victorian slide projection and links to my historical photo-booklets on Amazon, my Ebay shop for magic lantern slides and Etsy store for historical photo greetings cards with a twist. You can read about my authentic Victorian magic lantern shows and talks on ‘Optical entertainments before the movies’ and lots more!



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