A brief history of Schools’ Football

Schools’ football in England had its beginnings in the latter part of the 1900’s. With the great idea of education for all brought about by the social reformers of the 20th century, the realisation that exercise was good for health soon followed. There was no provision for games in the 1870 Education Act so any physical activities were introduced voluntarily by teachers outside of school hours.

Football was being played in schools from the early 1880’s with the first cup competitions starting around 1885. There were a number of competitions starting about this time in Liverpool, Birmingham, Brierley Hill, Preston, Shadwell and South London. With the teachers in South London and Aston organising themselves into Schools’ FAs, schools’ football was beginning to get organised.

There are numerous claims to have been the first to organise an inter district schools’ match but most point to the game between Tower Hamlets and South London in December 1888 for the honour. Sheffield and Manchester were soon to follow and from then on the numbers throughout the country began to increase.

Formation of the ESFA

The initial steps to form a national association were taken at the NUT Conference in Llandudno in 1904, which resulted in a further meeting staged at the Birmingham Athletic Institute in November of 1904. Thomas P. Thomas, the founder of the ESFA, presented a letter from The Football Association to the meeting which stated;

I am in receipt of your letter (seeking permission to start a National Schools’ FA) and enclosures. From the letter I gather that the proposed Competition is to be confined to Boys at School. This being so our consent is not necessary. We do not seek to control Schoolboy football.

From that meeting of teachers and William MacGregor, (Chairman of Aston Villa and founder of the Football League) who chaired the meeting, the ESFA was born.

Growth of the Association

The Association grew exponentially and the popularity of the trophy competition was beyond doubt with thousands watching the matches. In 1906 the final between Sunderland and West Ham was reported to have been watched by 25-30,000 at Roker Park. Income was distributed to allow associations to run their own events.

1907 saw the first Schools International, which was played at Walsall FC’s old ground – Fellows Park. The ESFA opposition was Wales whose team had been selected by the ESFA secretary, Thomas P. Thomas, as the Welsh SFA had yet to be formed.

Schools’ Football continued to grow and was played throughout the British Isles with all four home countries forming their own associations. From its early days focussing on the ESFA Trophy and the U15 International team the ESFA has continued to blossom into an organisation which looks after the needs of its member schools and associations. The number of competitions organised by the ESFA has peaked at an all-time high and shows how much the Association has developed over time. Whilst the ESFA U15 Boys’ International squad no longer exists, the amalgamation of the ESFA and the CESSFA in 1969 saw the addition of an U18 International team, which is now run as part of the international programme alongside a Girls’ U15 squad.

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