1889 to 1899
It was autumn, 1889, and more than the windmill was
stirring on Wimbledon Common. Football was all the rage. There was already
the Wimbledon Association side at the bottom of the hill. Now the lads at
the top decided it was time to form a club of their own.
These were former pupils from the Old Central School in
Camp Road. It was the principal elementary school in the village, but, like the
Wimbledon Football Club of today, it had such humble beginnings. It was a school
built for the poor kids; a charitable concern that began life back in 1758 as
The Round School. William Wilberforce was among its first trustees. In the
early 19th century it became the Old Central School and it was that title that
the footballers at the top of the hill decided to adopt. And so, 100 years ago,
Old Centrals were born.
The game of football had gone through monumental changes
in a very short period of time. Just 20 odd years before Old Centrals were
formed, for instance, Blackheath had to introduce a rule that went something
along the lines of: 'throttling an opponent should not be considered a fair
practice.' The early game involved entire towns, the object being for one group
to ferry the ball from one side of the village to a fixed point at the other.
One 'goal' settled it, but no score draws were the norm generally grinding to a
halt when it got too dark to see.
Rules were scarce in those crazy days of the mid-1800s.
The ball (and any opponent who happened to get in the way) could be carried,
kicked or thrown. Forget bruised shins; bites were a more common injury.
Stabbings, amongst the large crowds of onlookers, were not unheard of. Amongst
the players, however, it was a totally different matter. It was against this
grisly backdrop that the game developed. But fixed rules were beginning to creep
in as police tried to stamp out the violence and in 1863 - just one year after
Blackheath put their foot down on the 'throttle', the Football Association was
The first FA Cup final followed in 1872 - contested, as it
would be for the next 20 years, at the nearby Kennington Oval and the Surrey
Football Association was duly formed some five years later. This, then was how
the local football scene had progressed when the Old Centrals took the field for
the first time on November 2,1889.
Westminster provided the very first opposition; the venue:
The Common, by Robin Hood Road. And the result? A one nil win for the Dons. "An
exciting game," trumpeted the local paper, the Surrey Independent and Mid Surrey
Gazette, the following weekend.
Wimbledon's next match report in the Independent was a
little more forthcoming. Belmore had provided the opposition on November 30, and
the Old Centrals triumphed this time 2-1. "An exciting game," it said, again,
with the following tribute: "Messrs. G. Rayment, E. Anstee and S. Watts played
extremely well for the winners." Rayment was the club's first skipper, with F.
Preston elected his vice captain. It was this pair who led the first Dons onto
the park, already kitted out in their famous navy blue and white colours.
So, into season number two. Seventeen matches played,
with six wins, five defeats and six draws. The goals, however, were hard to come
by Old Centrals managing 16 in their inaugural season, but conceding 17.
Although founder member J. W. Selby was the club's first
president, with Mr. N. C. Jenkins the first secretary, it was George Rayment who
took the chair at the Old Centrals end-of-the-first-season general meeting, held
at the Ridgeway Coffee Tavern, on Saturday April 26, 1890.
Old Centrals had 41 members and were looking to expand.
The meeting agreed to stage a trial match in September before the start of their
second season, the intention being to strengthen the squad and compete against a
higher standard of opposition. Secretary Jenkins was also treasurer, and he was
keeping his cards close to his chest. The club was in a sound financial
condition, he reported, "able to carry over a considerable balance." What that
was exactly, Jenkins wasn't saying.
So, season three got under way, and controversy was soon to
follow. It came in the match against Kingston Wanderers on December 13. The
Wanderers were 1-0 up but Wimbledon were fighting back. It was, however, getting
dark. It was in the fading light that a Wimbledon boot met ball, and over the
line it went. The referee never saw it, heated debate followed and the ref
declared he couldn't give a decision either way, as it was far too dark.
Wimbledon were furious, their good start to the season
tarnished by an obviously short-sighted man in the middle. So off to The Welcome
pub they went for the following Friday's general meeting, determined to put the
record straight. Rayment was again in the chair and he put it to the vote.
"Gentlemen," he would have said, "did, or did not, the ball cross the line?"
Nine team members said it did, and that was sufficient. The result against
Kingston was duly changed to a 1-1 draw.
There were other matters to discuss, though, and, most
importantly, the Old Centrals decided they were strong enough to form a reserve
team. Disagreements with officialdom aside, this was to be a cracking season for
Wimbledon. In 23 matches, they rattled in 50 goals, only conceding 11, winning
14 and drawing 6. Pelham, Kingston Institute and Gordon 'B' were the only sides
to record victories over Wimbledon, and even then Wimbledon gained their
revenge over the latter, with two resounding wins.
The Independent was positively glowing. "The Old 'Dons
have put a lot of life into their play," the end of term report read, "and I
must again compliment them on their very successful consummation of an
exceptionally brilliant season." Fine praise, indeed, and The Independent also
managed to take the sting out of the other two defeats.
"The number of goals scored against Wimbledon by Pelham
and Kingston Institute were almost infinitesimal," it concluded. The scribe
behind this tribute signed himself ‘Centre Forward,' and he was something of a
The next season, on learning that the Old Centrals had
lost 1-0 against Hanover at Peckham, while their reserves were being beaten 3-1
at home, he commented, somewhat shrewdly: "I have not received details of the
games played last Saturday. This probably accounts for it."
The campaign continued much the same as before, friendly
opponents came and went, but the Wimbledon Old Centrals kept on winning, so that
by the end of their first three seasons they had been beaten just 11 times in 61
outings, in a spell that also saw them switch home pitches.
The Common Conservators decided that the Old Centrals had
outgrown their Robin Hood Road side facility. The ball was creating problems for
passers-by in their carriages, they said. The exact location of Wimbledon's next
home pitch on the Common is unclear, but there is evidence to suggest it was
between West Place and The Pound, as a daughter of a player of those formative
years remembers he and his brother changing in a nearby cottage.
Now big things were beckoning for the boys of the
Wimbledon Old Centrals. A new president was elected in Mr. W. Van Sommer, while
Mr. W. H. Bishop was now club secretary, replacing Mr. Jenkins. The Independent
was again suitably impressed. “With a good captain who will look well to the
scientific part of the game, and see that his men are well drilled in both long
and short passing, they ought to do better than ever this season.”
A word of warning, though. "I should advise them not to
fly at too big a game," the report concluded. The Old Centrals, however, took no
heed. The Herald Cup was the big competition contested locally, and they decided
to go for it. Their Cup debut came on December 3, 1892, but just as the
Independent had warned, it was to prove a bad day, all round. It bucketed down;
they lost 4-0; and their dressing room was robbed.
It was a prowler, "of the thieving type," according to The
Independent, who got into their Fox and Grapes dressing room and made off with
Ned Scrutton's watch and chain, and 13 shillings out of Anstee's purse.
But that Herald Cup defeat, at the hands of Battersea
Albion, was the first team's only reverse of another successful campaign, with
12 wins in 22 starts, while off the park, too, the club's business affairs were
looking equally healthy - the profit and loss account for the year showing a
handsome seven pounds, eight shillings and 10 pence ha'penny in favour of the
The 93-94 season saw new accommodation at The Swan, a new
strip, of chocolate and light blue shirts, and two notable triumphs, a 2-1
London Junior Cup win over Fulham in November and a 4-1 Herald Cup drubbing of
Clapham in the January, paving the way for a big step up in class the following
campaign when the club entered three teams in the South London League.
Although the Old Centrals were to last just a year in that
League, finding the extra travel too demanding, they certainly made their mark
in that and the London Junior Cup. In the latter, keeper Griffiths was the hero
of a 2-1 first round win over Battersea Albion. Old Centrals then put paid to
West Norwood, before going out to St Stephens in a third round replay, their
first defeat of the season.
Wimbledon had the winning habit and they were to taste
their first major triumph the following season when they switched to the more
local Clapham League. They didn't lose a League game all season and a 3-1 win
over Tooting Church Institute on the last Saturday of the season won them their
first League Championship tide.
Not content with that, Wimbledon also cleaned up in the
Herald League for a season's win double and a final record that read: Played 31;
won 22; drawn 3; lost 6; for 71; against 31.
Centre Forward was predictably gushing. "Bravo,
Centrals," he wrote after a mid season win over Southfields, "gained by the
following artistes: Price (goal); Millege, Ely (backs); Jenkins, Scrutton,
Hossack (halfbacks); Anstee, Griffiths, Galloway, Edgcumbe, Jenkins
Green and black were the club colours for season 96-97,
but the victories in Clapham and Herald League competition continued, with the
first team winning 16 of 27 fixtures.
Life wasn't all a bowl of cherries for the reserves. Such
was the fluctuations in facilities of that day that in one game on Clapham
Common they had to contend with a centre circle, the main feature of which was
not the centre spot, but rather four trees, encased in wire fencing! The referee
must have caught wind of this unusual sight, for he failed to show and they
eventually played the game, trees et al, as a friendly.
Not so friendly on another occasion though, was a visiting
linesman. He thought so little of the referee that he continued to barrack him
with a stream of foul language until the referee could stand no more and sent
The club had taken a year's break from the London Junior
Cup, but returned in some style the following season, progressing to the
semi-finals with a string of victories that featured a Lovatt hat-trick in a 3-1
win over Metrogas. Wimbledon finally bowed out 5-0 at the hands of Dulwich - but
not before an official enquiry into the state of the Anerley pitch prompted
calls for a replay, which was at first granted but then later overruled.
Wimbledon Old Centrals were approaching the end of their
first 10 years in a very healthy state. The annual general meeting of 1898
revealed a £16 profit, while the club's previous London Cup success was rewarded
with a first round bye for the coming season.
Although Penge were to put them out in a third round,
third replay, Old Centrals were to triumph again in the Clapham League. They
turned the heat on from the first game, a 4-1 win, over Celtic Rangers that had
kicked off late because it was considered too hot! And the same scoreline put
paid to St Mary's Rec in the final game, which saw Old Centrals on top of the
table and Champions again. League president Mr. H. Morton Carr presented the
Shield and medals, praising Wimbledon's "good friendship", an observation still
as sound today as all those years ago.
So Wimbledon prepared to move into a new century. The
annual income topped £40 and the club was able to spend a considerable sum on
ground improvements. The long serving Anstee, with the club since day one,
stepped down as captain, Hawton taking over, and still the Old Centrals
dominated the local scene, this time progressing to the London Junior Cup Final
Horace Anstee led the chase for Cup honours, scoring five
in a third round 6-2 win over Peckham Albion. It was marksman Anstee whose goal
won a closely contested semi-final with Croydon Wanderers, and although he
struck again in the final, Dulwich Hamlet proved too strong, with a 3-1 win.
Again, that campaign was not without controversy. The Old
Centrals had put out West Norwood Albion in a bitterly contested fourth round
tie that saw two Albion players sent off. A war of words followed between the
club's respective secretaries, with West Norwood's Mr. Constable reportedly
sending Wimbledon counterpart, Mr. F. Headicar, an 'offensive' letter.
Headicar complained to the London FA and Constable was
duly suspended for 28 days and ordered to apologise in writing. Wimbledon leaked
Constable's reply to The Independent. "Dear Headicar," Constable wrote. "Your
friends on the London FA Council must think all persons connected with football
are puppets, to imagine that I should apologise to you."
Constable was obviously seething, and his closing line
barely concealed his contempt. "I may have the pleasure of seeing you on the
Common before the season ends," he threatened. Juicy material for the soccer
writers of the day, no doubt. next
||Winners Clapham League
||Winners Herald League