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 formed.

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 wit.


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 former.


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 (forwards)."


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 him off!

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 of 1900.

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


1896-97 Winners Clapham League
  Winners Herald League