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Apologetic players, low wages and ‘no ladies allowed’ – DCFC records reveal what sporting life was like in 1888

As football fans across the country prepare for a new season this week, a club minutes book dating back to 1888 – the year the Football League was formed - has been unearthed.

And the 130-year-old historical record, the start of today’s Championship and Premiership, demonstrates a seismic shift in the way clubs, players and fans are today.

Wages were low, ladies were not allowed in some areas and, far from bad mouthing referees, one player even took the time to write a detailed and humble letter of apology for not being available for a game. In fact, such was his concern, he insisted it be included in the club’s minutes.

The contents of the letter appear among copious notes, meticulously written in ink – aside from the odd antique doodle – in a Derby County directors’ minutes book dated February 6, 1888 to June 3, 1889. The Football League, the oldest league in the world, was formed in April, 1888 and DCFC were one of its 12 inaugural members.

The book has been discovered amid a vast collection of 25 boxes of football memorabilia gathered by the late Gerald Mortimer, a respected sports journalist. He was Derby County correspondent for the Derby Telegraph from 1970 to 2002.

Hundreds of items, gathered home and away by Mr Mortimer, will be sold at Hansons Auctioneers Sporting Memorabilia Auction on August 31. They include rare programmes, matchday tickets, personal letters from famous managers, including Peter Tayler, and the 1888 minutes book, which has an estimate of £500-£800.


Hansons’ football valuer Alastair Lofley said: “This rich historical object provides an insight into what life was life at the birth of the Football League. It deserves to be in a football museum. England has a fantastic football heritage and we really should honour it.”

The Football League was formed in April, 1888 with 12 clubs - Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Each club played the other twice, home and away, and two points were awarded for a win and one for a draw.

Mr Lofley said: “This is how it all began – the football structure at the heart of a game loved across the world today. Before the Football League was formed, chaos reigned with teams trying to organise their own fixtures haphazardly.

“The Football League was launched to bring order to the chaos – and it did. Players were allowed to have professional status in 1885 and that was closely followed by the launch of the Football League and set fixtures could. Today, all football fans look forward to the release of the fixture list and it all started in 1888 with those 12 teams.

“It’s fascinating to browse the DCFC minutes book. It names the teams for various games, lists the players, typical wages, and, of course, the all-important results, painstakingly recorded by hand at the back of the book - goals for and against.”

One note in particular shows how times have changed. It reads, ‘That each member of the committee has a ticket to admit one lady to ground and pavilion’, however, ‘Balcony - no ladies to be admitted’.


“Considering the vast number of female football fans – and players – today that may rankle but this was decades before women over 30 won the right to vote in 1918,” said Mr Lofley.

“Details of club finances made me smile. It refers to a float of £15 which, in 1888, was equivalent to £1,850. On October 22,1888, there was a balance of £127.19.5 (£15,687 today) being in the club bank account.”

A note about a player called Smith states: “This player to be engaged for next season as a professional on the best possible terms. To have 7/6 (32 1/2p) and a pair of boots. Also, to be engaged at 5 shillings (25p) reserve and 10 shillings (50p) for first team for next season.

Another note reports on a player, H A Morley, who failed to turn up for a game. He requested that his letter of apology be placed on the minutes.

It begins: ‘Dear Sir, I feel that some little explanation is needed from me to your committee as to my refusal to go to Bolton on Saturday last. My attention was drawn about a fortnight ago to a paragraph in the Athletic News to the effect that, in spite of having an invitation to play for the team, I was to be reserve for Ferguson … this coming after my exclusion as a member of the team in the Derby papers gave me grounds for believing that I had been shelved…apologising for my neglect in not writing sooner.”

“With the bad language and behaviour we witness on the pitch today, such politeness is refreshing,” said Mr Lofley.


The minutes book also includes newspaper cuttings, one being a letter to editor of the Derby Telegraph taking the newspaper to task over an error, and details of a player who’d asked to join the team.

“It’s amazing to think you could ask to join the team in 1888, no scouts or trials to bypass,” said Mr Lofley.

Derby County was founded in 1884 as an offshoot of Derbyshire County Cricket Club and there are many references to the cricketing links. At that time, the Rams played at the cricket club’s Racecourse Ground.

Mr Lofley, a Rams fan himself, said: “Being invited to become part of the inaugural Football League was a great honour for Derby County and I’m pleased to say that on the first match of the season – September 8, 1888, Derby came from 3–0 down away to Bolton Wanderers to win 6–3. We also beat our big local rivals Notts Forest 3-0 that season, though ultimately Derby finished 10th out of 12 teams.

“Derby play their first match of the 2018-19 season on Friday, August 3 – more than one month earlier than their predecessors in 1888. But we’ll still be playing Bolton Wanderers this year. Some things never change.”

The 1888 DCFC directors’ minutes book will be sold on August 31 at a Sporting Memorabilia Auction, at Hansons Auctioneers, Heage Lane, Etwall, Derbyshire. It will be one of numerous lots in The Gerald Mortimer Collection, which includes several rare football programmes, match tickets and unusual memorabilia accumulated thanks to being a member of the press. Entries are invited for Hansons’ sports auction until August 3. To find out more, call 01283 733988 or email [email protected]