Forgotten 19th-century football club uncovered in Manchester

Manchester’s footballing history may have to be rewritten, after the discovery of a long-forgotten football team established nearly 10 years earlier than the region’s oldest known club.

Manchester’s footballing history may have to be rewritten, after the discovery of a long-forgotten football team established nearly 10 years earlier than the region’s oldest known club.

Previously it was believed that Turton FC, founded in 1871, was the oldest club in Lancashire, but researcher Gary James has discovered a club named Hulme Athenaeum, established in November 1863.

James uncovered the story of the club through extensive research at archives across the country.

Because they were the only club in the area in the 1860s, Hulme Athenaeum were forced to travel to find opposition in Sheffield and elsewhere. This may have ultimately led to their collapse in the early 1870s, says James.

James, who compiled his research at Manchester Metropolitan University’s exercise and sport science department in Crewe, said: “In the 1870s, several prominent football clubs, most notably Turton, were developing in Lancashire, and there was a very vibrant football culture, with lots of teams playing against each other, but in the 1860s that didn’t exist yet.

“With a lack of local competition Hulme couldn’t survive, and rugby remained the dominant sport in Manchester.”

He added: “The club was very much aimed at ordinary Mancunians, which was unusual for the time.

“While football now might be thought of as a predominantly working-class sport, typically football clubs in the 1860s were founded by public schools who also set the rules.

“The rediscovery of Hulme Athenaeum challenges that perception.”

James also said: “Hulme’s story should not reduce the significance of Turton FC. Turton may not actually have been the first club, but they do remain very important pioneers in the development of the game.”

James’s research, published in the latest edition of journal Sport in History, also reveals that many Hulme members remained involved in football via subsequent teams in Manchester.

Peter Gray, Turton FC chairman, told History Extra: “We are very proud of the fact Turton FC is the oldest club in Lancashire. Any claim to the contrary is likely to upset us because, like a lot of amateur football clubs, we don’t have a lot. So we cling to our history.

“We are interested in looking into this research, but until we have something stronger to back up the claims, we will still be boasting that we are Lancashire’s oldest football club.

“We would also like to add that we welcome anyone who wants to look into the history of football.”

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