145th Birthday

Date: 20 October 2014

The above advert appeared 145 years ago on the 30th of October in the Preston Herald newspaper. Who “the insects” played on that day was not recorded, neither in the Minute Book or the Local Newspapers, but was probably a game of two sides made up by the Members. Winkley Meadow was along the side of what we now know as Broadgate, and just before the Old Penwortham Foot and Railway bridges. There is still a Winckley Road in that area.

The History section of our website covers the life and times of Preston Grasshoppers, so on this particular anniversary we’ll take a look at the various forms of the game played by the early Hoppers and which of the clubs they played against still survive today plus a few items which sound peculiar today.

One of the first fixtures was against ‘The Grammar School’ (presumably Preston) A condition was made to play the game to the ‘Hoppers rules, which may have meant a number of things. ‘Hacking’ was not allowed within the Grasshoppers Rules so it may have been that PGS played the game that way, or it was decided that they played the rules favoured by Rossall School, ‘The Eton Field Game’ which is illustrated in Rossall School’s Centenary Brochure. The picture shows soccer style goal posts, a goalkeeper and a massive ruck of players kicking lumps out of each other with players being thrown from the proceedings. The Brookhouse club of Blackburn preferred a variation which was also a mix of Rugby and Association Football, called The Eton-Harrow game, a very rough game by all accounts. The RFU and its official set of rules were still a few years away, and with the game still in its evolutionary stage, many variations were played. The general theme seemed to be that the home team’s rules applied in each game so there may have been anything between eleven to twenty players on each side. Newspaper reports give the impression of mauls, which lasted for minutes on end. This doesn’t sound very entertaining, but crowds of two and three thousand in Preston, were a regular occurrence. One such article from a game against Manchester in 1872 described a three minute maul as such “ T’was kick for kick, disputing inch by inch, for one would not retreat, nor t’other flinch”.

Preston Grasshoppers didn’t travel very far during their early existence, Leeds & trips to Ambleside and Windermere being the furthest. Manchester and Sale are probably the most famous whilst Liverpool merged with St Helens in 1986 and Kendal were re-born in 1905 as a new club entirely. Rochdale’s history has a similar story, first formed in 1867 and playing against Hoppers in 1884/5 they went out of existence before the present club emerged in 1921. Ambleside still play as do Birkenhead Park, Southport and New Brighton. Windermere has a rugby union club although not the College team that turned out in the 1870’s. Bolton rugby Club were regular opponents in those early days, another club still in existence. The name of Wigan as opponents crops up and this is probably Wigan Old Boys which became Wigan Rugby Union in 1913. Preston Grasshoppers played against a few School sides in those days these being Rossall, Preston and Lancaster Grammar. A team from Chorley existed although not the one playing the modern game but some of their opponents from that era such as Withnell, Free Wanderers, Broughton Wasps, (Manchester), Dingle (Liverpool), Carnforth, Yorkshire Wanderers, Free Wanderers (Manchester), Heaton (Bolton), Lancaster which may have evolved into Vale of Lune and a team of Ex. Cambridge University men named North Country Contabs either failed to survive or metamorphosed into clubs we see playing in the 21st Century.

There are a number of stories attached to Preston Grasshoppers early opponents such as Burnley Rovers who played at Turf Moor and in 1882 became Burnley Association Football Club. Bolton Rugby Club who played in the Burnden area long before Bolton Wanderers. Then there was Rochdale Hornets who in 1895 gave up their RFU membership and joined the Northern Rugby Football Union now more commonly known as Rugby League.

A few strange sounding fixtures took place in Preston during those formative years such as in January 1870 a team of players with the initials B,D & H opposed The Rest before during March of the same year The Professionals played a game against The Rest. As to what the term Professionals referred to I’ll leave you to ponder? There was also a Challenge Match between Preston Grasshoppers and Twenty of the Town during January 1878. This isn’t as strange as it might seem because during this period there would have been plenty of rugby teams playing in the town, many of which were associated with the cotton mills. Amazingly, the game against ‘Men of the Town’ attracted three thousand spectators.

A game against the Manchester club in 1874 is recorded as being played at Old Trafford, which was most likely the famous cricket ground.

Preston Grasshoppers had the honour of playing the first ever game of rugby at Aigburth, the home of Liverpool Cricket Club in October 1884 where County Cricket games now regularly take place. In an earlier encounter against Liverpool in 1875 at Preston, the game had to kick off early allowing the visitors to make their way to Dublin.

Hoppers travelled to Bolton in 1877 with just eleven players and took two men from the crowd at the ground to bolster their side losing the game to a drop goal.

There was a newspaper piece in the local press advertising a train for supporters to travel to a game against Manchester when Hoppers were one of the best sides in the North during 1878. Unfortunately the weather took control and the game was cancelled.

It wasn’t unusual for Hoppers best players to play in big games for Manchester against Liverpool or when on tour during this era and this subsequently led to the club’s demise along with the rise in popularity of the round ball game.

The weather made serious disruptions to Hoppers fixtures during the 1870’s with no games reportedly being played between December 1878 and March 1879 due to frost. The following winter wasn’t much better either, with many games falling foul of the frozen turf.

So hopefully that gives you a glimpse of what occurred during the early life of the club.


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