The club’s early games were played at Winckley Meadow, before, in 1871 a move to West Cliff was made. This was the home of the town’s Cricket Club (who ‘Hoppers paid an annual rent of £4 for use of a pitch) as it remains today.
A number of other clubs where in existence in the town including Preston Olympic, Preston Atheneum, Fishwick Ramblers, and Preston Rovers. A team called North End, who became the now famous Preston North End, played rugby and cricket during this era.
Four figure crowds often witnessed home fixtures, especially against Manchester and Liverpool. The admission price was 6d at the West Cliff end and 3d to watch from the South Meadow Lane end, Ladies free! There was even a newspaper advert for special trains to transport spectators to the ‘Hoppers away match versus Manchester in 1878. A Grasshopper’s match at West Cliff in March 1878 against ’20 of the Town’ drew 3000 spectators.
Such was the popularity of the game. Around this time the club could boast four internationals in Albert Neilson Hornby JP CC (9 caps) and the brothers William Henry Hunt (4 caps), James Thomas Hunt (3 caps) and Robert Hunt (4 caps). The Hunt brothers were all products of Preston Grammar School and were no doubt involved with the early movement of the game in Preston. Such strength lead a sporting journal of the time to suggest that ‘The Preston Football Club has undoubtedly won the premier position this season in Lancashire.’
Whilst gathering ‘caps’ under the ‘Hoppers name (apart from Robert Hunt) they all they had strong links with the Manchester Club, who, starting with the game in Dublin of 1878, were credited against the players name. A strong allegiance with Manchester was a necessity at the time, as they and Liverpool selected the County teams.
The best then graduated to represent the North of England in ‘North v South’ matches, which were in fact the trials for the England team. In later years they, along with ‘Hoppers other better players played for and toured with The Manchester Club, only participating in major games with Grasshoppers’.
During 1870 A.N. Hornby, nicknamed “Monkey” & “The Boss”, from the Brookhouse Club, (a team formed from the Hornby family’s group of mills in Blackburn) was invited to become a member by Alan Dickson and play for ‘Hoppers, although he still captained his former club against Preston, the following season!
Brookhouse played a game to the Harrow rules and so Hornby was quite at sea when playing the new game to him for ‘Grasshoppers. So much so that it is recorded during a game versus Manchester, with the famous A.C. McLaren charging towards him, he was heard to cry “What am I to do?” – “tackle him” was the retort, but not knowing how to do so, he charged him heavily with his shoulder knocking AC spinning over backwards!
He was equally as capable at cricket as rugby, being one of only two people captaining Lancashire and England in both sports, the other being A. E. Stoddard. During 1882 he captained the England rugby and cricket teams. Versus Scotland at Manchester with the elliptical ball and Australia at the Oval with the smaller harder one! He then became County President for the rugby game from 1884 until 1914 and Lancashire County Cricket from 1894 ’til 1916. He was still captaining the cricketing side of the county into his fifties, whilst acting as President and Chairman.
On top of all this he was on the Committee of the R.F.U. in the mid. 1880’s, was associated with the M.C.C. from 1873 until 1898 and refereed major rugby matches after he retired from playing. It was reckoned he would have been equally as successful at the Association game had he not preferred rugby as he played a number of games for Blackburn Rovers, in particular, their famous opening game at Alexander Meadows versus Partick, the New Year game of 1878. He was born on the 10th February 1847, in Blackburn, schooled at Harrow and died at his home in Nantwich on the 17th December 1925.
This was after complications from an operation for internal trouble resulting, it is believed, from his horse falling and rolling over him on his way home from hunting a year or two previously. It is said that riding ‘The Hunt’ was his most favoured sport. He even sacrificed a tenth rugby cap for England against Scotland because it interfered with this particular love.
W.H. Hunt represented the club at a meeting to form a County Committee in 1881. Sidney A. Hermon (the club captain in 1870/1) whilst playing for Lancashire v Yorkshire at Whalley Range, Manchester, at the end of that season, became the first ‘Hopper to represent his County. The same Mr Hermon proposed in a committee meeting later that year to have the name ‘Grasshoppers Club’ dropped, and the club be called Preston Football Club. The motion was withdrawn.
The Association game swept through the area like a plague during the early 1880’s and soon the numerous rugby players were converted to soccer with ‘Hoppers leading lights playing for Manchester permanently. Consequently, what had been an area with around fifty rugby clubs was decimated, and part way through season 1885/6 reports and results of the once leading club in the area vanished from the printed press.
The ‘Football Field & Sports Telegraph’, an early version of the ‘Bolton Buff’ Saturday evening newspaper, recorded a special meeting of Preston Grasshoppers was held on Wednesday 25th November 1885 when it was decided to cancel the remaining fixtures for the season. A brave statement, informing the public that ‘there were no intentions of dissolving the organisation’, was issued but this was only a forlorn hope.
An article in the ‘Pastime’ weekly sporting newspaper of December 2nd 1885 stated:
“The Manchester and Preston Grasshoppers fixture at Whalley Range fell through owing to the collapse of the Preston Club, an event which was foreshadowed by the wretched results of their matches this season.“
The previous week’s edition recorded:
“The Free Wanderers beat Preston, at Preston, by the ridiculous score of eight goals & four tries to nil”
This was the end until 1900.