Forest FC, later renamed Wanderers, 1863 (Alcock brothers in centre)
One of the most important clubs of football’s formative years, Wanderers was founded in 1859 as Forest FC by a group of public school old boys, led by brothers John and Charles Alcock – just 18 and 16 at the time.
Both had been educated at Harrow, and the club adopted that school’s style of play. Charles (the influential football figure better known as CW) later described Forest as ‘the first club to work on a definite basis with the distinct object of circulating and popularising the game’.
The Alcocks lived in Chingford, and Forest played in nearby Leytonstone. Initial games were played between members, before the club’s first match against external opposition, on 15 March 1862, when Forest beat the original Crystal Palace club 1-0.
From that starting point, the club looked pretty much unstoppable. Records show that the team played nine games in 1863, and won all of them, scoring 30 goals and conceding just one.
The Alcocks were the star men, with Charles in particular forging a reputation as a fearsome goalscorer. It was John though, as club captain, who represented founding member Forest at the inaugural meeting of the Football Association in 1863.
In the following year, Forest began to move away from their Leytonstone ground and play games as the Wanderers. The new name stuck, although Wanderers eventually stopped wandering and settled at Kennington Oval.
The arrival of football’s first major competition brought major success. Wanderers won the inaugural FA Cup final in 1872, beating Royal Engineers 1-0, and went on to win the cup five times within the competition’s first seven years, with players like Arthur Kinnaird and Charles Wollaston playing prominent roles. However, a rapid decline followed.
With so many rival teams around, it became difficult for the old-stagers to raise a team. Ironically, the club formed to promote football was undone by the game’s popularity. By 1881, Wanderers were reduced to playing annual exhibition matches. The club folded in 1884, although it has since been revived in a modern incarnation that formed in 2009.
This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany, available now from all good book shops.