In 1841, one of the first recorded club matches took place between the Body-Guards Club from Rochdale and their local rivals the Fear-Noughts Club, with a cash prize and a barrel of gin up for grabs. Understandably, with so much at stake, the teams had to ensure a fair result. It was decided that each side should appoint an umpire. This had a direct bearing on the result.
With the game level, the Body-Guards brought a bystander not connected with the game onto the field to play for them. The Body-Guards’ own umpire decided that this was foul play, and awarded the game – and the prizes – to the Fear-Noughts.
Referees or umpires became more common in the years that followed. At a match in Cheltenham in 1849 there were two officials on the ground and another ‘in tribune’ (most likely arbitrating from an elevated viewpoint).
The written rules of the Eton Field Game from 1847 make specific mention of a referee: ‘To prevent dispute it is better to appoint, before the game begins, two umpires, one chosen by each party, and a referee to be agreed on by both parties, whose decision, if the umpires differ, is to be final.’
Referees weren’t included in the Football Association’s Laws of the Game when they were drawn up in 1863. However, by the 1870s it was common for association matches to be officiated by two umpires and a referee.
Initially, the officials waved handkerchiefs to grab players’ attention, but by the mid-1870s pea whistles had become common. It wasn’t until 1891 that the referee was finally included in the Laws of the Game, and moved onto the playing field, with the umpires shifted to the sidelines, becoming linesmen.
The first three FA Cup finals were refereed by civil servant Alfred Stair, who also played for the Upton Park Club. Other notable referees of the Victorian era include the formidable Francis Marindin of Royal Engineers, and influential football innovator CW Alcock of Wanderers.
The referee at the 1878 FA Cup final was Upton Park’s Segar Bastard, a racehorse-owning solicitor, who also refereed the first England versus Wales international.
This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany by Paul Brown.
How did we become football fans? Savage Enthusiasm: A History of Football Fans is the brand new book from Goal Post's Paul Brown, tracing the remarkable evolution of the fan from the earliest origins of the game right through to the present day.
It's available from Amazon.co.uk at the sale price of £10 (
RRP £12.99), and from Amazon stores worldwide. There are also a limited number of signed copies available direct from the author - click here for details.