William Chesterman

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The Man Who Saved Football – twice – William Chesterman

Saving ACT 1:
Between the 26th of October and The 8th of December 1863, the newly formed Football Association (FA) met at the Freemasons Tavern on Great Queen Street in North London. The aim of these initial meetings was to establish a universal code for the rules of football, especially for the 13 clubs represented at these early FA meetings.

Despite having discussed the latest 1863 Cambridge University rules during their fourth meeting on 24th November 1863, the FA could not universally decide on a set of rules that did not include being able to run carrying the ball as well as still being able to ‘hack-down’ your opponent. Hacking was the word used to describe legally kicking your opponent down despite the risks.

Ebeneezer Cobb Morley, acting secretary of the fledgling FA needed intervention to sway the argument away from the new FA’s laws basically becoming an early form of rugby.  Before the fifth meeting on the 1st of December this intervention did come. It arrived in the form of a letter from Sheffield FC‘s then Secretary, William Chesterman.

Chesterman’s letter (dated 30th November 1863) included Sheffield FC’s subscription to join the new FA as well as a copy of the Sheffield football rules. The letter appealed to the FA to reconsider certain aspects of its forming rules. For example, Chesterman asked the FA to consider incorporating a crossbar within their code but most importantly he argued in his letter against running with the ball and the inclusion of hacking within the FA’s new code.

Chesterman’s intervention worked. During the sixth and final FA meeting on the 8th of December, running with the ball and hacking were taken out of the final set of agreed FA rules.  Sheffield’s William Chesterman, his influence and intervention had ensured that our first set of association rules were not, in short, a just game of rugby.

The image of the FA’s minutes from the 1st of December 1863 meeting shows Chesterman’s representation and then straight after a proposed removal by Alcock & Morley of rules 9 & 10 which at the time allowed handling, running with the ball as well as hacking.

Saving Act 2:
For the first two and a half years of the new Football Association’s life, football struggled to take-off in both the capitol as well as around the country. So disappointing were the initial efforts of the fledgling FA that on the 12th of February 1867 at their annual general meeting they had only 6 representatives present. A potential agenda item at this meeting was to discuss whether the young FA should dissolve themselves and basically give up. Again, intervention & support was needed. Guess who provided it?

Enter stage right, yes once again Sheffield’s William Chesterman. The necessary intervention was on its way coming down from Sheffield. Chesterman decided to attend the FA’s 1867 AGM in person to convince them to carry on. Also, he arrived at the meeting armed with a letter from Sheffield FC’s Secretary & Sheffield FA President, Harry Chambers. Chesterman came south with positive messages of a newly formed & growing Sheffield Football Association. He also told the FA about an exciting, new, and popular competitive football tournament called the Youdan Cup that was about to ‘kick off’ in a few days’ time.

We know the outcome. The FA decided to carry on and only a few years later in November 1871 Charles William Alcock had created the FA’s first tournament, the FA Cup. The eventual success of the FA Cup ensuring the long-term survival of the football Association.

Sheffield’s William Chesterman and his undoubted influence had initially saved association football from becoming violent rugby and secondly later saved the FA by allowing it the time to discover its long-term strengths and eventual success.

Do you have more information about this that we could add? Are any of the facts wrong? Please get in touch if so.

Source: Images of the FA’s minutes by Steve Wood & published here with the courtesy of the National Football Museum.
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