THE HISTORY OF DEVON COUNTY FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION                                           Compiled by the late Sam Rendell to mark the Centenary of the Association in 1988.

History of Devon FA

Our story commences on Wednesday, 8th February, 1888 when at a meeting held in the Pavilion of the Plymouth Cricket Club at South Devon Place (now the Astor Playing Fields at Cattedown, Plymouth) the Devon County Football Association came into being.

Many of the teams already established in the Area were present - the founder clubs being Plymouth, Plymouth United, Argyle, Plymouth College, Newton, Carlton Oaks, Tavistock Grammar School and Mannamead School.

For some years previously the game of association football had been gaining in popularity and each season saw an increase in the number of clubs playing under Association rules.

Letters had been received from a number of clubs who were unable to be represented but who were in agreement with the view that the County of Devon should follow its neighbours Somerset and Dorset in the formation of an Association to regulate and control the game.

Teams, other than the founder clubs, known to have been in existence at that time were Clevely Hall, Corporation Grammar School, St John's Church, St James-the-Less, Rangers, Stoke Public School, Dunheved College, Hotspur, Melville, Caxton, Dockyard Apprentices, St Georges, Osborne, Torpoint, Millbrook, Victoria, Albany, Christchurch, St Michaels, The Press, Military College, st Peters, Holborn and Kitto Club. In addition there were army teams staioned in the Area - these included the South Staffordshire Regiment, the North Staffordshire Regiment, the R.E's and the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.

There were no leagues but friendly matches were arranged by Captains or Secretaries of clubs - with such a list of clubs - which was ever increasing - no difficulty was experienced in arranging matches. Indeed indications are that many matches were played each season - records show that Old Plymouthians FC during season 1891/92 played 76 games of which 59 were won, 8 lost and 9 drawn. Their team included three players who appeared in the early Devon County games - E H Babb (who also played for Argyle),          W R Fox and G R Fox.

Often Rugby ans Soccer games would be played on the same ground on the same afternoon so that spectators could see matches under both codes in one afternoon's entertainment.

Even at the beginning of the Century Argyle had both a rugby and a soccer club and both teams played their games at Home Park.

At the inaugeral meeting the following resolutions were proposed and carried unanimously:


"That an Association of Clubs in the County of devon be formed for the purpose of furthering the interest of Association Football"

"That the following clubs consent to join the Devon Association: Plymouth, Plymouth United, Argyle, Newton, Plymouth College, Carlton Oaks, Tavistock Grammar School and Mannamead School and guaranteed the sum of one pound each towards defraying expenses of season 1887/88".

"That a Committee consisting of one member from each of the associated clubs, acts as a General Committee and select players for the trials matches".

"That the General Committee be empowered to receive other clubs into the Association and appoint officers for the season".

"That a further Committee of Three, who are non-players, be appointed by the General Committee to select teams for the County matches".

It was evident that priority was given to the objective of fielding representative teams to ply other Counties, for at a General Committee meeting held immediately after the formation of the Association, dates were fixed for two practice games the same month and the first County game travelled to Weston-super-Mare to play Somerset. Although defeated by two goals to nil, they put up a creditable performance and a return game was arranged to be played at Plymouth on 3rd April - the result on this occasion was Devon 2 Somerset 3.

The Devon team in that very first County game against Somerset on 3rd March, 1888 was as follows:

Goal: T. Chapman (Argyle); Backs: WG Spencer (Tavistock School), AE Risk (Mannamead School); Half Backs: E Roe (Mannamead), AH Sharman (Newton), CG Wilkinson(Plymouth);  Forwards: EH Babb (Plymouth); JA Hubbard (Plymouth), H Roe (Mannamead), Hayes (Carlton Oaks), Commins (Tavistock); Reserves: Pappin (Plymouth United), Ryall (Plymouth College), Scott (Mannamead School), Richards (Plymouth College), Hoolaway (Plymouth United).

WG Spencer was elected the first ever County Captain.

This was the first of many fine sporting teams that have worn the County colours through the intervening century.

The officers appointed for what wa the remainder of season 1887/88 were Mr AH Pethick (Plymouth) President and Hon Treasurer - who chaired the meetings - and Mr. JV Thomas of Mannamead School who became the first Secretary.

Association Football, as we know it, had been born some forty years earlier - it was 1848 that the 'Cambridge Rules' had been agreed at Cambridge when representatives of Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Rugby and other public schools had met.

In 1863 our parent body - the English Football Association was formed to be followed in 1873 by the Scottish Football Association, in 1876 the Welsh Football Association and in 1880 by the Irish Football Association.

From its formation the English Football Association played an important part in the development of Association Football, not only in this country, but in Europe and throughout the world - a role is continues to play.

With Her Majesty the Queen as Patron, HRH The Duke of Kent as President, and an imposing list of Honorary Vice-Presidents, Life Vice-Presidents and Vice-Presidents and a Council of distinguished and well qualified sportsmen the control and future of ou rnational sport is in excellent hands.

We are proud to be numbered amongst the number of County Associations with whom the closest of liaison is maintained and we are appreciative of the guidance and assistance afforded us over the years.

To continue with the development of the game prior to 1888 - the year 1872 was a milestone nationally for in that year the Football Association Challenge Cup was first competed for, whilst in the same year the first official Scotland versus England International game was played.

As a consequence of such national progress, a considerable degree of interest was aroused in our own County of Devon, and football began to be played in many schools and colleges in the area whilst military establishments in the county were also doing valuable pioneer work in popularising.

The first Army team to be affiliated to the Football Association was the Royal Engineers in 1869 and in that same year a 'Plymouth Garrison' side was formed with a ground at New Granby, Devonport and this service side was amongst the earliest in nthe South West.

It is however to Exeter we look for perhaps our first known club, St Luke's College, who celebrated their centenary in 1966. St Luke's College were renowned for  the high standard of their performance, and for sportsmanship in many sports and at the time of their centenary were competing in the Western League and were Devon Senior Cup winners. Their departure from the Devon soccer scene was a matter of much regret. It is of interest to know that Sir Stanley Rous, a former President of FIFA, was a student at St Luke's and qualified as a Referee whilst there. He went on ro referee the FA Cup Final of 1934 between West Ham United and Portsmouth and he eventually succeeded the late Sir Frederick Wall as FA Secretary.

Sir Stanley Rous always retained his interest in the Westcountry and was ever a welcome visitor here.

Throughout the whol country interest in Association Football was stirring - rules were being unified and amended - changes for the betterment of the game were taking place - cross bars were intoduced in the place of tape in 1875, the referees whistle used for the first time in 1878.

The year of the formation of the Devon County Football Association coincided with the formation of the Football League but there were no Southern Club included in its first twelve members and it was not until 1920, some thirty-two years on that Plymouth Argyle and Exeter City became founder members of the Football League Division Three when it came into being in season 1920/21.

Football became a spectator sport in season 1888/89 when there was a Third Round Army Cup game played at Plymouth between the Royal Scots and the South Staffordshire Regiment and it was witnessed, according to a comtemporary writer, by a vast crowd.

A problem facing the newly-formed Devon County Football Association, and one which was to remain for some years, was the administration of such a large geographical area - the County being on eof the largest in the United Kingdom - it being two-and-a-half times larger than its neighbour Dorset, twice the size of Cornwall and more than half as large again as Somerset. Its extreme length from east to west was 67 miles and from north to south 71 miles. Roads and method of travel were vastly different in those far off days. A considerable area of the County was covered by Dartmoor in the middle of the territory, whilst Exmoor protruded into gthe north-east corner from Somerset. 

Following the successful initial stage of the County Association's existence the first full season was anticipated with confidence and the Second General meeting of the Association was held at the same venue - the Pavilion of gthe Plymouth Cricket Club - on Tuesday 25 September 1888, and was attended by representatives of all the constituted clubs with the addition of the Tavistock club - who were duly admitted into membership.

The Hon Treasurer's Accounts showed a balance in hand which was considered very gratifying. Wise husbandry which has characterised thre County throughout the years.

County matches were in the course of arrangement with Somerset, Dorset and Gloucester and the formation of a County Association in Cornwall that season was condfidently anticipated.

For season 1888/89 the offices of President and Hon Treasurer aere separated - Mr F A Buckle (Plymouth) becoming President and acting as Chairman at meetings and Mr A H Pethick the first holder of the office of president concentrated on the dutie of Honorary Treasurer with Mr J V Thomas (Mannamead School) continuing as Hon Secretary.

A number of trial games were played and a team selected to open the season for County matches - the first being against Somerset at Exeter on 24 November.

Tactics were brought into reckoning for this game for a letter to the press which mde the following appeal which may interest present day coaches and players and is quoted as follows:

"as the Devon team is drawn for the Devon v Somerset match at Exeter, it is hoped that all who compose it will work unselfishly and with one end in view: to score a victory for Devon. Particularyl is it desirable that every member of the team make a point of being present.

As the team is drawn on the lines that it is the best possible for the work it has to do, the absence of any one player would be regrettable.

Changes at the last minute do not make its efficiency greater. Therefore, let every player's friends keep him to the scratch, that the victory may come to Devon.

Let each player play for his team and county and not make a show for himself".

Sad to relate the exhortation did not have the desired result - Devon lost but only by a narrow margin - the visitors winning by the odd goal in seven only.

The referee for this match was Mr. Alexander Stuart of the Scottish FA.

The comment on the absence of any one player proved to be in the nature of a prophecy - for just a week later, when the Devon team journeyed to Wareham to play Dorset, Hewetson of Newton - the Devon Centre forward - 'at the last minute' missed a train and devon played one short losing the match by three goals to two.

The awaited game with Cornwall came at Plymouth on saturday 30 March 1889 and this was Cornwall's first ever against another County. The result in a very keenly contesyed game was a victory for Devon by three goals to two. The game greatly pleased the spectators for we are advised that at the close of the game both sides were applauded for a splendid exhibition of football.

Season 1889/90 saw the beginning of the County Cup Competition -  a Challenge Cup being provided to create 'a healthy rivalry between clubs' it was well received, for a press notice of the time reported that 'several of the best and well known clubs in the county have entered heartily into the Cup Competition.

The first winner of the trophy was Tavistock Town who defeated the Plymouth Club in the Final on 15 February 1890. The Cup was won in the second year by a church side St James-the-Less. Churches have had a strong links with football over the years - a number of our league clubs owe their origins to church or Sunday School teams. In Plymouth between the wars there was a United Churches League - which was the origin of the Plymouth Combination League: (later to amalgamate with the Plymouth and District League to become the Plymouth and District Combination League, and then to amalgamate with Plymouth's two Sunday leagues to become the Plymouth and West Devon Combination Football League. IPL) - and a Wesley Guild League.

The St James-the-Less team were recipients of gold medals and beat Plymouth United 2-1 in the final at South Devon Place, Plymouth in front of a crowd of 2,500.

Service teams were admitted to the Association in season 1891/92 and dominated the competition from 1892/3 to 1900/01, no civilian team having won the cup in that period.

In season 1891/92 Mr. AE Floyd became Hon. Secretary and it was agreed to form a Junior Association, and it was in this season that Devon County FA, now firmly established, made application to join the English Football Association.

Civic interest in football became evident - in 1896 the Mayor of Plymouth - Mr JT Bond - presented the cups, medals and badges gained in the season 1895/96.

At the Annual General Meeting of the Association held on 9 September 1901, the officers elected were Sir Massey Lopes, President, Mr. HB Spencer as Chairman, CW Bickle as Hon. Secretary and F. Axworthy as Hon. Treasurer. At this time there were two leagues operating and plans for a third. In 1902 Lieut. Windrum became County Chairman but he remained in office only a few months before resigning to take the Chair of Plymouth Argyle on that side becoming a professional club and a Limited Company in 1903.

 

 

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED.......................................

 

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