The exact history of the formation of the Club has become more clear in recent years thanks to the good work of historians Alex White, Dennis Turner, Morgan Phillips and the 2006 book by Peter Lupson ‘Thank God For Football’, among others.
The late Victorian era was one in which working-class football was not the force it is today and played second fiddle to other more ‘gentlemanly pursuits’. However, the impact of muscular Christianity which tied the concepts of religion and exercise together - and was defined by English writer Charles Kingsley that "games conduce, not merely to physical, but to moral health" - saw the Church put more stock in physical activities.
Indeed, religion played an important role in the formation of the Club. In 1879 we were born as Fulham St Andrew's Church Sunday School FC and founded by worshipers (mostly adept at cricket) at the Church of England on Star Road, West Kensington (St Andrew's, Fulham Fields).
The church had originally opened in 1868, but the growth of the parish and its local population saw the need for another to take root - therefore, in 1874, Fulham Fields was created as a separate parish and St Andrew’s a parish church.
The vision of a then-15-year-old called Tom Norman and the church’s first vicar, Revd John Henry Cardwell, saw the shoots of the Club begin to grow. The early stages were a battle against the more established sport of cricket for hearts and minds, but while it remained a leisure pursuit in its infancy, football was growing in popularity among the poverty-stricken youths of London.
Norman’s father was a master house painter and his mother a Sunday school teacher in Star Lane (what is now Greyhound Road). His own interests saw him eventually become a master builder, but his focus on sport in the early years was something that saw him devote a lot of his spare time into developing Fulham as both secretary and administrator, while also keeping a place in the side until 1893.
Alongside Cardwell, who had been a Cambridge graduate, and Dr Patrick Murdoch, who was a patron of the Club in 1879, Norman was able to influence Fulham’s development on the road to professionalism.
However, finding a place to play in the early years proved tough and public park pitches were utilised more often than not as the Club did not yet have a home. Various places such as Eel Brook Common, Lillie Bridge and Ranelagh House were used, before we crossed the River Thames again to settle briefly at Barn Elms in 1888.
Within almost 10 years, we had gone from nothing to a Club that was running three teams and won our first trophy - the West London Association Cup – in 1886. In the changing landscape of London, clearly we had outgrown our roots, so we changed our name to Fulham Football Club to avoid a clash with another team called St Andrew’s.
The appointment of Mr Arthur Newport, an ex-student of St Marks College, Chelsea, and a master at Halford Road School, Newport, as Secretary in 1890 saw us continue to develop. As H.D. Shrimpton wrote: "The Club started about the business of becoming a premier club of London" under his direction.
But it wasn’t until 1891 that we were able to settle at an enclosed ground, behind the Half Moon Pub in Putney and, although it was shared with Wasps Rugby Club, the spectators occasionally began to number into the thousands. Becoming the first winners of the West London Observer Cup the same year gave us another trophy and the Club was on the rise.
Within five years we would be playing at our new home of Craven Cottage (see number 13) and the march to becoming a professional side had begun. It would finish in 1898 (see number 48) as we became established on the banks of the Thames in the Second Division of the Southern League and the Whites’ path was set.