London Pride: Football’s First Wanderers

From the first organised games on the green fields of England’s elite schools, to the World Cup final or the tennis ball street football we played as kids; we have needed to identify one team from the other.

As football developed from the muddy mass-brawls on scraps of land across the world, towards the global obsession we share today, players and supporters chose colours to distinguish the side they belonged to.

We represent something when we wear those colours.

We might represent our country, our city, our neighbourhood, our family or our friends.

We may represent an idea, a set of values or a link to the past.

Sometimes those colours choose us.

We come to belong to them, we pass them on.

Wanderers, London's oldest club, Hummel, Fuller's
Wanderers’ away kit by Hummel

Taking us back to the very genesis of the organised game that became the fevered passion we share today, is this shirt by Hummel, sent to us by our good friends at footballkitbox.com

South London club Wanderers represent 160 years and 5 FA Cup wins each time the amateur side takes to the field and for those unaware of the the club’s rich history, then please allow us to enlighten you.

The mighty Wanderers can trace their lineage back to 1859, making them one of the oldest clubs in world football and arguably the oldest in London.

Founded as Forest FC in Epping Forest, a disagreement over the future direction of the club between brothers John & Charles Alcock in 1863 led to a seismic split and separation into 2 clubs.

John kept his Forest in Epping, but Charles Alcock, an England international commonly regarded as one of the fathers of organised sport, faced a problem: his new club had no ground to call home.

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With no fixed abode, Charles Alcock’s nomadic collection of gentlemen footballers, drawn from London’s public school network, lived their sporting life on the road playing friendly matches at opponents’ home grounds.

Thus football’s first Wanderers were born.

Football was a very different game in their 1870s heyday and without a codified set of rules to play by, the team often had to adapt to differing laws depending on the preference of their opposition.

Aside from the formation of Wanderers, C. W. Alcock was a keen cricketer who played in Middlesex’s first county match before moving to Essex and to Surrey, where he arranged the first international test match to be played on English soil as Australia came to the Kennington Oval.

In his role as FA Secretary, Alcock helped organise the first international matches between England and Scotland and then, in perhaps his most enduring legacy, he proposed the initiation of a “challenge cup” competition for the Football Association’s member clubs.

Charles Alcock, Wanderers, FA Cup, Cricket
Wanderers’ founding father C. W. Alcock, who’s innovations include international football and the FA Cup

The FA Cup gave Alcock’s Wanderers a renewed purpose and whilst they couldn’t have known it at the time, it gave them a shot at footballing immortality.

Wanderers' badge 5 FA Cup wins
Wanderers’ crest carries 5 stars to represent their 5 FA Cup wins

Wanderers dominated the early days of the competition, claiming five titles in the FA Cup’s first seven seasons, meaning that at time of writing, the club stands level with West Brom, Everton and Manchester City in the competition’s list of victors.

In the first ever FA Cup Final in 1872, Harrow old boy Morton Betts scored the game’s only goal, a simple tap-in after 18 year-old Westminster schoolboy Walpole Vidal’s enterprising run, to beat Royal Engineers at the Kennington Oval.

Added to that first triumph, Wanderers claimed the scalps of Oxford University in 1873, Old Etonians after a replay in 1876, Oxford University again in 1877, before their last FA Cup triumph over Royal Engineers in 1878.

But the times were a changing and the era of wealthy amateurs from the South of England dominating engraving space on the trophy ended in 1883, when Blackburn Olympic defeated Old Etonians to became the first team from the north to win the cup.

As football’s popularity grew, more public schools formed old boy teams, whilst the advent of professionalism meant the sport was no longer the preserve of the middle and upper classes who could afford the time away from work to play games.

Wanderers found it harder to attract players of the right standard and whilst there is contention over when they played their final fixture, the club sadly folded in either 1884 or 1887.

Wanderers, away, kit, Hummel, Fuller's
London Pride: Wanderers’ are sponsored by Chiswick brewery Fuller’s

Naysayers can argue the club’s right to call themselves “Wanderers” or to claim the distinction of being London’s oldest team, but the modern Wanderers incarnation received approval from the Alcock family to reform the original club in 2009.

The FA have since endorsed Wanderers heritage and supported their re-staging of that first final against Royal Engineers at The Oval in 2012, before inviting them to kick-start their FA Cup 150th anniversary celebrations in the same year.

These days Wanderers’ squad consists of a range of professions and walks of life with teachers and students, builders and decorators, IT consultants and publishers lining-up for the side who have had players from close to 40 countries since 2009.

Fittingly, the shirt we hold is an away shirt. What else could it be for Wanderers?

The modern club enjoys the support of Chiswick brewers Fuller’s on the Hummel produced shocking pink shirts with navy blue sleeves.

Wanderers, 1859, Football Kit
We got our pencils out to imagine how the original Wanderers shirts may have looked

In recent years the colour pink has returned to sporting prominence and when Wanderers wear the hue they reference their original colours of black, amber and pink hoops.

From next season, Wanderers will move to a permanent home close to the grave of Charles Alcock in West Norwood at the Virgo Fidelis Convent Senior School in Gipsy Hill, having raised £10k to renovate the pitch and invest in new facilities.

Whilst football’s original Wanderers may be about to finally settle down after 160 years on the road, they show no signs of slowing and with these shirts in brilliant, bang on trend pink; they’re certainly not showing their age just yet.

Big thanks must go to our friends at Footballkitbox.com for sharing this shirt with us through their ground-breaking football shirt subscription service. For more fantastic shirts like this one, you must give them a follow on Twitter (@footballkitbox).

We must also offer sincere thanks to Wanderers (follow them @wanderersafc on Twitter) for their help in telling this story. We wish the club all the best in adding that elusive 6th star to their shirts!

We’re proud to bring the stories behind football shirts and always get a kick out of covering stories from grass-roots and non-league clubs. If your side has a shirt you think we should cover on Sartorial.Soccer then it is your duty to alert us to your kit! 

1 thought on “London Pride: Football’s First Wanderers

  1. Let’s hope the new owners of Fuller’s don’t make them change it to Japanese

    Like

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