The Origins of School Football Associations: Manchester as a Case Study


This paper will focus on the origins and subsequent development of school football in Manchester and its surrounding conurbation between 1880 and 1919. Archival evidence, drawing mainly on the Manchester Schools Football Association (MSFA) collection, will be used to chronicle the expansion of organized competition and sporting opportunities. It will demonstrate that football’s growth in Manchester’s education system owed much to dedicated teachers who encouraged participation at their own schools and organized inter-school competitions. Association football became prominent right across Manchester as young teachers, most notably George Sharples, encouraged pupils to play, leading to a widening of participation and interest that helps to explain how Manchester transitioned from a rugby to a soccer city. Also discussed is the important role of the Manchester and Salford Playing Fields Society (MSPFS) which assisted the game’s growth in schools and amongst schoolchildren more generally by making suitable fields and pitches available. Without the Society’s efforts facilities may have been insufficient to satisfy growing demand at a critical point in soccer’s development.

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