Finding 1904 Objects

As a trained historian I am always wary about saying that something is the first or that something’s an absolute fact unless I can properly prove it. It’s important to not jump to assumptions and to act responsibly. The quest to uncover football’s history and ensure the facts not the fiction are recorded drives me on. In addition, I am keen to locate items that can link us directly with a particular moment or achievement. So I’d just like to talk about a few items that I’ve been desperate to locate for several years…

There are many items from Manchester City’s long history that I have been searching for over many, many years. I could write a book about them but here’s the story of a few objects connected with the 1904 FA Cup final and one item I’m after tracking down survived for years and I’ve discovered that it was housed in Burnley for at least 40 years.

Many objects connected with Manchester’s first major trophy success still exist including the original-style FA Cup (housed at the National Football Museum – go and take a look when you can); a watch presented to manager Tom Maley (and some of the others presented to the players); a banner made by members of the Alexander Family (club officials and directors from 1894 through to the modern day; the flag is in City’s archive); players’ medals and various newspaper cuttings and photographs. However, there are three important items that I know existed that have vanished.

I am going to start with the 1904 FA Cup final ball, which was stored in Burnley into the 1950s.

Hillman’s Ball

At the end of the 1904 FA Cup final goalkeeper Jack Hillman charged past an opponent to pick up the ball and claim it as his own. The 1904 FA Cup final became the possession of City’s Hillman and he kept hold of it throughout his life. For many years he had it on display in his sweet shop on Thurston Street, Burnley and it is believed it was still in that building at the time of Hillman’s death in 1952.

According to reports the ball was painted in City’s colours – Cambridge Blue and White was worn for the 1904 final – and was inscribed as the 1904 English Cup winning ball. Back then the FA Cup was more commonly known as the English Cup.

Following Hillman’s death there is uncertainty over what happened to the ball. It seems it stayed in Burnley, so if there’s anyone reading with information please get in touch. If the ball managed to survive into the 1950s then it is possible it is still around somewhere.

I managed to get a Burnley newspaper to do a piece on this a few years back but sadly no one came forward with any information.

Film of the Final

The 1904 FA Cup final was filmed and shown in pubs and exhibition halls for at least a month after the final. Several copies of the film must have existed as it was shown in multiple locations at similar times but, to date, none of these copies have been found. Many photos from the 1904 final (including this one of Meredith scoring) are believed to have been taken from the original footage. In recent years older football films have been located in the north-west and I live in hope that one day a metal film cannister will be found with the words ‘1904 English final’ scrawled across will be identified.

The Players’ Shirts

Not one of the 1904 FA Cup final shirts has ever been found despite many of the players saving other equally important shirts. The 1904 shirt carried no badge and as City played a League game only 2 days after the final and travelled straight to Everton from London, it’s possible the same kit was worn again. Players such as Billy Meredith and Sandy Turnbull did save other important shirts and it’s possible the kits may have stayed within family circles but not recognised for their significance due to the lack of a badge. Frank Booth, a prominent member of the team, died in 1919 and is buried in Denton – maybe his family retained the shirt and it still resides in the region?

If you know of any of these items and can help locate them then please do. The film is probably the one that appeals most to me, but both the ball and a shirt would be great finds too.

You can find out more about 1904 here:

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