Chelsea may be celebrating a triumphant day at Wembley and another piece of silverware in their trophy cabinet, but 130 years ago the FA Cup saw a significant final achievement in its history. Yesterday's game may have been between two teams of highly paid and professionally trained athletes, but in 1882 the last ever amateur champions were crowned.
The Football Association Challenge Cup, to give its full name, had begun 11 years earlier and up to that point and only ever featured amateur sides in the final. However, when the much heralded Old Etonians side faced Blackburn Rovers, it was a sign that times were changing.
These amateur sides were mostly made up of the wealthier upper-class players of the sport, usually from the more southern part of England, and received no payment for matches. These teams were often made up of players who had attended certain private schools or were part of the armed forces - known as 'Old Boy' teams - with Etonians from the famous college Eton. Legendary Victorian footballer and cricketer C. B. Fry, who won an England cap and reached an FA Cup final, recalled the most successful early amateur teams: "When I first remember football, the great teams were the Old Boy teams: Old Carthusians, Old Etonians, Old Westminster, Old Harrowvians and the Royal Engineers."
The poorer working classes however couldn't afford to play for free. Professionalism – being paid to play – was still illegal at this point, and wasn't accepted by the FA for another three years, but it was still widely practised by many of the club sides. When Blackburn Rovers visited London's Kennington Oval, now known as The Oval cricket ground, they became the first provincial side to reach the final and challenge the dominance of the amateurs.
However in Etonians they faced a dominant side. They had reached four cup finals before this year, winning in 1979, and had arguably the best player in the game on their side.
Arthur Kinnaird, later becoming Lord Kinnaird, already had four winners medals to his name before triumphing in 1882, and still holds the record for most FA Cup final appearances with nine. John Terry's victory yesterday matched Kinnaird's accolade of captaining a side to the title four times. He was a versatile player, appearing in every position on the field – from goalkeeper to forward – throughout his career, and was renowned as a tough tackler.
He was also a veteran of the second ever international friendly, playing for Scotland in a 1-0 defeat to England, before going on to be president of the FA for more than 30 years. He was aided ably by the talents of players such as Arthur Dunn, who claimed four England caps – during a time when international games were few and far between, captaining them twice.
The Blackburn side they were facing were no slouches though, having beaten the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton Wanderers to reach the final. Still relatively young, having only been in existence seven years, they were lauded for their cutthroat approach to team selection, replacing second-rate players with superior ones. Being professional, allowing them to play together regularly, it meant that their style of play "became practically irresistible" according to the Blackburn Standard, and were followed on the 250 mile trip by hundreds of fans.
An estimated 4,500 fans were in attendance to watch a game that, according to The Times, was played on “an excellent piece of ground that had been staked off in front of the pavilion”. Certainly a far cry from the 90,000-seater colossus that is today’s Wembley stadium. The match kicked off at 3.15pm, with Etonians winning the coin toss, and got off to a high octane start – with Etonians in light blue and Blackburn in blue and white hoops.
The London Standard described the match in its edition the following day, stating that Blackburn initially began the brighter. “After some very brilliant play among the forwards in the centre of the ground [John] Hargreaves, well supported by Avery, made an incursion into their rival’s territory,” the correspondent recalled, “but this attempt to score was frustrated by the cool play of [Percy de] Paracini.”
A pattern of play emerged, though, as Etonians took hold of the game, making the break through eight minutes in. “Repeated efforts to score were made by the Light Blues,” The Times wrote, “and at last Dunn effected a fine run down the ground and passed the ball over to [William] Anderson, who kicked it between the posts.” The game continued at an “exceedingly fast” pace, according to the Blackburn Standard, but the game remained at 1-0 to the amateurs.
The wind played its part in the game as the pendulum swung in the second half, with Blackburn taking hold of the game; however their pressure was to no avail, according to the report in the Nottinghamshire Guardian. “Although the Rovers completely penned their antagonists in the second half, they could not score, [John] Rawlinson, in goal, playing with admirable coolness and skill.” The Etonians dominated the aerial game, a vital component of the game in the early roots of football – because of the poor quality pitches, and rode out the final pressure exacted by Rovers to take the title.
Kinnaird was said to have celebrated their triumph by performing a handstand in front of the pavilion. However their dominance was ended a year later, as Blackburn Olympic beat Etonians 2-1 after extra-time to begin the era of the professional, with the FA Cup never again returning to an amateur side.