The foundation date of the club is a debatable one. Whilst the club have agreed on the year 1879 as the foundation of the club for many years, some Fulham F.C. historians believe that the most likely date is 1880. That being said, the club looks to have not played a competitive game of football until 1883 - and these were only friendlies, so there is another argument that could be made to suggest the football club only came to be in 1883. Either way, what we do know is that for those early few years, the club would have been nothing more than unorganised 'kickabouts' amongst friends of St Andrew's Church Sunday School and perhaps fellow friends from the nearby Star Lane School. In fact, there is more evidence around to suggest it was never a football club to begin with and was formed as St Andrew's Cricket Club in the early 1880's.
To understand where the club truly came from, we need to go back to March 1868. A man from Yorkshire, Revd John Cardwell came to the district known as Fulham Fields and established a new church under the name of St Andrew's. The church, built in 1874, played a vital role in sustaining a new community as Cardwell and his associates provided for material as well as spiritual needs. He was an incredibly altruistic man - long before social security and the NHS he set up a 'sick club' to help with doctors' bills and a penny bank to encourage saving. To help parents there was a crèche and a day school. At the new Workmen's Club in May Street, Cardwell held evening classes in mathematics to improve people's chances of employment.
Naturally, there was also a Sunday School. This is really where it all began for Fulham Football Club. Dr Patrick Murdoch, a local doctor living in Lillie Road was elected to the School Board and formed an alliance with John Cardwell, serving three years as churchwarden. In their capacity as members of the School Board, Cardwell and Murdoch approved the building of an elementary school on a site almost facing the church. For this an area of market gardens on the corner of Star Lane and Normand Lane needed to be cleared, and when the builders were not on site this space became an unofficial playground. As it was winter, some of the hundred senior boys attending St Andrew's Sunday School may have used this building site as a football pitch. We don't know their names, nor whether they formed a proper club with members and a committee, indeed we would know nothing about this at all if former player Henry Shrimpton had not immortalised it in his Foundation History of the Fulham Football Club published in 1950. Shrimpton described the pitch in great detail "commonly known as The Mud Pond. The playing area was only some 85 x 65 yards. The spectators stood right up to the touchlines. In fact they made the lines as there was no marking out". It was about 85 yards from the school wall to Normand Lane, but if one of the goals backed onto that wall as Shrimpton said, the pitch would have been narrower than 65 yards.
The Mud Pond was typical of the unofficial play areas of the period; like bomb sites sixty years later. Land acquired for development might not be built on for months or even years. Some had believed that the housing boom was over, but local property developers William Gibbs and John P. Flew thought differently. They had ambitious plans for the vast Palliser Estate, which stretched from the Barons Court / West Kensington railway line to St Andrew's Church, and until they could build on the land they allowed the public to use some of it as an open space. As John Cardwell walked from his house in Perham Road to the church, he saw his parishioners enjoying this unexpected recreation ground and he joined the campaign led by the vicar of Fulham, the Revd Frederick Fisher, to establish permanent open spaces in the vicinity.
On 2 July 1883 there was a public meeting at Beaufort House. In a speech Cardwell warned, "If all the land is given over to housing, then people who have previously enjoyed open spaces will be forced upon the roads and footpaths to carry on what games they can". Ten more years of campaigning led to the creation of Fulham Recreation Ground at Lillie Road, by which time Fisher, Cardwell and Murdoch had all left Fulham. In the meantime plenty of football and cricket was played by locals on either Eel Brook Common or one of several private grounds. Gibbs and Flew had set aside a cricket pitch very close to St Andrew's Church, planning to make it the best in London. To show its potential they allowed teams from the Barons Court area to use it occasionally and one of these was the newly formed St Andrew's Cricket Club.
John Cardwell was less interested in sport than some clerics of the day, but he shared their belief in the moral and physical benefits of exercise. He once stated "An open space accomplishes a good deed in the prevention of evil" - so he was delighted to see a cricket team from his church playing on the magnificent Queen's Field. Whether he took the decision to found the club or endorsed and approved the initiative of others is uncertain. The important fact is that on 18 August 1883, St Andrew's CC welcomed St Matthew's of Sinclair Road to the Palliser Estate for what seems to be the first cricket match organised by the new club. Fortunately for historians, the local paper published a scorecard of all the players in that historic match.
The club captain Albert Shipton of this new cricket team actually lived next door to a young Albert Maile (who would serve as goalkeeper for the club some 15 years later. 20 year-old Tom Norman was the club secretary. His father Edward had brought his family to London in the mid-1860s and the whole Norman family actively supported St Andrew's Church. Mrs Norman and two of Tom's siblings all taught at the Sunday School, occasionally assisted by Tom. The appointments of Shipton and Norman as officers of the new cricket club would have pleased the vicar. He knew these young men and their families and could be sure the club was in safe hands. In addition, Patrick Murdoch had agreed to be the club's patron. Most of the players at this time were London born and in either their late teens or early twenties.
Only a handful of these first cricketers also played for the football club later down the line - Tom Norman, Harry Johnson, George Read, William Andrews and George Smith. They all wanted St Andrew's to be a football club, but they faced a major problem in not having a proper ground (The Queen's Field was only available for cricket). Fortunately, Tom was able to arrange some away fixtures. The first match we have on record for the club to play a football match was on 6 October 1883, a 4-2 loss against Stanley played at Eel Brook Common.
Editing in Progress