I have been involved in the running of a couple of amateur football clubs, and the biggest single issue is funding. How do you secure sponsorship for a club with no supporters (and, occasionally, less than eleven players)? It’s not cheap, either. Chances are, no matter how small your club is, that you’ll have to raise the best part of a couple of thousand pounds to cover the cost of pitches and referees, before you even get onto the thorny issue of kit and equipment – and let’s not even get onto the subject of trying to subsidise an end of season beano. In many respects, it’s little surprise that the number of people playing football is falling, year on year.
Considering these uphill battles (and running one of these clubs is nothing if not a series of minor uphill battles – I may get around to putting my Sunday League Memoirs up on here one day), it’s small wonder that some new clubs go to great lengths to make their lives a little easier, and this has been taken to something approaching a logical extreme by 27 year-old Scot Kenny Anderson, who is claiming that his new football club is the oldest in the world. The Foot-Ball Club of Edinburgh was formed in 1827, and reportedly played until it folded in 1841. Anderson has a couple of friends in high places, including Edinburgh South-West MP (and Chancellor of the Exchequer) Alastair Darling and that well-known football historian, Scotland manager George Burley. A quick look at the club’s website confirms that these claims appear to be landing them a few advantages – a friendly match at Heart of Midlothian’s Tynecastle stadium for their first match, a sponsorship deal with Umbro and more national press in the last few days than most semi-professional clubs get in the course of an entire season.
Given the level of ingenuity at play here, it seems almost a shame to point out that there is nothing to link this newly-formed side to the club that folded in 1841. Anderson states that he had the idea after a visit to the Hampden Park museum of Scottish football, which contains the paperwork relating to the original club. Cameron is justifying his belief that the club is one and the same as one that hasn’t kicked a ball for over 160 years through some vague statements about “his desire to carry on the work” of the club’s founder, one John Hope, who reportedly set the club up in order to “help local kids”. Strangely, it doesn’t mention the anti-popery classes that he is recorded as having held with groups of boys. All of this would be so much harmless self-promotion were it not for the fact that Anderson (and numerous others) were now petitioning FIFA for his brand new team to be recognised as the oldest in the world.
As you may recall, the claim of being The Oldest Football Club In The World is a proud claim that has been much-contested over the years, but FIFA recognises Sheffield FC, of the Unibond League, as the oldest. They have spent much of the last year celebrating their 150th anniversary, culminating with a match against Ajax at Bramall Lane last weekend. They also played a strong Internazionale at Bramall Lane in front of a crowd of over 18,000 people and are one of the very few clubs to hold the FIFA Order Of Merit. Such riches have cast many envious glances from afar, and the suspicion is that somewhere along the line someone might just have noticed this and decided that they would like a piece of it. For the Scottish media, it’s a chance to launch the claim that Scotland invented football (which overlooks the fact that there was nothing like a unified code for the game until over two decades after the club split up – for which Sheffield are universally recognised as having been involved in, and that Hope’s Edinburgh Rules, which Scottish football historians claim were as important in the FA’s 1863 Laws Of Football as the more widely attributed Cambridge Rules of 1848, were written thirteen years after Foot-Ball Club of Edinburgh folded).
No-one south of the border would ever dispute the importance of the Scottish contribution towards the evolution of the game of football, but a subtle rewriting of history is taking place here. It is impossible to accept the premise that this is simply the same club, which hasn’t played a single match in 167 years. It is, frankly, insulting to the people that have worked hard, often in the face of what looked like insurmountable odds, to keep the real World’s Oldest Football Club going for 150 years continuously. I could just as easily claim to have reformed the Brewers Company of London, a guild who are recorded as having hired out their hall to “ffooteballepleyers” in 1421 and claim them as the Oldest Football Club In The World. It’s worth nothing if your club hasn’t been in continuing existence. It’s all very well talking about “good work” and “charity”, but the sudden reappearance of The Football Club Of Edinburgh reeks more of self-promotion and petty one-up-man-ship to me.