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Despite its increasingly popularity during the late nineteenth century, football remained, officially at least, an amateur sport until the mid-1880s. Amateurs founded the Football Association in 1863, and all-amateur clubs contested the first FA Cup in 1872. Despite the Football Association’s commitment to amateurism, it was already clear that what was later dubbed ‘shamateurism’ was rife. The bigger clubs were enticing away the better players with large signing-on fees, the offer of a job, or payment in the form of lavish expenses and by putting money into players’ boots on match days.
After 1885, the
number of professional footballers in England and Wales rose rapidly.
In 1891 the Football League had 448 registered players, most of whom were
part-time or full-time professionals.
The Scots, on the other hand, remained steadfastly opposed to the
introduction of professionalism until 1893. The most vocal opponents to its
introduction were Queen's Park and the Scottish press, who regularly described
footballers who were tempted south as "base mercenaries " or
"traitorous wretches". The larger clubs however were prepared to keep
the better players north of the Border by paying them under the counter.
Nevertheless, three years after the founding of the Scottish League in 1890,
professionalism was finally approved in the Scottish game and within 12 months
83 clubs had registered almost 800 professional players.
By 1901 no less then 408 professional footballers are listed in the 1901 census for England and Wales. A century later, the most recent census listed 3,405 professional players, an increase of around 60 per cent in 15 years. Perhaps you have a footballing ancestors and would like to share their story with us. Please get in touch...
This picture features James Roy who played for Hull City, Carlisle United, Chester and Rhyl. He played for this unknown Irish team during the early 1930s. If you recognize the team, or have any details of his career in Ireland, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org