The story about how Partick FC (not Partick Thistle) and two local footballers revolutionised English football by becoming the first players to be paid by their club for playing (four years before the English FA outlawed the practice) in the days of hardcore amateurism, is well known. However, its always worth reminding ourselves, particularly in the light of some comprehensive new research by Andy Mitchell of the Scottish Sport History website.
The story starts with William Kirkham of Darwen, a Lancashire mill town, who moved to Partick to work and got in tow with the players of the newly founded Partick FC. This connection saw Partick and Darwen play a series of matches, starting on New Year’s Day 1876 when Partick beat Darwen 7-0. Partick also played games against Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers around this time, and the play of the Scotsmen clearly impressed their Lancashire hosts.
In the summer of 1878 Partick forward Jimmy Love moved to Darwen and he was quickly joined by team-mate Fergie Suter, to make their living playing football (although payments were frowned on and had to be discreet). Fergie was brother to Jerry and Edward who both played for Partick Thistle.
Darwen was first to take full advantage, with the club perhaps open minded about the morality of paying footballers (which was not in fact outlawed by the FA until 1882). Their teams around this period included Tom Marshall, well known as a professional runner, and Ralph Crookes, who was their cricket professional in the summer months.
The connection made between Partick and Lancashire saw several other players make the move from amateur football in Scotland to paid in England – often guesting in Partick’s games in England to allow their prospective bosses to assess them.
For more detail on the games and players read The Partick connection: how a small Scottish club opened the door to England.
Love only played for Darwen until 1879 at which time he virtually disappeared from football. Thanks to Andy’s incredible forensic research we can finally read the full story of the man that was effectively the first ever professional footballer, including the reason why he chose to move to England rather than stay in Partick.
Suter’s story is better known. After playing for Partick and captaining Darwen he joined local rivals Blackburn Rovers and while at the club he helped them to reach the FA Cup Final four times, winning the trophy on three occasions, the first in 1884 against Queen’s Park.
You can read much more about Love and Suter’s careers and lives before and after football at From Partick with Love – the story of Jimmy Love and Fergie Suter, the first professional footballers. Its a story of deceit, immorality, tragedy, bankruptcy, illegitimate children, and football.
Season by season