Established Chatham 1863, FA Cup Winners 1875




In the 1860s football was in its earliest form and transpired from a Victorian background of inter-village ’kicking the ball around’ game to an organised and disciplined public schools spectacle of team players on a marked out pitch.

As early as 1848 there was different origins of football in play, and subject to primative conditions.  However, Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857) had a lasting effect on generations of schoolboys – the fit and healthy image of the true British gentleman.  These views were echoed by the Clarendon Commission of 1864, which emphasised that football fields were not merely places of exercise and amusement, but vital means of character building with a view to encouragement of games for city folk, where overcrowded parts of towns and cities were in high infant mortality and disease – a major worry for the authorities on both public and personal hygiene.

From the 1840s, a series of measures to improve all matters of public health through the good name of sport, was seen as a way to turn people into becoming fitter and healthier – inevitably the game of football was providing these fit men of strong personal being, which the industrial workers of the north and midlands of England quickly adapted to and so did the heart of Scotland. In just over a decade, the Open Golf Championships began (1860); the first England cricket team visited Australia (1862); the Football Association was founded (1863) and the first attempt had been made by the public schools to regulate playing procedures in 1848.  However, the ‘Cambridge Rules’ were not universally adopted because Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Westminster, and Rugby all had their own codes and customs with Rugby being specially distinguished by the prominent use of hands as well as the feet.

Historically, on 26 October 1863 representatives from eleven leading football clubs met at the Freemasons’ Tavern, Great Queen Street, London.  The decision to form a body, the Football Association.  This culminated in the foundation of the Royal Engineers Association Football Club (RE AFC) under the Captaincy of Major Francis Marindin Royal Engineers.  On 20 July 1871, the FA Challenge Cup Committee introduced the inaugural final to be competed for and the focus would then be on the Royal Engineers and the Wanderers at Kennington Oval on 16 March 1872, which resulted in a 1 – 0 victory to the team from London’s Battersea Park.

The Royal Engineers went on to appear in four FA Cup Finals in the first seven years of the world’s oldest football competition.  In the 1874 FA Challenge Cup Final the Sapper’s went down 2 – 0 to Oxford University at Kennington Oval on 17 March.  Old lady luck once again had left them after cruising through to the final, thrashing Brondesbury and Maidenhead 4 – 0 and 7 – 0 respectively.  For the Royal Engineers, the seasons highest scorers, it was another zero in the final.

The Wanderers knocked out by Oxford University at the Quarter Final stage of the 1875 FA Cup Final, meant a semi-final meeting with the old foe, which on this occasion after a 1 – 1 draw, would see the Sappers win through to the final with a 1 – 0 victory.  On the 16 March, 1875 they were now faced with the Old Etonians, and after a 1 – 1 draw finally found success with a 2 – 0 win and to at last lift the FA Cup and create their own peice of history, by being the only military club to achieve this.  The Royal Engineers went on to appear in the 1878 FA Cup Final, but on the 23 March at Kennington Oval were second best again and lost 3 – 1 to the Wanderers, and after three successive wins they were now entitled to keep the trophy under the rules, but agreed to return the trophy on the understanding that no one else would claim it for ‘keeps’ in the future.               

It is sad that the FA Cup used today is not the symbol of Football glory handed to the Corps of Royal Engineers in 1875, but their achievements will never be lost whilst Sappers present and future – can proudly recall their forebears ‘Who won the Cup’.

The Royal Engineers AFC are approaching their 150th Anniversary, which is in conjunction with the FA as a founding member from 1863 to 2013.  However, 2012 has much to look forward to in Olympic year and the 200th Anniversary of the Royal Engineers Establishment in Chatham, Kent.