The forerunners of Leicester City FC

My original intention to write a blog post to mark the 2016 Euros in June has been completely hijacked by Leicester City’s truly amazing performance in the Premier League this season – especially when I found that The Wyvern, a rare Leicester-based Victorian periodical published between 1891 and 1906, contains some fascinating details of the early history of the Leicester Fosse Football Team, the forerunners of City, known to their supporters as ‘The Fossils’. The Wyvern charts Fosse’s journey from a small non-league club, struggling to find a permanent ground and to attract decent crowds, to a high-performer in the Second Division of the Football League with an enthusiastic fan-base.  

Leicester Fosse was started in 1884 by a group of former pupils of Wyggeston School, who met in a garden shed behind Fosse Road. In the early days, they were forced to change ground several times, ousted from Belgrave Road by a higher bid from the Tigers in 1888.  The club makes its first appearance in our holdings of The Wyvern against this background in October 1891, by which time they had begun to compete in the Midland League:

‘The attendance was very small at the Fosse match on Saturday … the Fosse certainly ought to get plenty of support, and they need it this year. The game started very late.  I trust the Fosse will endeavour to start at or near the appointed time … nothing is more aggravating than standing on wet ground waiting for the arrival of the players.  Remember, Fosse, you have the Leicester Club [i.e. the Tigers] to compete with, and the Leicester Club has everything in its favour – position of ground and prestige …’1

Local derbies against Loughborough Town aroused high emotions, but in November 1891 Fosse lost in a dramatic encounter:

‘The Fosse deserve great credit for the game they played during the first 50 minutes, but the way they fell to pieces during the last half hour was surprising.’2SCD01212_30Sept1892_opp_p360amended

The Fosse found life in the Midland League a struggle, but in March 1892 they managed a draw against a strong Kettering team:

‘That the Fosse are as good as Kettering, few would assent, but the dash and pluck of the Fosse in the second half, when apparently dead beat, were very refreshing.’3SCD01213_06Oct1893_p378amended

For the 1892/3 season, Fosse moved to the Walnut Street ground and new players were brought in to strengthen the team. They faced Mansfield in the first fixture in September 1892; The Wyvern makes clear how much support the team had now amassed:

‘This will be the first crucial test which the new combination has undergone, and the men will … have the best wishes of all interested … there can be no room to doubt not only that public enthusiasm is rapidly increasing, but that these enthusiasts are quite prepared to watch and study the play, notwithstanding the summer-like weather. Popular taste has been educated up to its present pitch.’4

In April 1893, Leicester enjoyed ‘remarkable Eastertide weather … brilliant summer sunshine, more fit for cricket than football’5.  But the Fosse, who finished the 1892/3 season a very creditable 4th in the table (as opposed to 11th the previous year) nonetheless had a very busy Easter programme of matches.  Unfortunately their performance against Newark (who finished near the bottom of the table) was shaky. The Wyvern had an explanation for this poor form:

‘One gentleman, who is usually pretty well “in the know” in these matters, explains the indifferent form of the Fossils by the fact that on Sunday Jack Lord [a long-serving defender] took unto himself a wife. Not unnaturally his brother pros. were invited to join in the wedding festivities, with the result that they were scarcely up to concert pitch …’5SCD01214_26Jan1894_opp_p216amended

SCD01214_26Jan1894_p218amendedThe team, with its new squad of professional players, enjoyed a very successful season in 1893/4. Their cup tie against Blackpool South Shore on 27 January 1894 was a milestone:

‘Saturday last marked another epoch in the history of Association Football in Leicester, being the first time that the town has been represented in the English Cup Competition proper’.6SCD01214_26Jan1894_opp_p217amended

The Fosse won 2 – 1 in a very exciting match, played in a ‘tremendous gale’, and were drawn against Derby County in the next round on 10 February. This was a huge occasion, with an ‘enormous crowd’ and gate receipts of about £440.00:

‘This is the first time the Fosse Club has met a team of such high standing as Derby County, in what may be termed a serious engagement … Derby County and their supporters came expecting an easyish victory, but were quickly disillusioned … ‘7SCD01214_9Feb1894_opp_p248amended

Fosse put up a ‘really brilliant defence’ and put the ball in the net twice, only to have the goals disallowed. After extra time, the game ended in a 0 – 0 draw with the replay to take place on 17 February.

‘No doubt the Derby people fancy their chance considerably tomorrow, when the match is to be played off at Derby, but the Fossils will not give up without a great struggle. All the team are spending the week out at Narborough, and every effort has been made to get them in the pink of condition.  It will be a splendid tussle whichever side wins, and, as two special trains are running from Leicester, no doubt the team will not lack support.’7

Derby won the repeat encounter 3 – 0, a defeat which The Wyvern’s reporter put down to ‘fearful weather’, a waterlogged pitch and a first goal, which should have been disallowed for ‘clean off-side’.8

But, in spite of their Cup exit, Fosse ended the season 2nd in the Midland League and were elected to the Football League, to play 1894/5 in Division Two.

To be continued!

1The Wyvern, (Leicester, 30 October 1891), p. 7, SCD 01212

2Ibid., (Leicester, 20 November 1891 ), p. 60

3Ibid., (Leicester, 11 March 1892 ), p. 314

4Ibid., (Leicester, 30 September 1892), p. 361

5The Wyvern, (Leicester, 7 April 1893), p. 382, SCD 01213

6Ibid., (Leicester, 2 February 1894), p. 234

7The Wyvern, (Leicester, 16 February 1894), p. 266, SCD 01214

8Ibid., (Leicester, 23 February 1894), p. 282

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Margaret Maclean

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Library Assistant, Rare Books and Archives in the University Library

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