140 years on, Grantham Football Club historian ponders . . . ‘what if?’

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Grantham Football Club played their first game against another team 140 years ago this week.

The Gingerbreads took on the Third Lincolnshire Volunteer Rifles at London Road on October 29, 1874.

Grantham played that day in their new team colours of light blue and gold/yellow harlequins.

Eighteen players appeared to have taken part, and Grantham won the game 2-1 thanks to two goals from Nujee.

The line-up was Briggs, H. Dixon, P. Dixon, G. Downing, T. Downing, Gray, Holmes, Hopkinson, A. Howard, I. Howard, Hemsley, Malim, Miller, Nugee, Rylott, Schofield, T. Vincent and Wyles.

An estimated attendance of 60 spectators paid gate receipts of £5/16s/6d, which were generously donated to the local hospital.

Following the 1863 rules set out by the FA to merge the differing regulations played by public schools and universities, new football clubs had begun to emerge to challenge the handful that had already been established.

Grantham was notable for many gentry who had played differing codes at King’s School and later at universities.

So when one local man, Arthur Hutchinson, decided to arrange a meeting on September 2, 1874, to explore the possibility of starting a football club, it was of little surprise that it was enthusiastically welcomed.

The Grantham Journal noted that “there was a goodly muster of persons present” at the meeting.

This new club, with many of its members already part of Grantham Cricket Club, were able to use the far side of the cricket ground on London Road for practice and games, its home until 1990 barring a brief spell at Harlaxton Road.

Charting the history of these early clubs is difficult, with many changing rules and codes, but there is certainly evidence that Grantham are around the 24th oldest club in the country, that still are existence and still playing Association Football.

Friendlies like the Lincolnshire Volunteer Rifles game continued over the next few years, with Grantham going from strength to strength, drawing in local sporting athletes like England cricketer Arnold Rylott, and national ones too, as committee members called upon former scholarly colleagues to play for Grantham.

The club boasted England internationals Arthur Cursham, Harry Cursham and Beaumont Jarrett amongst its team during those inaugural years, surely giving Grantham the claim to fame of the non-league club that can boast the most internationals amongst its players.

To emphasise this strength, the FA Cup, still in its infancy, was entered by the Gingerbreads in 1877, with games against Clapham Rovers, Grimsby Town, Notts County and Sheffield amongst the early opponents.

Those first few years saw such a rapid surge in the game nationally and the club locally, to an extent that today is hard to grasp.

And yet it is possible that had the Football League commenced in the latter half of the 1870s, instead of 1888, then almost certainly Grantham would have become original members.

Thought provoking and, bearing in mind that all of the original Football League members are still prominent clubs, the notion that if Grantham’s prominence could have lasted just a few more years, then who knows where the club’s history would have traversed?

A 30,000 capacity stadium on London Road? Local derbies against Forest and County.

“What if” is an intriguing thesis, yet what if that early dominance could have been maintained . . . ?