Today marks a significant landmark in the long history of Horsham Football Club as it was exactly 150 years ago that we played our first ever match.

To be more accurate, we played our first ever matches as we hosted Reigate Priory in a trio of games on 18th February 1871, each side recording a victory and the third ending in a draw.

Organised football was still very much in its infancy in 1871. This was the same year as the inception of the first ever FA Cup competition, but the Football League was another 17 years from foundation and the game itself was far removed from today’s incarnation. Far more physical and crude, serious injuries were commonplace with matches often comprising an overlap of codes between ‘soccer’ and rugby, while crossbar and goal nets would not become mandatory for at least another decade.

Horsham Football Club had only been constituted four months earlier, in the November, and the novelty of its inaugural match drew much interest in the town. According to the West Sussex Gazette, there was a ‘large number of ladies’ among a ‘goodly mustering of people’ at Springfield Park to see the two sides do battle although they were kept waiting as the Reigate players arrived an hour later than expected due to an incident en route from over the county border.

When the Surrey men eventually took to the field it was discovered that they had twelve players so, to even up the numbers, a spectator was requisitioned to the Horsham side and he went on to make quite an impression. This sort of practice wasn’t uncommon during those early years, with a member of the home side often guesting for their opponents if arriving without the requisite number of players.

It was suggested that Reigate, who would become one of just 15 clubs to enter that maiden FA Cup, seemed more experienced in the arts of the game than their hosts although Horsham “played a capital game, considering the short time in which some of them had been initiated and they showed greater running powers than their opponents, who trusted more to kicking.”

The first game was won for Horsham by some fine play on the part of Messrs Hall and Rawlison, by which a touch down was scored. J Sharp, one of a trio of Sharps in the home side, “did the kick and made the goal magnificently”, despite battling a strong wind. By this account it would appear that these matches were evidence of that aforementioned mix of codes.

Reigate secured the second game, “through a first rate run and touch down, made by a player who showed prominently throughout the match, and who was distinguished by a large white mitre on the back of his pink jersey”. A mammoth kick by Reigate’s Clutton obtained the goal. The final match was shaded by Reigate but ended all-square.

No doubt the outcome would have been viewed by the Horsham officials as a satisfactory first outing for the new football club although the reporter from the Horsham, Petworth, Midhurst and Steyning Express was clearly unconvinced by the spectacle. “We looked on, with many others, just long enough to learn that we know nothing about the game” he wrote, “and if we must confess that at this season of the year we cannot find the smallest amount of pleasure in looking on.

“At the same time, we must admit that those who took part in the match appeared to play with great earnestness and enjoyed themselves amazingly, interrupted only now and then when the casualty of a kick on the shins occurred which was, of course, not quite so stylish. The exercise must be rare and healthful indeed, and the danger to any of those who occasionally practice it of being thrown on their backs with the grout must, we should imagine, be very small and a long way off.”

Those blazing the trail for Horsham Football Club in those historic first matches included:

  • E J Bostock (captain)
  • W H Hubert (spectator)
  • A W Rawlison
  • W G Sharp
  • C Sharp
  • J Sharp
  • H Mickell
  • Rev G McLean
  • H Hall
  • W Knight

In being founded during the latter stages of 1870, Horsham Football Club could lay claim to being the oldest football club in the county and older than the likes of Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Everton, Manchester United and Liverpool. However, due to the sporadic nature of its fixtures and the difficulties in finding enough local men to put together a side, the club effectively drifted into the ether and it wasn’t until 1881 that it reformed.

For this reason, and while keen to acknowledge the part played by those early pioneers, it is 1881 that the club acknowledges as the year of its formation.

We want you to help us mark this anniversary by posting photos of you wearing your club colours today to our social media channels, with the tag #Hornets150, and we’ll share it with our supporters!

And as we announced yesterday, we are running a sale on ALL leisurewear on our club shop through to Friday 26th February. To get 20% off all hoodies, zip ups and polos, all you have to do is enter the promotional code ‘HFCSPRING21’ when checking out.

Access the club shop HERE


  1. Mark Butler says:

    What a fascinating account of that first match 150 years ago; and I love the photo at the top of the item. Happy Birthday to us all!

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