Athletic Atcherleys: Football in the family tree – Part 1

Back in the day I was quite a good runner, but football was never my forte (my favourite position when participating in school soccer matches during PE was right back – in the changing rooms). The ‘beautiful game’ was definitely enjoyed by some of my Atcherley cousins however. With the World Cup currently well under way, this feels like a good time to kick off a match report on those athletic Atcherleys who played on the pitch or supported from the sidelines.

Pre-match analysis

Football (or foot-ball as it was referred to in the past) has a long and not always glorious history. It was played in Scotland in the Middle Ages, and in 1478 “foteball” was one of several “pleys” (games) which were banned on the basis that they distracted men from archery practice! Boisterous, no-holds-barred, mass-participation matches took place annually around Shrovetide in a number of places in Britain for many years. There is a record of “some of the townesmen and yowght of Chesterton [playing] foteball” on “Shrovetewsdaye” in 1581; the picture above meanwhile depicts a football game between Thames and Townsend at Kingston upon Thames in 1846! A quick look at the digitised papers of the British Newspaper Archive reveals mentions of the sport from the early 1700s, including this insight from the Ipswich Journal of 8 October 1726:

Bath, Oct. 4. Yesterday a new and extraordinary Entertainment was set on Foot for the Divertion of our polite Gentry; and what should it be but a Match at Foot-Ball, play’d by six young Women of a Side, at the Bowling Green : Cards, Dice, Concerts, Plays, Ball, &c. are the common Entertainments of the Week; but for want of these, in Publick, on Sundays, the Meeting sometimes serves for an Amusement.

When the River Tyne froze over in January 1739, “Foot-ball” was one of the “Diversions […] daily pursued thereon” (along with sliding, jumping and running); similarly in January 1740 when the Thames froze at Brentford, booths were erected and “Nine-pins, Foot-ball, &c.” were played on it. Organised matches could attract large crowds even in the mid-eighteenth century, particularly if they were part of a wider programme of public spectator sports. When a “great Match at Cricket at Newmarket” was played by noblemen and gentlemen in the summer of 1751, “for the Diversion of the Populace, there was Cocking, Smock-Racing, Camping or Foot-ball, Wrestling and Cudgelling” (the mind boggles!), and “there were above 6000 People to see a great Match at Foot-Ball”.

Football matches were played informally by groups of young men, and more formally by the gentry – when wagers were sometimes involved. In 1755, John Place had a notice published in the Ipswich Journal “to acquaint all Lovers of that manly Exercise of Foot-Ball Playing, That there will be Ten Hats play’d for on Bury Race-Ground, by Ten Men on a Side, on Saturday the 24th of May”. Matches – even between the gentry –could involve some very dirty fouls, and ill-tempered pitch invasions: football violence is nothing new. According to the Derby Mercury of 1 November 1771 (reprinting a report from the London Evening Post):

 “Last Monday a Foot-ball Match was played upon Heath Common, betwixt the Gentlemen of Sharlston, and the Gentlemen of Crofton, two neighbouring Villages, near Wakefield in Yorkshire, for forty Guineas a Side. After they had played full two Hours, in which Time there were a great many smart falls and ill Bruises given on both Sides, the Gentlemen of Sharlston got the first Goal. On beginning a second Time, two of the Gentlemen of opposite Parties met together at the Ball with such violence, that one of them had his Leg broke, and the other his Shoulder dislocated. The Mob immediately rushed in, in such a Manner, that they obliged to give out, and it cannot be decided until the two gentlemen get sound again, as neither of the Parties are willing to yield. There was some damage sustained by the rudeness of the Mob. A fine Boy, about Eight Years of Age, was thrown down among them, and unfortunately trod to Death.—It is very surprising, that Persons, who call themselves Gentlemen, should be so fond of encouraging such dangerous Exercises.”

Let’s fast-forward into Victorian times, when football became more standardised (“Cambridge Rules” were adopted by Cambridge University and many public schools in 1848), organised (the English Football Association was formed in 1863), and more popular (even clergymen became involved with the sport). This was also the era during which newspapers began to devote more space to reports on football matches – and started to include the names of the players.

Team Marton

David Francis Atcherley junior [] (1818–1887), of Marton Hall in Shropshire, attended Harrow School between 1832 and 1835. It is therefore entirely possible that he played Harrow football, a form of the game ancestral to modern association football, in which a ‘ball’ shaped like a pork pie was used (and still is today – see picture, right). Unfortunately I have no direct evidence that he did play, but I daresay he was at least a spectator either at school or in later life. Football was one of the sports engaged in by the wives of the labourers of Middle and the surrounding area the during the celebrations which followed David’s marriage (see Bride and Joy: Celebrating an Atcherley marriage). David was also present at the combined ‘Harvest Home’ and coming of age celebrations for Alfred Edward William Darby in 1871, when “a number of sports, including football, racing, &c., were thoroughly enjoyed.”

If David’s connections with football were tenuous, those of two of his nephews were much stronger. In an obituary for Francis (Frank) Robinson Hartland Atcherley [] (1865–1895) it was stated that: “During his residence in the neighbourhood of Oswestry Mr Atcherley took a lively interest in public matters. … An athletic, well-developed figure himself, Mr Atcherley took a warm interest in popular games; he was one of the vice-presidents of the Oswestry United Football Club, and he often appeared as an interested spectator on the football field.”

The other nephew, Frank’s brother Llewellyn William Atcherley [] (1871–1854), was also fond of a bit of footie. He played a vital role as Captain of the team representing the Shropshire County Police Force (of which he was then Chief Constable) when they faced the soccer squad of Shrewsbury Borough Police Force on 17 January 1907:

Teams selected from the County and Borough Police Forces met at Copthorne yesterday, in favourable weather and before a good gate. Considerable interest was taken in the match, as the Mayor (Councillor T. Corbett), had promised to kick off, and the two Chief-Constables (Major Atcherley and Mr. Baxter) were playing, while Councillor J. Bowdler, an old Town player and football enthusiast, acted as referee. The County were the best team on the whole, and Major Atcherley led his forwards with such skill and firmness that although the Borough defence made a stubborn stand they were fairly beaten. The spectators thoroughly enjoyed the game, many of its incidents being most mirth provoking. As the result of some smart work by Major Atcherley, P.C. Teece scored the first goal for the County. The Major played well throughout, and although his efforts were often nullified by Chief-Constable Baxter, shortly before the interval he placed a second goal to the credit of the County. Half-time: County Police two; Borough Police none. In the second half the Borough put more spirit into their play, but their own goalkeeper scored against them once, and P.C. Powell added a fourth point to the County score. The Borough were having slightly the best of matters towards the close, and P.C. Price scored their only goal. Final: Shropshire County Police four; Shrewsbury Borough Police one.

Lowther (Re)United

It wasn’t just Atcherley men like the above-mentioned Frank who “took a lively interest in public matters” and supported their local football team. From the latter part of the 1930s, for about 30 years, Kathleen Mary Atcherley [] (1989–1978) lived at Lowther Newton in what was then Westmorland (now Cumbria, in north-west England). In 1937, when lack of support led to the decision to disband Lowther United Football Club, a special meeting was held thanks to the efforts of the Rev Harold Ainscow. “Eventually it was agreed to carry on the club as Lowther United”, reported the Penrith Observer of 5 October 1937. Anthony Lowther of Askham Hall was elected President of the club, and the Vice-presidents included the Rev Ainscow and Kathleen Atcherley. Kathleen may have taken on this post in memory of the footballing feats of her late father Roger, about whom you will read very shortly.

The Welsh national football team in 1900. I am not aware of any Atcherley footballers playing at anything other than a local level!

Back-to-back Atcherleys

I have found reports of several Atcherleys playing football either as ‘backs’ (probably full-backs in today’s formations) or in one case a half-back (nowadays a midfield position). The half-back was Charles Hedley Atcherley [] (1889–1975), who played for the Royal North West Mounted Police (the ‘red coats’) in Canada before the First World War. Playing against ‘the bankers’ in April 1913, “The mounted police showed a decided improvement over their previous playing, the bankers lacking their usual combination.” The bankers however made “good shots from the wing” and the result was a 2-2 draw.

Those playing in defensive positions rarely experienced the glory of goal-scoring, but their role in preventing the opposition from doing so was just as valuable. Roger Atcherley [] (1865–1936), father of the aforementioned Kathleen, performed this role with great success for Eccles against Stretford in 1885:

This match was played on Saturday at Stretford and resulted in a win for Eccles by two goals to nil. Stretford won the toss and elected to play with the wind, which was blowing very strongly, but they could not break through the good defence of the Eccles backs, Eccles having hard lines on two or three occasions in not scoring. Nothing was scored in the first half. Upon changing ends Eccles commenced to press their opponents, and, though the wind had completely died away and was therefore of no service to them, they were continually shooting at goal (their own goal keeper playing with the half backs), and but for the excellent defence of the Stretford goal keeper the Eccles score would have been much larger, the game finally ending as above. Teams:—Eccles: E. Murray, goal; R. Atcherley and H. B. Edge, backs; F. Harper (captain), H. Murray, and O. Hall, half backs; Doyle and F. Sugden, forwards; T. Whittaker, right wing; Narey, left wing; J. J. Wood, centre. Stretford: […]

Edward John Atcherley [] (1867–1941) was also a defender on the football field although, on the evidence of the single report I have found of him playing, he was not as successful as Roger. Along with the Rev A N Scott he was a back for St Mark’s Young Mens’ Friendly Society Football Club when they played at home (in Swindon) against Wantage Football Club in December 1884. “Play for the first half was of a very even character, one goal each being scored. On changing ends, however, the Wantage team succeeded in gaining two more goals, and the home team’s efforts to score being ineffectual, the visitors thus won by 3 goals to 1.” The goalkeeper for St Mark’s incidentally was, like Edward’s fellow back, a clergyman, the Rev H D Butler.

Edward’s brother George Atcherley (1870–1945) was a more prolific player of soccer. My own great uncle Henry (Harry) Atcherley (1891–1953) was also a keen kicker of the ball in his youth. I will tell tales of their exploits in the second half of this story.

Picture credits.Thames v Townsend football game, 1846: Adapted from a public domain image at Wikimedia Commons. Harrow football: Photo by Wikimedia Commons contributor Cjat1979, used under a Creative Commons licence. Welsh national football team, 1900: Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.


[1] Keith Gregson (2012), Sporting Ancestors.
[2] Hollie L S Morgan (2017), Beds and Chambers in Late Medieval England. Page 118. Copy previewed at Google Books.
[3] James Heywood, Thomas Wright (1854), Cambridge University transactions during the Puritan controversies of the 16th and 17th centuries. Volume I, page 305. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[4] Ipswich Journal, 8 Oct 1726, page 3. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[5] Newcastle Courant, 12 Jan 1739, page 3. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[6] Ipswich Journal, 12 Jan 1740, page 2. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[7] Derby Mercury, 5 Jul 1751, page 2. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[8] Ipswich Journal, 10 May 1755, page 3. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[9] Derby Mercury, 1 Nov 1771, page 3. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[10] R Courtenay Welch and M G Dauglish (eds.) (1901), The Harrow School Register, 1801—1900. Page 129.
[11] Harrow football. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 23 Jun 2018).
[12] Harrow school ball. Early 19th century. At: National Football Museum website, accessed 23 Jun 2018.
[13] Jack Rollin et al (1999-2017), Football. Copy viewed at Encyclopedia Britannica website, 24 Jun 2018.
[14] Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 15 Sep 1871, page 6. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[15] Rhyl Journal, 23 Nov 1895, page 2. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[16] Shrewsbury Chronicle, 18 Jan 1907, page 5. Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive (search term Atcheriev).
[17] Penrith Observer, 5 Oct 1937, page 6. Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
[18] Association football positions. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 24 Jun 2018).
[19] Lethbridge Herald, 7 Apr 1913, page 6. “Bankers and Police Tied”. Copy viewed at University of Lethbridge Digital Collections.
[20] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 9 Feb 1885, page 3. “FOOTBALL NOTES.” Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[21] The Swindon Advertiser, Wilts, Berks and Gloster Chronicle, 13 Dec 1884, page 8. “Football”. Copy viewed at Findmypast.