As we all settle down to enjoy the trials, tribulations and heroic moments of the 2014 world Cup; few would connect the beautiful game with railways. Yet the early story of football is thoroughly intertwined with the story of Railways.
The creation of a national rail network made the national sports calendar possible. In 1879, Queens Park FC of Glasgow travelled to Manchester on Friday night, played on Saturday afternoon, returning the same evening. Of course, England had been playing internationals since 1872, however, the key for the mass game was founding of the football league in 1888. These were teams of working men, who drew mass support from the working classes.
To the railway companies the Football League offered predictable fan flows, to specific locations, at specific times. As early as the 1880’s White Heart Lane station handled 10,000 passengers on Match days. In 1908 The Cheshire Lines Committee estimated that the Old Trafford halt would yield 220,000 extra passengers a year, with recites of £2,950 from home fans. In an age when railways held large fleets of carriages; it was easy to run football ball specials one week and holiday specials the next.
Cup finals were the peak of the football season and for the railway companies, the crowing effort of the season. Tottenham Hotspur feature in a pre-world war one record, when a crowed of 110,000 people watched them play Sunderland in an FA Cup Final at Chrystal Palace. The London Brighton & South Coast Railway reporting that they transported over 50, 000 fans within London alone.
The trend continued with the first Wembley final in 1923, when the railways moved 126,047. Amazingly, another 100,000 fans entered the ground; those who failed to get in, flooded back to the trains, forcing some rapid re-working of the railways schedules. The fact that railways coped with this sudden rush, is a brilliant demonstration of their organisational flexibility.
The close relationship between football and the railways began to unravel in the 1960’s; as the private car became the preferred form of match day travel. By the 1970’s violence and vandalism was forcing British Rail to question its interest in running football specials. Having their stations besieged by drunken fans; upsetting the ordinary passengers, was not exactly the way to sell the joys of train travel to a public falling in love with the car.
Today, railways are back in fashion and that includes as a way to get to football. Teams like Liverpool and Bolton are rumoured to be regular train users and as a fan myself, I can confirm that my match day travel, is in the company of other supporters. NRM has a rich seam of football related resources and to help you make best use of it, we have produced a Football Resource Pack. To find out more, just follow the link and enjoy the golden moments from the national game.