Darwen Football Club was an association football club from Darwen in Lancashire, North West England. The team, formed in 1870, was an early pioneer of professional football in Northern England, reaching the semi-finals of the 1880–81 FA Cup. They were a Football League member from 1891 to 1899. Darwen joined the Lancashire League in 1900 and remained in regional football afterwards. They last played in the First Division of the North West Counties Football League in 2008–09, when the club was wound-up. A successor team, A.F.C. Darwen, was founded soon after. Darwen played their home games at the Anchor Ground.
|Full name||Darwen Football Club|
|2008–09||North West Counties League|
Division Two, 13th
In October 1878, at their Barley Bank ground, Darwen played a representative team from Blackburn under floodlights. This is believed to be one of the first, if not the very first instance of their use in football. The game was a huge success (not only because Darwen won 3–0) but the experiment was not repeated in that era.
Darwen was the first club from Northern England to achieve any success in the FA Cup, reaching the quarter finals in 1879. They caused controversy in this competition by signing two professional players, Fergie Suter and James Love, both from Partick FC, a Scottish club based in Glasgow. This is believed to be the first involvement of professional players in English football. One London club proposed that "no side which does not consist entirely of amateurs, as defined by the rules to be drawn up by the committee, be entitled to compete in the Challenge Cup competition". (Note the words "rules to be drawn up", which imply that there was no rule forbidding professionals at the time.) The motion was defeated and Darwen travelled down to the Oval to play the great amateur side Old Etonians in the quarter-final. They needed to make the journey three times, drawing 5–5 and 2–2 before losing 6–2 in the second replay.
An FA Cup regulation of that time ruled that the final three rounds of the competition were to be played in London. This was changed following Darwen's experiences in 1879, and entries were subsequently grouped by region.
Two years later, in 1881, Darwen went one better and reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup. They beat Romford 15–0 in the quarter-final.
In 1891 Darwen were elected to the Football League as it was expanded to 14 teams. In March 1892 they lost 12–0 to West Bromwich Albion, and this winning margin has never been surpassed in the League's top division (although it was equalled in 1909 when Nottingham Forest beat Leicester Fosse by the same score).
Darwen finished bottom of the League in their first season and were relegated to become founder members of the Second Division, the first club to suffer in-League relegation. Ironically, 14th (out of 14) in 1891–92 remains their highest ever placing in the Football League.
In 1893 they finished in third place and were promoted back to the First Division via the test matches, but they were relegated again in 1894. They remained in the Second Division until 1899, when they did not apply for re-election. They had spent eight seasons in the League, two of them in the top flight.
During their last season as a League club, in 1898–99, Darwen suffered 18 consecutive defeats. This remains a record, although Sunderland narrowly avoided equalling it in 2003, when they lost 17 consecutive League games (15 in the F.A. Premier League and two in the Football League First Division) before beating Preston North End 2–0 at Deepdale. They also set a record for the most goals conceded by a team in any Football League season, with 141.
After leaving the Football League the club joined the Lancashire League. It was also in 1899 that they moved from Barley Bank to the Anchor Ground.
In 1902 they won the Lancashire League title, remaining unbeaten all season. Two years later they joined the Lancashire Combination, and they played in this league for the following 70 years (apart from a break during and immediately after World War I).
Darwen won 5 trophies in the three years from 1930 to 1933, including the Lancashire Combination title (1931 and 1932). In the 1931–32 season FA Cup, they beat Football League side Chester in front of a 10,000 crowd at the Anchor Ground and were rewarded with an away draw at reigning league champions Arsenal in the 3rd round. Darwen lost by 11 (eleven) goals to 1 but Arsenal were so impressed with Lancashire sportsmanship that they presented their visitors with a set of their own red strip, which Darwen have worn more or less ever since.
They were champions of the Combination four times, and following the fourth title in 1976 they joined the more prestigious Cheshire County League. Six years later, in 1982, they became founder members of the North West Counties League. They won the League Cup in its inaugural season. They spent three seasons in the Second Division in the mid-1980s, and were relegated again in 1998 on account of ground regulations. They have remained in the Second Division ever since.
On 22 December 2003 Carlsburg Tetley tried to wind up Darwen Football and Social Club. The club avoided liquidation on that occasion. On 14 April 2008 another winding up petition was brought by the Bee radio station in respect of £8,000 owed for advertising. Plans were made for Blackburn with Darwen Council to buy the Anchor Ground. Following two further petitions for liquidation brought by Thwaites Brewery and ING Lease UK and their refusal of an offer of 25p in the pound, on 14 May 2009 the Darwen Club was wound up in the High Court. The 134-year-old Darwen F.C. therefore ceased to exist.
League and cup record
- 1879–80 – Winners of the first ever Lancashire Cup competition defeating Blackburn Rovers in the Final.
- 1880–81 – FA Cup semi-finalists (after beating Romford 15–0 in quarter-finals)
- 1889–90 – Founder member of Football Alliance
- 1891–92 – Elected into Football League
- 1892–93 – Not re-elected into First Division, but elected as a founder member of Football League Division Two. Promoted after Test Match
- 1893–94 – Relegated after Test Match
- 1899 – Did not seek re-election to Football League
- 1899–00 – Joined Lancashire League
- 1901–02 – Lancashire League Champions
- 1902–03 – Lancashire League runner-up (on goal average)
- 1903–04 – Joined Lancashire Combination Division One
- 1905–06 – Lancashire Combination runner-up
- 1909 – Relegated to Division Two
- 1914 – Left Lancashire Combination
- 1920–21 – Rejoined Lancashire Combination
- 1930–31 – Lancashire Combination Champions
- 1931–32 – Lancashire Combination Champions (2nd time)
- 1963 – Relegated to Division Two
- 1965–66 – Promoted to Division One
- 1967 – Relegated to Division Two
- 1967–68 – Lancashire Combination Division Two runner-up
- 1971–72 – Lancashire Combination Champions (3rd time)
- 1973–74 – Lancashire Combination runner-up (on goal average)
- 1974–75 – Lancashire Combination Champions (4th time)
- 1975–76 – Joined Cheshire County League
- 1982–83 – Founder members of North West Counties League
- 1984 – Relegated to Division Two
- 1984–85 – Escaped relegation due to Padiham having 2 points deducted
- 1986–87 – Promoted to Division One
- 1998 – Demoted to Division Two due to ground gradings
- Best league position: 14th (of 14) in (only division) Football League, 1891–92; or 15th of 16 in 1893–94 in the 1st Division of the Football League.
- Best (post-war) league position: 5th in North-West Counties League (then level 8), 1988–89
- Best FA Cup performance: semi-final, 1880–81. (Post-war: 4th qualifying round, 1946–47)
- Best FA Trophy performance: 2nd round replay (three times) in 1972–73, 1978–79 and 1981–82.
- Best FA Vase performance: 3rd round 1990–91
- Lancashire Combination Champions 1931, 1932, 1972, 1975.
Runners-up 1906 1974
Notable former players & managers
- Joe Smith (player-manager), formerly manager of Blackpool for 23 years, guiding them to victory in the famous FA Cup Final of 1953
- Horace Fairhurst, former Blackpool player who died as a result of a head injury sustained during a game.
- Wayne Watkins, former manager. Now scout at Brighton & Hove Albion
- Norman Bell (player-manager), former forward with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers
- Sam Wadsworth Started his career with Darwen F.C. Played 9 times for England, captaining the team on four occasions and was captain of Huddersfield Town when they achieved the League Championship treble 1923-24, 1924-25 and 1925-26. He won the FA Cup with them in 1922.
- Fergus Suter Arguably the world's first professional footballer. He joined Darwen F.C in 1878. He made a controversial move to Blackburn Rovers in 1880. He appeared in four FA Cup finals, gaining three winner's medals.
In popular culture
In August 2017 a play called "The Giant Killers" was produced at The Edinburgh Fringe festival, telling the story of the formation of the club and their 1878/79 cup run. The play was produced by The Long Lane Theatre Company. The play then toured the country with the support of The Arts Council England. On the 19th October 2018 it was performed, to standing ovations, in Darwen at The Library Theatre.
- Butler, Bryon (1998). 100 Seasons of League Football. England: Queen Anne Press. p. 392. ISBN 1852915951.
- England Players' Club Affiliations – Darwen
- Darwen at the Football Club History Database
Darwen Football Club Memories, by Breeze, Paul (Posh Up North Publishing: Nelson, 2001) ISBN 978-0953978243