CLAPHAM is a trendy part of London that has become a magnet for young professional people. After years as an unfashionable location, Clapham once more attracts the monied classes. Back in the 19th century, the area around the common was populated by wealthy merchants. It was also the home of the Clapham Sect, a group that championed the cause of Victorian morality through its work and writing.
Today’s Clapham residents probably do not realise their neighbourhood once played host to the FA Cup winners. Clapham Rovers, a team of architects, solicitors and athletes won the competition in 1879-80. In their fancy “cerise and french grey” shirts, the Rovers, who played on Clapham, Wandsworth or Tooting commons, had a good run in the FA Cup for a few years, reaching two finals and a semi-final in the process. They were a rather unique “hybrid” club as they played both Rugby and “Association”. In 1871, they were one of the teams participating in the inaugural FA Cup, and it was a Clapham man, Jarvis Kenrick, who scored the first ever FA Cup as the Rovers beat Upton Park 3-0.
In 1879, they reached the FA Cup final, but lost 1-0 to Old Etonians in the final at the Oval.
A year later, they went one better, beating the much celebrated Oxford University side. On the way to the final, Clapham beat Romford (7-0), South Norwood (4-1), Pilgrims (7-0), Hendon (2-0) and in the quarter-finals, gained revenge on the Eton lads (1-0). This was a vital win as once the holders were out of the way, the path was clear to the final.
Strangely, they received a bye in the semi. In the final, again at the Oval, a goal from the memorably-named Clopton Lloyd-Jones, a Welsh international, was enough to beat the “Oxonians”. The winning effort came 10 minutes from the end of the game, England inside forward Sparks dribbling with the ball and Lloyd-Jones “kicking” it past the Oxford goalkeeper. It was enough to win the cup on a very breezy afternoon for the 6,000 crowd at the Oval. The Clapham Rovers team that won the cup on April 10, 1880 was: Reginald Birkett, Robert Ogilvie, Edgar Field, Vincent Weston, Norman Bailey, Arthur Stanley, Harold Brougham, Francis Sparks, F.Barry, Edward Ram, Clopton Lloyd-Jones. Clapham’s team was an assortment of characters. Goalkeeper Reginald Birkett was a renowned sportsman and played for England at both Rugby and Football. He scored the first-ever England try. Robert Ogilvie, a full back capped by England, worked at Lloyds of London, while Norman Bailey was a lawyer and a “very safe half back with plenty of dash and judgement”.
Arthur Stanley, a half back, was a proficient tennis player and appeared at Wimbledon between 1881 and 1885. Edward Ram, meanwhile, was a famous architect, highly acclaimed in Hong Kong. Ram was a small, dapper man, who was never seen without his trademark straw boater. Ram was an artist on the field and also a talented watercolourist. Clopton Lloyd-Jones, a youngster with an eye for goal, was an excellent cricketer. Francis Sparks, who was also a member of the Wanderers club, captained England at football.
Clapham began their defence of the cup in fine style, beating Finchley 15-0, the Swifts 2-1 and Upton Park 5-4 before losing in the fifth round to eventual winners Old Carthusians.
The club, in its Victorian era form, is thought to have continued until the first world war. There is a Clapham Rovers FC playing today at Raynes Park, in the Sportsmans Senior Sunday League. Although it’s not the same club, they can claim that their long lost ancestors have a very interesting history.