On the evening of the 18th of May 1882 at the Bull Hotel in the centre of Burnley, a special committee meeting of a local rugby team called Burnley Rovers was called.
The Bull was a fine establishment, its façade lit by “Old Gawmless,” the lamp in the centre of the street outside, some say because of its “dim” performance, others because it was standing in the middle of the road.
They could have chosen to meet in almost any of the nearly 200 inns, hotels, taverns and beerhouses that had grown up in the hard-working town (despite the efforts of the Temperance Movement) but they chose The Bull because it was the town’s leading hotel, known for its “magnificence” but nick-named “The Folly” by the locals because of its ambitious 40 bedrooms.
Some of the committee members would have arrived on one of the new fangled steam trams introduced into the town the previous year, hissing and clanging along cobbled streets described as, “the most heavily bill posted in the country,” passing Thomas Hoghton’s grocers shop, who advertised on his paper bags that, “Trams pass the door every 15 minutes.”
There’s entrepreneurship for you but he still hedged his traditional bets by having, on the same bag, a picture of an elegant couple arriving at his shop in an open hansom cab.
One or two of the committee might have been late, as there had been a bit of a dispute about the use of steam on certain streets and the new trams had to be pulled by horses for some of the way. If a member had walked from nearby Stoneyholme he’d have passed under the shadow of a giant, three-tier gasholder, only the second to be built in England.
Others perhaps chose to arrive by horse-drawn Cab, oil lamps winking in the fading light.
With the meeting called to order, the evening’s business began.
“It hasn’t been a bad season,” the Rover’s Treasurer told them,” And were it not for our changing facilities being blown down and the access bridge to the ground being washed away, the balance sheet might have presented a different aspect.”
There was applause and the balance sheet adopted unanimously. Two penny or three penny cigars were puffed on, purchased from Joshua Duckworth’s a couple of doors away.
Then, under the yellow light of flickering gas mantles, committee member Mr. Ernest Bradshaw stood up and spoke,
“ I move that the rugby club, in future, play under Association Football rules.”
Without more ado, for I suspect Burnley folk had acquired a reputation for bluntness even then, the motion was passed and a celebratory round of Grimshaw’s Ale was probably ordered.
A few days later, in order to forestall anyone else having the idea, the name of the new venture was changed to “Burnley Football Club”.
The club would play its first match at Turf Moor (still its ground in 2013) on Saturday, 17th of February 1883. A proud day, except that their opponents, neighboring Rawtenstall, ran off winners, beating Burnley Football Club, 6-3.
The first result might have disappointed but if there was ever any sunshine to be sought under the mill town’s sulphuric, rain-soaked skies, the Club’s committee was determined to find it.
In 1888 Burnley Football Club proudly became one of the founder members of the Football League, along with, Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Bolton, Derby, Everton, Notts. County, Preston, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Burnley. Cotton. Football.
The last two words would come to define the town, sometimes to its annoyance but more often to its advantage for decades to come.
125 years later, Burnley Football Club has an established place in the history of professional football and you can tell them that with pride, even in the Copacabana Stadium in Brazil.