Mention ‘Quakers’ to the average football fan and the response is likely to be something to do with Darlington. Darlington FC, founded in 1883, received its nickname because of the importance of Quakerism in the town, and its crest includes a stylised Quaker hat.
However, it wasn’t the only football club with Quaker associations. Two years earlier, in March 1881, the Foxes Football Club was founded at the Friends Institute in Bishopsgate. Although based in London, it too had a Darlington connection: its President for many years was Joseph Whitwell Pease (1828-1903), MP for South Darlington (left).
The Library has two volumes of the Club’s minute books (1881-1908 and 1919-1927. MS VOLS. 276-277), which provide a fascinating insight into the social and sporting life of Friends at the time. The Club didn’t function from 1915 to 1919 because of the First World War.
At first members of the Club had to be members of the Society of Friends or connected in some way with it. The 14 byelaws agreed in 1881 included rule 12, “that any member making himself obnoxious or refusing to conform to the rules of the club be liable to expulsion”, and rule 14, which decreed that “the Club provide no intoxicants”. Any member who was selected and then didn’t play was fined a shilling. The kit was white flannel shirts and trousers with a red band on each arm between the shoulder and elbow.
To the best of our knowledge, no history of the Club exists. The minute books give a vivid picture of its activities, including details of new members, officers and finances, and fixture lists. From them we learn that in October 1889 the Foxes beat Tottenham at West Green 15-0 (just plain Tottenham, not Tottenham Hotspur although they did play against the latter on several occasions). That year they also beat Kensington Rangers 10-2 in the first round of the London Cup held at Acton and in the previous year they were victorious against Guys Hospital 15-0 at White Hart Lane.
The Club was clearly seen as an important social meeting place for many young Friends. Its captain in the early days, Septimus Marten, wrote to the Quaker newspaper, The Friend, to encourage young Quakers to become members, and the minute books are dotted with details of social events.
In 1888 there were long drawn–out plans to hold a soirée “which should consist in the main of a farce and a comedy”. The event was to be held at either the Friends Institute or the Devonshire Hotel, with “a considerable interval for social intercourse and the inspection of interesting objects”. The event was postponed for lack of a suitable venue, and debate about what form it should take continued, with one group wanting “a play in two or three acts interspersed with songs etc., if possible preceded by a tea” and another preferring “more of a social opportunity … [consisting of] a conversazione etc”. In October 1893 the Club planned to entertain the Swarthmore team at the Small Hall of the Highbury Athenaeum, but this was too costly and they instead approached the Institute Committee for permission to hold the event at Devonshire House “with a view of putting the Club to as little expense as possible.” One year the minutes record a simple decision not to admit women to the Club, and on another occasion a proposal that ”female talent be admitted” [their underlining] was lost by 12 votes to 14. The Swarthmore team were not the Club’s only Quaker opponents. They also played against many of the Quaker schools, including Ackworth, Bootham, Saffron Walden and Sibford.
The Club featured in the wider press, particularly in London, as well as the pages of The Friend. The Sportsman records their 1901 tour of Belgium, where they played against Liège, Antwerp and Courtrai.
And in 1892 the Evening News and Post reported a fascinating encounter between the Quaker Foxes and the Scots Guards football team:
“The tie between the 1st Scots Guards and the Foxes ended in a victory for the soldiers by 5-2. This may be a bit of a surprise, but I am told that the Foxes for a number of reasons had to play no less than five of their reserves. In spite of this the score was two all at half time. Then the three half backs of the Foxes were all crippled and the referee allowed a palpably offside goal. I regret to say that the Guards played anything but a gentlemanly match. One of their players who was twice cautioned by the referee for tripping should have been ordered off the field. The referee seems hardly to have known his business. He acknowledged he had made a mistake about allowing one goal. And infringed rule 11 by not appointing neutral linesman in the face of a protest. The Foxes have good grounds for a protest, but as I have had occasion to remark before, they are too good sportsmen for that kind of thing.”