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|
|Founded||1870 (1875 as an association 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 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 Jimmy Love, both from Partick F.C., 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. League rules meant that teams couldn't have the same coloured kits and as Notts County had already taken black and white stripes, Darwen adopted a salmon pink top from which their nickname 'The Salmoners' originates. 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 by losing 17 consecutive League games. 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 five 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 wore more or less ever after.
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 remained in the Second Division from then until their winding up.
On 22 December 2003 Carlsberg 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.
Runners-up 1906 1974
North West Counties Football League League Challenge Cup Champions 1982-83
During the early decades of its existence Darwen had a fierce rivalry with Blackburn Rovers with many of their games being dogged by crowd trouble between both sets of fans. The rivalry became increasingly bitter, especially after Fergie Suter left Darwen in order to join Blackburn in 1880.
The teams played each other 8 times competitively with Blackburn winning 7 and Darwen winning 1.
The rivalry died down with the rise of Blackburn and the fall of Darwen with the two teams not meeting again. The rivalry is notable because Ewood Park and Anchor Ground are only 1.5 miles from each other.
Four Darwen players were capped for England.
The full list of England players (with the number of caps received whilst registered with Darwen F.C.) were:
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 19 October 2018 it was performed, to standing ovations, in Darwen at The Library Theatre.
In 2020, the club, their signing of Fergus Suter and their rivalry with Old Etonians was the basis of The English Game a series on Netflix.
Darwen Football Club Memories, by Breeze, Paul (Posh Up North Publishing: Nelson, 2001) ISBN 978-0953978243