1905 Claim

The current Crystal Palace FC claims to be the oldest professional football club in the world. It says its origins can be traced to the old Crystal Palace club that was active from 1861-76. This claim has been rejected by football historians as all the evidence suggests otherwise. Here are some questions that can be answered…

Didn’t the Crystal Palace Company own the cricket and football clubs?

No, this is false. Both clubs were independently run. The Company however owned the ground where the cricket club and the football club played for part of its existence. The members of the football and cricket club were Victorian gentlemen amateurs. They would be horrified at being thought of as being part of a commercial enterprise.

On January 9, 1865, the Maidstone Journal and Kentish Advertiser reported that Kent County Cricket Club wanted to use the Crystal Palace Park ground for its matches. However, the newspaper wrote that Kent would have to seek permission from the cricket club as it was the leaseholders of the ground.

The newspaper said the Company was happy to offer the facilities but “the ground, however, was at present let to the Crystal Palace Club, and it would be incumbent upon him [the Kent chief] to make inquiries of that club relative to the matter.

The football club used Crystal Palace Park (owned by the Crystal Palace Company) like other independent sports clubs, including the Crystal Palace Athletics Club and the Ice Skating Club.

The football club moved away for two seasons to Penge, and were homeless for another season. They almost folded before returning to play again in Crystal Palace Park in 1868. This shows that they were not under the control or ownership of the Crystal Palace Company.

There is no mention of the old Crystal Palace FC or any of its members in the Crystal Palace FC Official Minute book 1905-17 when the second Crystal Palace FC was formed.

In the May 10, 1945 edition of the Croydon Advertiser, one of its reporters asked the General Manager of the Crystal Palace Company about “this first Crystal Palace”. Sir Henry Buckland “made inquiries without finding any records or being able to gain any information about any other club”.

Anyway, isn’t there a 30-year gap in results between the clubs?

Yes. There are no results because there was not a CPFC in existence between 1875 and 1905. The first CPFC played their final game in December 1875 and no games were played after that date by the first CPFC. The club no longer appeared in the Football Annuals from the 1876 edition.

The current Crystal Palace was established in 1905 and its results start from the 1905/06 season.

A team calling itself Crystal Palace played three exhibition matches in Crystal Palace Park between 1895-97 but it was made up of players from Corinthians and other clubs.

Did the newspapers in 1905 report a continuation between the first and second Crystal Palace FC clubs?

No. All contemporary newspapers and magazines from the time report the club as being a new enterprise. There is no mention of a continuation or any association with the previous CPFC. These are examples from the media:

The Norwood News (May 6, 1905)
“In the opinion of those interested in football, the new venture will be a great attraction for South London, and there is every prospect of success.”

The Sporting Life (May 6, 1905)
“Mr J Robson, late secretary of Middlesbrough Club… has been appointed secretary of the new Crystal Palace club.”

Edinburgh News (August 17, 1905)
“The opening season of London’s new club at the Crystal Palace is being regarded with some interest. The club has leased the Palace ground for five seasons.”

The Sportsman (September 1, 1905).
“This season has seen two new clubs spring into existence, viz Chelsea and Crystal Palace…”

How about the club publications?

The club produced a handbook in 1906 which covered the previous season.

The Introductory Notes on page 5 say it’s the “first handbook of the Crystal Palace Football Club” looking back on “the club’s formation” and its “first season”.

On page 8, there is a review of season 1905-06 and the article refers to the “newly-formed Crystal Palace Football Club” and the “new venture”.

It continues on page 13: “Rarely indeed has a club established a better record in its first season than did the Palace club…”

It talks about a new club and there is no mention of an amateur club or references to any matches played in the past.

But it does mention the old Crystal Palace team?

A list of football ‘Records and Facts’ appears on the last page of the handbook. It has facts such as record football gate money and the number of players registered in the English league. These types of pages are common in handbooks and matchday programmes of the time.

In the middle of the page, it mentions that the old Crystal Palace Team provided three England internationals (the article misses out the three-times capped Charles Chenery).

You can see the context in the Crystal Palace FC 1906-7 handbook

What about any other publications?

In 1947, the Glazier Gazette – the official magazine of the Crystal Palace Supporters’ Club – appealed for information and photographs for a forthcoming history of the club.

It read: “To prevent misunderstanding, it should be pointed out that the Crystal Palace Club in existence before 1905, was a purely amateur concern and had no connection with the present Club.”

Is there a newspaper record of the first CPFC folding?

Yes. On January 17, 1883, the Athletic News confirmed that the club had long been disbanded. It said the team was unable to reach an agreement with the owners of their pitch in Crystal Palace Park.

This was revealed in a match report of a team calling itself Crystal Palace Rovers that played against the Pilgrims, in Walthamstow.

The writer says the idea of Crystal Palace Rovers was “to revive the past glories of the old Crystal Palace Club, which, in its day, was one of the strongest metropolitan societies, but eventually came to grief owing to a misunderstanding with the Palace authorities about their ground.”

So there were issues with finding a home ground to play at?

It was a problem for CPFC throughout its short life. The club initially played in Crystal Palace Park in 1862 on part of the cricket field.

For the 1864/65 and 1865/66 seasons, the club moved and played on a field behind the Crooked Billet pub in Penge. In 1866–67 they were homeless and only three matches are documented..

A match report in Bell’s Life in London, and Sporting Chronicle on December 7, 1867 states that the club “last year appeared likely to become extinct, in consequence of the loss of their ground at Penge and the seeming impossibility of obtaining another to suit them.” The same report says that the club would make “a fresh start… on part of the Crystal Palace Park Cricket Ground.”

The final game played at the Crystal Palace was against Reigate Priory on January 9, 1875. All the games for the remainder of the season and in 1875/76 were played away from home.

By the way, what colours did the team play in?

Both the badge and colours used by the current CPFC to sell its 1861 merchandise have no historical basis and are pure inventions on their part. There was no badge, the club did not have light blue colours and there’s no record of having halved shirts. The most popular shirt design of this period was one-inch hoops. The Football Annuals of the 1860s and 1870s state the club uniform was: “Blue and white jersey, blue serge knickerbockers and dark blue stockings.”

What do the football historians say about it all?

Mark Metcalf and Clive Nicholson have extensively researched the topic and surveyed the country’s football historians.

Mark Metcalf is a journalist and author of many football books, with his speciality being pre-first world war football.

These football historians said: “In 2020 after completing our 1861 or 1905? document we invited football historians to complete a survey, indicating whether there were two separate Crystal Palace clubs or just a single club.

“They were asked to summarise their credentials by stating the number of books they had published, the subject matter and also to indicate the number of years they had been researching football history. Forty responses were obtained. Thirty-seven agreed that the two clubs are not connected.

“Six correspondents chose to remain anonymous. These included two submissions which arrived close together, just before the completion deadline. These were only of the individuals who said the clubs had a single history.

“Of the remainder, 33 of the 34 said that there were two different clubs, with one historian abstaining. Between them, the 33 they had published 253 books and spent 1,014 years in football research.”

Read their findings here: Spiksleycom

What’s the view of the Football Association?

An FA spokesman told The Times newspaper in April 2022: “Amongst those historians, the broad consensus is that there is not a clear, substantial and continuous link from the Crystal Palace club founded in 1861 to that founded in 1905. Therefore, we will continue to recognise both the 1861 and 1905 foundation dates of the clubs named Crystal Palace.” The Times article