This is the story of a team of working class men from a small mining community in the East Shropshire Coalfield, whose attempts to retain the Shropshire FA Cup had been, in their eyes, thwarted by the unscrupulous ‘County Townites’ of the Shropshire FA. The story of St. Georges expulsion from the 1886-87 Cup is an extraordinary one.

Had a gigantic bomb-shell exploded in our midst, had a thunderbolt fallen amongst us, neither could have occasioned greater consternation, deeper interest or more widespread excitement than has been caused by the disqualification of St. Georges by the Shropshire Association.

So wrote the correspondent for the Wellington Journal and Shrewsbury News in 1887. Both the History of the Shropshire Football Association and The History of Shrewsbury Town Football Club will tell you that Shrewsbury Town FC were the winners of the 1886-87 County Challenge Cup. This is the truth of how that came about, not on the pitch, but in the committee room. 

Beaten by Oswestry Town in the 1884-85 Challenge Cup Final, St. Georges – affectionately known as ‘The Dragons’ – were obviously keen to go one step further the following year. A crowd of 5,000 men and women had turned out to see the 1885-86 final, a tense match with local rivals Wellington Town, which ended in a draw. The replay, which was held in Shrewsbury, attracted fewer spectators, some 3,500. Those fans who stayed behind received news of the 3-1 St. Georges win by carrier pigeon, and made up for their non-attendance with a wholehearted welcome when the team arrived back in St. Georges:- 

The station and all along the road being thronged with a most excited crowd. As the time drew near for the arrival of the train, the excitement increased. The road leading from the Great Western Station at Oakengates was lined (with people). A wagonette drawn by two grey horses was brought, into which the players seated themselves. Pearce, the captain, rode in front with the much-coveted trophy in his hand. The St. Georges Brass Band played The Conquering Hero. The team were taken by the wagonette to the Elephant & Castle public house.


Regularly used as a clubhouse, the pub would have had a busy night as the community indulged in celebration. The players, and the officials who would stoutly defend them a year later, were all local; while the officials were generally middle class, the footballers were miners, engineers, labourers and blacksmiths. Their commitment to the club was total, and the victories of St. Georges Football Club excited the local community, just as Telford United’s FA Cup success a century later boosted the morale of the New Town. 

Twelve months after their win, the Dragons and their supporters anticipated another Cup success. St. Georges had already beaten Shrewsbury in a friendly match before they met them in the semi-final, at which 2,500 spectators saw St. Georges emerge victorious by a margin of 1-0. 

St. Georges Football Team medal, 1885-6 [1998.419].

Excitement began to build towards another momentous final against close neighbours Wellington but, in the days following the semi-final, news came that Shrewsbury, furious at the result, had called for a meeting of the Shropshire FA to be held at the Lion Hotel, attended by representatives from football clubs from all over the county. That they arrived on time is amazing – St. Georges’ Chairman Dr Justin McCarthy was only given notice on the morning of the meeting. Furthermore, he was given no prior notice of the seven indictments raised against his club. At the meeting, the first five of these claims were dismissed instantly, referring as they did to fact during play. They included an unfit, unfairly marked pitch, a spectator invasion of the pitch, the rough play of St. Georges and a wrongly disallowed goal. But it was the sixth point which stirred up the hornets’ nest – Shrewsbury stated that “St. Georges had professional players not fit to play”. 

Responding on behalf of St. Georges, Dr McCarthy did not deny that most, if not all, of their players were registered professionals. In those days, a professional did not make a living from his skills, but if he could not afford to miss work, then he might be re-imbursed for lost wages. Dr McCarthy went on to argue that the Shropshire FA had no rule forbidding professional players. The Chairman of the Shropshire FA countered that neither was there a rule allowing professionalism. Happy with such logic, the Chairman awarded Shrewsbury the tie, though no report states whether the case actually went to a vote. Dr McCarthy accepted the ruling; it was, he said, “evident that they would be knocked out by hook or by crook”. But the matter did not end there. The dispute ran in the newspapers for many weeks, with letters and comment debating the decision. Moreover, the community of St. Georges responded to adversity with all the unity that they had welcomed the previous year’s success. Meetings were called at the National Schools in St. Georges at which attendances were so large that both the girls’ and boys’ schools were crowded. The meetings included local businessmen and prominent members of the club. It was resolved not to give up the trophy, and a collection raised £60 (equivalent to nearly half the club’s annual budget) to defend any legal action which might be taken up by the now villainous Shropshire FA. 

St Georges Football Team of the early 1880s with (back row, left to right) John Ryder, Will Bentley, Jimmy Roden, R.F. Dickie (Treasurer), Jabez Pickering, Alf Hill, and Adam Luter (Goalkeeper), and (front row, left to right), William Williams (Scarratt), Jack Pickering, Will Phillips, John Cartwright, Benny Pearce (Captain), and Dick Jones [1998.418].

In a bid to re-inforce their action, the Shropshire FA officially incorporated the word ‘amateur’ into their title. But public sympathy seems to have been with St. Georges. Sergeant Lynell, on behalf of the Officers of the Auxiliary Forces, publicly expressed their disgust at the treatment of St. Georges, and Member of Parliament Colonel Kenyon Slaney declined the presidency of the County FA. The furore was not merely local with national papers running the story, the Athletic News taking issue with the Shropshire FA for having no rules relating to the issue of professionalism. The Athlete went further, suggesting that the National FA should refuse to recognise the Shropshire offshoot. 

Nevertheless, the County Association rode out the storm, and Shrewsbury Town FC went on to draw with Wellington in the re-arranged Final. Even then, rather than settle matters in a replay, the clubs agreed that they would hold the cup for six months each. Thus, St. Georges, arguably the best team in Shropshire at the time, suffered the indignity of disqualification from the County’s premier competition, whilst Shrewsbury Town FC came to be holders of the 1886-87 Challenge Cup. It was a remarkable achievement for Shrewsbury, a club which had failed to win either the semi-final or the final of that year’s competition! 

Jim Cooper – Volunteer, Museum Library.