South London Memories: ‘I’m a wanderer, yeah the wanderer, I roam around, around, around’

Wanderers were among the dominant teams of the early years of organised football and won the Football Association Challenge Cup – the FA Cup – five times in its first seven years, including defeating Royal Engineers in the first final in 1872, writes Toby Porter.

They were originally founded as Forest Football Club in 1859, and changed their name to Wanderers in 1864, as they had no permanent home.

Players were mainly former pupils of English public schools.

They won the FA Cup three times in succession during the late 1870s, a feat which has only been repeated once.

The creator of international football and cricket, Crystal Palace-based CW Alcock, the so-called “father of modern sport”, was a leading player and administrator of the early days.

Another player, AF Kinnaird, was regarded as the greatest of his day.

Wanderers FC men’s squad 2019-20.

Forest’s first match was on March 15, 1862, a victory over Crystal Palace – not the modern club of the same name. There were 15 players on each team – and at the time, they could use their hands.

In 1863, Forest was among the founder members of The Football Association and adopted its rules.

The club was playing home matches at Battersea Park and Middlesex County Cricket Club’s Lillie Bridge Grounds.

Then they used Kennington Oval as its semi-permanent home from 1869, where they played 151 times.
The FA Cup was Alcock’s suggestion, open to all member clubs from 1871.

The first final was at the Kennington Oval on March 16, 1872. The club beat the Royal Engineers 1–0 to become the first ever winners, with Morton Betts getting the tap-in winner – albeit under the pseudonym A H Chequer (he was a former member of the Harrow Chequers team).

Wanderers FC women’s team

The following season, under the competition’s original rules, Wanderers, as holders, received a bye all the way to the 1873 final.

There they beat Oxford University 2–0 to retain the cup.

They did not win again until 1876, reached the semi-finals without conceding a goal and drew the final 1–1 with Old Etonians – then won the replay 3–0 to take the trophy for the third time.

They retained it against Oxford University the following year.

Wanderers again dominated the competition in the 1877–78 season, scoring nine goals in both their first and second round matches. Wanderers again beat Royal Engineers in the final to bag an unprecedented third consecutive title.

The rules of the competition stated the trophy would become the permanent property of the winning club, but Alcock returned it to the FA on the condition that the rule be scrapped and no other team could claim it permanently.

In the 1878-79 season, Wanderers lost 7–2 in the first round to an Old Etonians team led by Kinnaird.

By the 1880s the club’s fortunes had declined and it was reduced to playing only an annual match against Harrow School, where many of its founders were educated.

The programme from Wanderers’ match away to Queen’s Park in October 1875

The last recorded match of the original team was a 3-1 defeat by Harrow in December 1887, recorded in The Times newspaper.

In 2009, more than 120 years after the last known Wanderers match, a “reformed” Wanderers club was founded, with the approval of descendants of those involved with the original club, to play matches for charity.

In 2011, the club joined the Surrey South Eastern Combination.

They played the Royal Engineers on November 7, 2012 at The Oval in a rematch of the 1872 FA Cup Final, 140 years after the original event.

Wanderers won promotion from the Combination’s Junior Division 4 in 2013, as runners-up.

They bagged a second consecutive promotion as champions of the Junior Division 3 in 2014 – and were promoted to Junior Division 1 the following May.

In 2018, the club raised £10,000 for the regeneration of the playing field of Virgo Fidelis Convent School, Central Hill, Upper Norwood, which became its permanent home last year.

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