Newark Town Football Club celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. Club historian Francis Towndrow details its formation and early years.
Newark Town was founded in 1868 and, in its early days, members were said to have played a style that was a mix of rugby and association football.
Players were not allowed to pick up the ball with their hands but they could take it when it was on the hop or bounce.
There was no hacking — the term given to the tactics of tripping an opponent or kicking his shins — permitted at the time under rugby rules, but disallowed in other forms of football.
The Newark Advertiser gave an account of the first game that Newark Town played against another club.
It took place on Saturday, January 16, 1869 — against Nottingham Forest.
It was played in Balderton at the Grove, and described as a hard-contested game that resulted in a scoreless draw.
Although the weather was said to have been unfavourable, many ladies of the town and neighbourhood honoured the club with their presence.
After initially playing at the Grove, the club moved to a venue between where Winchilsea Avenue and Milner Street now stand.
In the late 1800s the club moved to the Kelham Road cricket field before eventually settling, around 1900, to a ground close to the Castle railway station on Muskham Road, where the livestock market now is.
Newark FC, also known as The Trentsiders, wore white shirts and black shorts.
For smart appearance on special occasions players would wear a blue cap with red tassels.
They joined the Midland Alliance and, afterwards, the Midland League, in which Newark was said to be one of the most important clubs.
In the early 1900s Newark, playing in the Midland League, were matched against the reserve sides of Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Lincoln, Grimsby and other notable teams.
In 1904 a special train was scheduled to leave Newark, travelling via Southwell to Mansfield, because Newark had reached the semi-finals of the Notts Senior Cup.
In front of a crowd of 2,000, Newark defeated Nottingham Forest Reserves 1-0.
The final, a couple of weeks later, was played on Good Friday against Arnold at the City Ground where Newark won 2-0, in front of 4,000 spectators.
The Advertiser, at the end of that famous season, commented: “In the annals of the Newark club none has preceded 1903-1904, nor will it compare with it in interest and achievement.
“The team has played consistently well and has displayed always the true sporting instincts and spirit.”
Newark also finished third in the Midland League, behind the reserve sides of the two Sheffield clubs.
John Henry Hall, otherwise known as Jack Hall, played one of his last games for Newark on the first day of the following season, September 3, 1904.
They defeated Barnsley 2-0.
A Newark Herald report said: “Hall’s two goals were beauties and if the Newark team continues throughout the season the form they displayed at Barnsley they are bound to occupy a high position on the Midland League chart.”
After trials with Forest and Mansfield, Hall turned professional with Stoke in October 1904.
He played more than 50 games in the Football League, scoring 18 goals, before joining Brighton And Hove Albion in 1906 where he was leading scorer in the two seasons at the club with 28 and 26 goals respectively.
In April 1908, Hall signed for Middlesbrough for £700.
Despite losing the fire-power of their main centre-forward, Newark still finished third that season, behind the reserve sides of Sheffield United and Forest.
April 13, 1906 — Good Friday — proved to be a great day for The Trentsiders and around 500 travelling fans.
They were at the City Ground, Nottingham, to play Forest Reserves in the final of the Notts Senior Cup.
In front of 3,000 supporters Newark beat Forest 2-0 and lifted the trophy thanks to goals from Barnett and Wally Smith.
At the end of the 1909 season, however, Newark Town were forced to resign from the Midland League due to financial pressures.
The Advertiser reported: “One cannot help but regret that the town club should have been allowed to secede from the Midland League in the ignominious fashion it was obliged to.
“It is unnecessary to dwell upon the distinguished career the club has enjoyed dating back to the Sixties, for its claim to be the third oldest club in the country.
“In those days and subsequently, when the sport was strictly amateur, the club always had a galaxy of talent at its command.
“That was a time for real honest encounters.
“As is with the case with every club, Newark has had its financial vicissitudes and has before this been in just as great difficulties as at the present time, and from which it has always been extricated, and from this knowledge I build the hope that the old club will soon be re-organised, and again take its accustomed position in the football world.”
Following the first world war, Newark Town eventually re-formed in 1925.
They competed once more in the Midland League, and played a famous FA Cup match against Halifax in 1931 at Muskham Road, in front of a 2,700-strong crowd.
They won through to the second round.
Although drawn at home against Crystal Palace, Newark opted to play the match at Palace’s Selhurst Park ground.
In front of a crowd of 15,500 Newark were defeated 6-0, but had experienced some incredible moments on their cup run.
Changing from professional to amateur status
The Newark Herald newspaper of April 14, 1894 commented on the problems of financing the club during Victorian times.
It said: “A professional team, or perhaps it would be more correct to say professional with one or two exceptions, has been fully tried in Newark and towns of similar size for several seasons.
“It is found impossible to support a team that has to be paid a weekly salary amounting in all from four or five pounds for home matches, and considerably more for the out engagements.
“If professionalism has proved a failure, and undoubtedly it has, what then is the remedy? Clearly this, a local amateur club, is practically speaking a number of players, worked by a committee, who would be content with travelling expenses for all out matches, a team that would take it as a sufficient honour to win a contest and not require payment for so doing.
“Newark, with their moderate gates, could afford this.
“Newark, Mansfield, Grantham, and other towns, adopted professionalism in the first place, some years ago, simply because other, ill-advised clubs in larger towns were doing the same thing, going even as far as practicing (sic) ‘shady bits of business’ in their endeavour to import players from all parts.”
From the pitch to trenches of the Western Front
Newspapers ran several stories during the first world war about notable Newark footballers who were fighting for their country, and of events in the town to support them.
In one such Newark Herald report, Corporal C. Robinson, of 178 Barnbygate — noted as a footballer “of considerable merit in Newark Town’s team in the Midland League” — had distinguished himself on the field of battle.
He was presented with a card headed: “For gallant and meritorious service.”
The corporal was in the Royal Field Artillery and gained the commendation for his signalling work between May 1915 and February 1916.
Before the war Robinson went to Holy Trinity School, was an altar boy and choirboy at the Catholic church, and worked for Abbott’s.
The Herald also reported on December 1914 that, although the Newark League fixture list was in chaos, teams representing the Royal Engineers and the Sherwood Foresters met for a match.
Corner flags were Union flags, the crowd was dressed in khaki and the match finished goal-less.
Money raised at the game was used to buy Christmas presents for troops on the front-line.
The most famous story involving a Newark footballer during the conflict was that of Private William Setchfield.
The Advertiser reported on January 1, 1915 that his brother, Mr Alfred Setchfield, received a letter from Private Setchfield, who was serving with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment on the Western Front.
He described an unofficial truce between the British and the Germans.
The letter read: “We spent a wonderful Christmas. The Germans came over to us in the afternoon and we had our photos taken with them.
“But it would be a big ask to put everything that happened in a letter.”
Although there are no other details, it is believed that Private Setchfield provided the ball for a Christmas Day football game between the British and Germans.
The Advertiser continued to report on football-related activity during the war.
On October 11, 1915 it featured a report that Simpson’s footballer ‘Das’ Bentley scored a goal in a match between scratch teams of Army players just behind the front-line.
He was one of four members of the 8th Sherwoods to figure in the winning team.
On April 24, 1916 the Herald reported that supporters in the town flocked to Mr Tidd Pratt’s Stadium, off London Road, for a match between the Royal Engineers and an Old Town XI.
The ‘old men’ won 2-1.
A little over £10 was raised for Newarkers who were prisoners of war.
Youth teams show hope for the future
Club director Dave Roberts believes Newark Town, as a club, is in better shape than they have ever been.
He pointed to the depth of the club’s youth section, which has gone from strength to strength in recent years.
“The set-up right the way through the club is fantastic.There are more teams playing now than there ever have been,” he said.
“There are so many kids, right from under-sevens, and you can see the strength of depth right the way through to under-18s and under-21s.
“We are hoping to become an FA Charter Standard Development Club.
“We have never been in a better position than we are right now.
“I don’t think there are any other teams in the area who have the same kind of set-up as we have.”
Mr Roberts said he was delighted with the Girls Centre of Development, which was launched last year and is hoping to start producing teams from next season.
However, while the youngsters are thriving, Newark Town’s first team — which plays at Collingham — have struggled recently and lie bottom of the Central Midlands League North with just two wins all season.
While the rest of the club play home games at Devon Park, Newark, the facilities there are not good enough to host the first-team.
Mr Roberts hopes new state-of-the-art facilities and a 3G pitch at the new sports village off Elm Avenue will help rejuvenate the club.
“The first team have gone through a difficult period. One of the roots of the problem is not having our own ground,” he said.
“Playing out at Collingham means it is difficult for the club to attract players and to get spectators behind us.
“I am confident that once the YMCA project has been delivered at the back end of this year we will reap the rewards.
“It would enable us to have good training facilities across the club and might also convince a few of the top players to play in the town.
“Newark Town is the town’s club and I think it should soon be ready to fulfil its potential — which I believe is playing step-six and step-five football.”