By Martyn Cooke and Gary James
Despite a wealth of academic research focusing on the origins and development of association football in Britain during the nineteenth century, academics have failed to reach a consensus regarding the early history of the game with the emergence of contrasting ‘orthodox’ and ‘revisionist’ interpretations. Much of the current research has focused on tackling the subject on a national level and this has resulted in many towns, cities and regions across the country being overlooked when sports historians discuss the origins of modern football. One such region is North Staffordshire, more commonly referred to as The Potteries, which, despite having played a key role in the formation of the Football League, possessing one of the oldest professional football clubs in the country and an early county football association, has never been the subject of an in-depth academic study. Using a range of archival sources this paper provides an overview of the origins and early development of association football across The Potteries from the 1850 to 1870s, emphasizing the influence of Stoke City Football Club and provides a fact based resolution to the debate surrounding the club’s origin and formation. The wider development of the game in The Potteries is also explored, tracing the early informal football activities taking place at fairs, fetes and the wakes holidays to the establishment of a football culture in the 1870s following the formation of organized football clubs and the Staffordshire Football Association. This paper concludes that neither the orthodox nor the revisionist interpretations of the game’s origins can fully explain the region’s football development and that further research into the region is required to understand the significance of The Potteries in relation to the national picture.