and Football League clubs try 
playing on a Sunday

It seems hard to believe now but until comparatively recent times Football League sides did not play on a Sunday and in fact the law of the land prevented them from charging admission if they were to play on the Sabbath. It was outside influences that forced a change.

The Yom Kippur War between Israel and Arab nations in 1973 led to the Arab members of OPEC suspending deliveries of oil to western nations who had supported Israel in the conflict. This caused an energy crisis in late 1973 which was made worse in Britain by the miners coming out on strike in February 1974. A state of emergency was declared in Britain which was followed by a three day working week to save electricity.

Football was not high on the priorities for the available power and the use of floodlights was banned, even extending to power generated by private generators. All matches had to be played in daylight so kick-off times were brought forward on Saturdays and during the week matches were played in the afternoon. Clubs wanted to postpone matches to the end of the season but the Football League refused as bad weather might cause fixture chaos in the last months of the season. Proposals to suspend the League and to extend it to June were also rejected.

In December 1973 the Football Association asked the Home Office for permission to play matches on Sundays. Even though floodlights would not be used electricity was needed for the general running of the ground and it was considered that Sundays might allow a more guaranteed supply. Permission was granted, but the change was not universally popular. Bob Wall of Arsenal said: ' Playing football and making profits on a Sunday is wrong. We will not disturb the peace and quiet of the neighbourhood of Highbury on that day.' How times have changed!

But things needed to change. Attendances plummeted for not only were the revised kick-off times unpopular but the price of petrol, which was increasing daily, and the uncertainty of employment meant that many couldn't afford to attend matches.

Things did change. Sunday January 6th 1974 was the historic day which saw four FA Cup Third Round ties played, the first match on a Sunday being the Cambridge United v Oldham match which kicked off in the morning. Two weeks later, on January 20th, a dozen grounds staged League football for the first time on the Sunday, the first of those kicking off in the morning being Millwall v Fulham in the Second Division. A week later on Sunday 27th January the first match in the top flight was played, a Geoff Hurst penalty giving Stoke City a 1-0 home victory over Chelsea. The same weekend saw Darlington play two home League matches - they played Stockport on the Saturday and Torquay on Sunday, both ending in draws. Sunday football had arrived.

It proved to be a popular innovation and generally attendances were considerably better than average. While not everyone was in favour of Sunday football most agreed with FA secretary Ted Croker when he said: 'Football is the national game and we should be concerned to give the public what they want when they want it. A lot of people do want to watch football on Sundays.'

Two weeks after the first League matches on a Sunday Swindon Town's Jimmy Allan became the first player to refuse to play on a Sunday because of his religious beliefs. The devout Christian had been an ever-present in goal for Swindon in the League up to that point but on Sunday February 3rd he was missing from the Swindon team for their Second Division match against Bolton at the County Ground. And more history was made!

If you are wondering how the clubs got around the law of the land, The Sunday Observance Act (of 1780!), which prevented an admission charge being made for football matches, as well as many other events. Well, it was a fiddle. Admission was free but you needed to buy a programme to get in. Programmes cost differing amounts depending on what part of the ground you wanted to enter. That was enough to get round the law! It was sumed up nicely on the front cover of the programme for the first ever match played on a Sunday -

Yes it does seem amazing that Sunday football has not always been with us and there was genuinely a time when there was no certainty that the two would go together. The editorial in the programme for the Millwall v Fulham gives an interesting insight to the thinking of the time and this I have reproduced in full below -

Sunday Soccer

Undoubtedly Clubs will be closely examining the issues involved in Sunday Soccer. The F.A. Cup Third Round Ties which were recently played on the Sabbath certainly produced above average attendances, and if figures are the ultimate then there can be no doubt that the experiment has proved successful in this very important aspect of the professional game. No one will deny that the real problem facing us today is diminishing 'gates', and anything which tends to curb the downward trend must be welcomed. But before we get too excited over the experiment of playing on Sunday instead of Saturday, we should examine certain other aspects of the situation.

Some of the problems involved are greater in some areas than in others, but one which is fairly universal is that of Public Transport. We are all aware of the phrase "Sunday Service" and the effect it has whenever we want to travel anywhere on a Sunday. Of course, if it was decided that all our matches should be played on Sundays it must lead to a change in our way of life, with transport becoming more or less the same as on any other day of the week. If that happened you can rest assured that the present 'Sunday Service' would operate on another day, probably Saturday. We may even find ourselves observing Saturday as the Sabbath? After all, if we are honest with ourselves, what percentage of the population of this country correctly observe the edicts of the Sabbath?

It should not be overlooked that the matches so far played on a Sunday have been F.A. Cup Ties which as we all know are in themselves an attraction with the prospect of the 'little' club putting one over on the 'giant' Can we be sure that a change of day will make any difference to the numbers attending the ordinary run of the mill League games? Perhaps at first it might do, because it is something new. It gives people something else to do on a Sunday other than cleaning the car or carrying out household chores left undone during the week. On the administrative side of the game there is, of course, the need to comply with the law which lays down that everyone paying to enter the ground must be provided with a programme. This surely means that Clubs would have to over-estimate the probable attendance. It would be interesting to know whether Bolton Wanderers, for instance, who had close on 40,000 at their Sunday Cup Tie had sufficient programmes printed to cover that number, and what is the position legally if a Club does not have enough programmes to issue one to each person?

Another administrative problem is that of having sufficient part time staff to man turnstiles, do stewarding, serve in catering establishments etc. This probably varies from one ground to another, but experience has shown that many such personnel expect to be paid more on a Bank Holiday and Sunday would come into this category.

It's true that these are difficulties which could be ironed out. The main thing to consider is the reaction of the Public. If they like it and continue to like it, preferring to see the game on a Sunday instead of a Saturday, then there is no doubt that in the long run clubs will benefit. But it will have to be generally accepted as the natural order of things for soccer to be played on Sundays, just certain games in certain places. One cannot help but think that provided the game isnot  entertaining enough it matters not one iota when it is played. The novelty of playing on Sunday might well wear off if the standard of play shows no sign of improving.

Our experiment with Sunday soccer starts today, the answers to some of the questions posed in this article may well have been answered by today's experiment. We shall see.




'Well, if you really have not heard the good news, I must tell you. Loughborough beat that powerful combination, Woolwich Arsenal, by eight goals - whew! - to none. But that was not all; they had two goals disallowed, one as good a goal as ever was scored, but then we must not be too covetous, eight being pretty conclusive in all conscience'.

Part of the actual match report of the match in 1896 when Arsenal suffered what is still their record League defeat - 0-8 at Loughborough. Read the whole match report.

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