Schools football in England had its beginnings in the latter part of the 1900's. With the great idea of education for all brought about by the social reformers of the 20th century the realisation that exercise was good for health soon followed. There was no provision for games in the 1870 Education Act so any physical activities were introduced voluntarily by teachers outside of school hours. In 1891 when compulsory education became free there was still no directive for games to be played but physical drill, delivered by ex-military men, was part of the curriculum. Games appeared in the curriculum of elementary schools after 1896 but the major problem was the lack of pitches in the urban areas.
One of the most active areas in developing school sport was Birmingham where the local school board arranged for teacher training in physical exercise and also encouraged charitable bodies to provide equipment for gymnastics, cricket and football. Football was being played in schools from the early 1880's with the first cup competitions starting around 1885. There were a number of embryonic competitions starting about this time in Liverpool, Birmingham, Brierley Hill, Preston, Shadwell and South London. With the teachers in South London and Aston organising themselves into Schools' FA's, schools football was beginning to get organised.
There are numerous claims to have been the first to organise an inter district schools match but most evidence points to the game between Tower Hamlets and South London in December 1888 for the honour. Sheffield and Manchester were soon to follow and from then on the numbers throughout the country increased dramatically.
Formation of the ESFA
The initial steps to form a national association were taken at the NUT Conference in Llandudno in 1904 which resulted in a further meeting staged at the Birmingham Athletic Institute in November of 1904. Thomas P. Thomas, the founder of the ESFA, presented a letter from The Football Association to the meeting which stated;
I am in receipt of your letter (seeking permission to start a National Schools' FA) and enclosures. From the letter I gather that the proposed Competition is to be confined to Boys at School. This being so our consent is not necessary. We do not seek to control Schoolboy football.
From that meeting of teachers and William MacGregor, (Chairman of Aston Villa and founder of the Football League) who chaired the meeting, the ESFA was born.
The Association grew exponentially and the popularity of the Trophy Competition was beyond doubt with thousands watching the matches. In 1906 the final between Sunderland and West Ham was reported to have been watched by 25-30,000 at Roker Park. Income was distributed to allow associations to run their own events.
1907 saw the first Schools International, which was played at Walsall FC's old ground - Fellows Park. The ESFA opposition was Wales whose team had been selected by the ESFA secretary, Thomas P. Thomas, as the Welsh SFA had yet to be formed.
Schools' Football continued to grow and was played throughout the British Isles with all four home countries forming their own associations. From its early days focussing on the ESFA Trophy and the U15 International team the ESFA has blossomed into an organisation which looks after the needs of its member schools and associations. The number of competitions organised by the ESFA is listed below and shows how much the Association has developed over the last thirty years. The amalgamation of the ESFA and the CESSFA in 1969 saw the addition of an U18 International team to the portfolio.
The ESFA has a seat on the Council of The Football Association with which it holds regular liaison meetings. There is also regular discourse with The Football League and The Premier League who are reliable supporters of Schools' Football.
The ESFA is also a member of the Schools' Association Football International Board (SAFIB) through which it is able to make international fixtures and support other international community related projects.
The following timeline shows how the ESFA has developed its competition portfolio to cater for the needs of school since 1992.
U12 individual open schools cup begins
U13 individual open schools cup begins
U18 elite schools & colleges cup begins
U12 individual small schools cup begins
U15 individual schools cup for "B" teams begins
U16 individual open schools cup begins
U17 individual schools cup begins
U12 individual schools cup for girls begins
U14 individual schools cup for "B" teams begins
U15 individual open schools cup begins
U16 individual small schools cup begins
U13 individual schools cup for "B" teams begins
U14 individual open schools cup begins
U14 individual schools cup for girls begins
U15 individual small schools cup begins
U12 Individual schools cup for 'B' teams begins
U13 Individual small schools cup begins (Mixed)
U14 individual small schools cup begins
U14 Inter County Trophy begins
U13 Inter Association competition begins
First U15 Girls International v Scotland at Toryglen
U18 Colleges Trophy (Girls) begins
Last U18 International at new Wembley v France
First U18 International v Scotland at new Wembley, gate 20,000
U12 Individual school cup begins
U15 Individual school cup begins
U18 Schools' Trophy (Girls) begins
U11 7 aside Schools' Cup (Girls)
Centenary International v Rest of the World XI at Villa Park, gate 10,000
U13 Individual schools cup begins (Boys) and (Girls)
U11 soccer sixes begin
Last U18 International at old Wembley, v Hungary
U14 individual schools cup begins
U16 inter county Trophy (Girls) begins
First U18 International at Wembley, v Holland
Last U15 ESFA match at Wembley
Last U15 ESFA match, v Germany in Berlin, gate 67000
U19 Individual school trophy begins
U16 Individual schools cup (Girls) begins
U12 indoor 5 a sides begin (Girls)
U11 inter association 7 a side begins
U12 indoor 5 a sides begin
U16 inter county Trophy begins
U11 individual schools 6 a side competition begins
U19 inter county Trophy begins
U16 Individual schools cup begins
Amalgamation of CESSFA and ESFA
U19 schools and colleges Trophy
First Festival of Football at Bognor Regis (U19)
ESFA v Scotland at Wembley. Gate 80000
First ESFA/FA coaching course for teachers
ESFA v Scotland at Wembley. gate 40000
First Schools International, England v Wales at Walsall
English Schools Trophy contested by 19 associations
English Schools Football Association established
First inter association fixture S. London v Tower Hamlets
South London SFA formed