Originally known as Stanley FC, Newcastle United was formed in 1881 by a group of teenage friends from the Stanley Cricket Club, which played on a field at Stanley Street in Byker, to the east of Newcastle. The club’s first captain was 18-year-old assistant teacher William Coulson. He scored in the club’s first match – a 5-0 win over Elswick Leather Works.
A couple of ground moves and a name change followed, before the club settled at Heaton Junction, in 1886, under the name East End FC. The club had cross-city rivals, West End, who played at a ground called St James’ Park. Both were popular local clubs with keen fanbases, but East End gained prominence after influential secretary Tom Watson switched from West to East.
Watson oversaw East End’s entry into the FA Cup and Northern League competitions. Then, in 1892, West End went bust. East End took over the vacant lease at St James’ Park, and moved to the heart of the city.
In an attempt to dampen ill-feeling from fans, it was decided to change the club’s name. East End became Newcastle United.
The club played in red shirts, but switched to black and white stripes on election to the Football League second division in 1893.
Newcastle played Woolwich Arsenal in a debut league match for both sides, and drew 2-2. The club won promotion to the first division in 1898, setting up a glorious Edwardian period during which Newcastle won three league titles and the FA Cup.
Newcastle’s St James’ Park ground was initially regarded as ‘most unsuitable to football’. ‘Between goal and goal there is a most pronounced dip,’ bemoaned the Northern Echo, ‘and on Saturday the goal-mouth at the bottom end was nothing but a greasy, muddy slope of the most treacherous nature.’ A visible slope, although no longer as greasy or muddy, still exists at St James’ Park today.
Above - Newcastle United team postcard 1893-94, the club's first season in the Football League, and the first in black and white stripes.
This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany.
You can read more about the early history of Newcastle in All With Smiling Faces: How Newcastle Became United.