Football was included as an exhibition sport at the second modern Olympic Games in Paris in September 1900. Great Britain was represented by a now-defunct club side, and no medals were ever awarded. Nevertheless, Britain has been retrospectively recorded as the first official Olympic football champion.
It was originally intended that five nations would participate in the football event, which was part of Paris’s grand Exposition Universelle. However, Germany and Switzerland decided not to send teams, leaving only France, Belgium and Great Britain.
The hosts were represented by a national XI selected by governing body the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques (USFSA). Belgium was represented by players from several University teams.
The side selected to represent Great Britain was Upton Park, a club that had been around since 1866, but had never been particularly successful. The keenly amateur Upton Park had no connection to West Ham United (then Thames Ironworks) or to West Ham’s Boleyn Ground (also known as Upton Park).
The obscure and forgotten nature of the team’s players is indicated by the fact that the name of its captain is variously recorded as ‘A Haslam’, ‘HA Harlan’ and ‘HN Haslow’. More clearly identified were JH Jones in goal, and international cricket star Percy Buckenham at right-back. Outside-right Arthur Turner was brought in for the Games from Crouch End Vampires.
Upton Park only actually played one match in Paris, comfortably beating the USFSA XI. The East London team won 4-0 at the Vélodromme de Vincennes in Paris, with two goals from J Nicholas and a goal each from James Zeally and Arthur Turner. The match was largely ignored by British newspapers.
Three days later, the USFSA XI defeated the Belgian side 6-1. That meant the British and French teams had won one game each, and everyone went home, with no thought of triumphs or medals. It was only later decided that Great Britain had ‘won’, whether on win percentage or goal difference. Upton Park were Olympic champions.
This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany by Paul Brown.