The story of Blackheath Football Club is unique for many reasons. None more so than, because Blackheath’s own development is much a part of the development of Rugby Football, it is often a history of the sport itself.
It is appropriate that the home of the first of the great independent Rugby clubs should be in Blackheath in South East England. On the Roman road from Dover, part of the ancient borough of Greenwich and 8 miles from central London, Blackheath is steeped in the history of England. It is remarkable that no less than four separate clubs, each the first independent club, covering four different sports of Golf, Hockey, Athletics and Rugby, were all founded in or near Blackheath. All are still in existence, all are still unaffiliated.
Possibly originally founded by the Romans who left behind them a game resembling football, the popularity of the sport grew considerably over the years but remained in forms barely recognisable by modern standards – contests between towns, villages and districts – unruly, passionate encounters without too many rules, let alone standard ones.
In 1823, the inimitable William Webb-Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it “with a fine disregard for the rules” during a game at Rugby School and in doing so effectively founded the “carrying” game. Eight years later, the Blackheath Proprietary school opened just south of the railway station. The school adopted the new game, and was soon playing the game of Rugby on the heath.
In 1858 the Blackheath Football Club was founded by some of the old boys of the school as an open club, and so was born the first rugby club in the world without restricted membership.
Although there has been controversy over the actual year of foundation, the only real doubt that emerges from the confusing records of those early years is that, if Blackheath FC was not founded in 1858, it was born even earlier and the club is even older – to paraphrase the late A.C. Shanahan, one time rugby correspondent.
Blackheath had a leading role in the formation of both the Football Association and the Rugby Union.
Blackheath decided to pioneer its own code of rules during a period when almost every variation of rules were followed. Printed in 1862, these included the famous Rule 10 which said that, “Though it is lawful to hold any player in a scrimmage, this does not include attempts to throttle or strangle, which are totally opposed to the principles of the game”.