Today we remember how 6 members of the choir from Holy Trinity Church in Bordsley, Birmingham, decided to form a football club so as to keep fit for the cricket season. Supported by Rev Enraght their vicar they would become Birmingham City the first Bristish team to get to a European Final. The vicar would end up in jail.
The first recorded cricket match in Birmingham was as early as July 1751 but the sport experienced an expansion late in the nineteenth century, in line with the city’s industrial development and the number of cricket clubs increased from 69 in 1871 to 214 in 1880: 64 were church based, 16 were pub teams, 25 came from businesses. As football was less time consuming and faster-paced, soon it rivalled to cricket, rather than complimenting it. Football fever had taken over and the Small Heath Alliance quickly outgrew its church links from Holy Trinity cricket and football club and as the sport was codified and then professionalised the team was renamed Small Heath in 1888, Birmingham in 1905, and Birmingham City in 1943.
Religion deeply influenced football at this time. As the church and many church-ordained school masters used the notion of muscular Christianity in order to identify and develop qualities of good character – manliness, vigour, self-restraint and courage. They were incentivized to produce teams playing cricket, and rugby football and association football, to help their students and parishioners become strong in body, pure in heart, faithful to friends, family and country and know their duty before God. This meant that organised football evolved as a Christian development to divert youths from gang fights and drunkenness. Similar developments across the city let to the Methodist William McGregor founding Aston Villa and the Football League, the first professional league in the world (see pod of Mar 23) The popular vicar of the church in Bordsley was Richard William Enraght and attendances on Sunday morning was between 400 and 500 with the Evensong with sermon often regularly attracted 700 to 800 parishioners. This thriving community meant that the choir attracted a healthy pool of players and the captain of the team Billy Edmunds was able to assemble a competitive team of choirboys.
Meanwhile the church would be making national news, but not yet for the football team, but rather for the trials of their vicar. The Church of England was rattled by a growing interest in the pre-reformation roots of Christianity lead by John Henry Newman and the Oxford Movement (pod June 16) This lead to liturgical practices, more reliant on beauty, music, incense, and high church rituals that were very close to Roman Catholicism. Enraght belonged to a "Second Generation" of Anglo-Catholics after Newman, and their liturgical practices included adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the use of eucharistic candles, wearing of chasuble and alb, the use of wafer bread in Holy Communion, the ceremonial mixing of water and communion wine and allowing the Agnus Dei to be sung by the choir. This also meant that choirboys such as Billy Edmunds and his friends would be engaged in the services and have a close link to the church, and became popular in working class urban areas. To be a ‘ritualist’ became controversial in the Anglican Church and Rev Enraght was targeted by a militant group called The Church Association, who had unlimited funds to mount prosecution – he was accused of being too reliant on Catholic type rituals. These practices had been outlawed by The Public Worship Regulation, introduced as a Private Member's Bill by Archbishop of Canterbury Archibald Campbell Tait, to limit what he perceived as the growing ritualism of Anglo-Catholicism. Strongly endorsed by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and Queen Victoria, and vigorously opposed by Gladstone the law was seldom enforced, but Enraght was prosecuted by the Church Association's lawyers. Refusing to attend his own trial on grounds of conscience, he was found guilty and jailed for 7 weeks. In 2006, Brighton & Hove City Council honoured him as a "Priest, fighter for religious freedom." He was one of at least five clergymen who were imprisoned by judges for contempt of court, which in the end greatly embarrassed the Church of England archbishops who had vigorously promoted it
Billy Edmunds and the founding members of Birmingham City, supported him through all his trials as he had supported them in establishing the team. Birmingham City Football Club became the first British team to reach a major European final, reaching the lnter-Cities Fairs Cup finals, in 1960 and 61.The most successful period in their history was in the 1950s and early 1960s. They achieved their highest finishing position of sixth in the First Division in the 1955–56 season and reached the 1956 FA Cup Final. They won the League Cup in 1963 and again in 2011. That’s all from the pearl of great price today –Join us tomorrow