The early years of the football club were very much a low key affair. Football in its modern guise was still in its infancy and was generally seen as subservient to the country’s main pastime of cricket. Sport was heavily encouraged amongst school children as it was seen to be essential in their athletic development and building of character. Since about 1880 a group of 10 year old boys (and a few older brothers) from St. John’s Middle Class and Tottenham Grammar Schools had been spending their summer months playing cricket as part of the Hotspur Cricket Club. They continued like this for approximately 2 years when, as the winter of 1882 began to encroach, they began looking for ways to extend their leisure time and maintain their fitness. The Football Association itself had only been in existence for about 20 years and its main competition, ‘The Challenge Cup’ (later to become the world famous ‘FA Cup’ for exactly half that still. Nevertheless, the story goes that, having congregated beneath a lamppost on the Tottenham High Road one evening, the 11 young boys decided on forming a football team that was to play by Football Association regulations. They played their first ever game against the Radicals on 30th August 1882 and, just one week after, on 5th September, the boys paid their first ever subscriptions of just sixpence and the ‘Hotspur Football Club’, a team of 12 year old boys with just 5 shillings (about 25p in todays money) to their name, was officially born.
The 11 original members were Edward A. C. Beaven, Stuart Leaman, Robert Buckle, Hamilton and Lindsay Casey, John and Thomas Anderson, Edward R. Wall, Frederick W. Dexter and John and Philip Thompson. The Casey family were the main instigators in the club’s creation with Hamilton and Lindsay often accredited with the adoption of the ‘Hotspur’ title after hearing about the exploits of Harry Hotspur in a history lesson. John Casey, father of Ham and Lindsay, is also believed to have built them a set of goalposts which he coincidentally painted blue and white, while Lindsay himself is thought to have provided Hotspur FC with their first football. Lindsay also acted as honorary treasurer while his brother became the club’s vice-captain with Bobby Buckle being elected as the first ever captain.
The first few years were spent playing non-competitive, casual games, with the young boys occasionally using the local public house as a changing room and holding informal club meetings at the Tottenham YMCA. It was a very humble existence, playing by the railway tracks on the marsh land behind Northumberland Park station and locking up the goalposts in the station house at night. However, while playing on public land was convenient in some ways, the boys often found themselves having to fight to prevent their pitch from being usurped by the local gangs and the other teams who were usually several years their elder. Football was fast becoming the main focus of their sporting calender and, having already been joined by a further 8 boys , by mid 1883 the number of subscriptions received had increased to 21 in total. In response to their growing size and to help protect their assets, the boys approached a certain John Ripsher for an adult influence. Ripsher, a clerk in an iron foundry, had once helped the boys in the organisation of the cricket club and, because of the bible class he taught at All Hallow’s Church as well as the work he did at the YMCA, he was well-respected in the area. John Ripsher was to remain a leading figure in the development of the club over the next few years and is largely responsible for its evolution from an amateurish boys’ club into a proper, professional outfit. Despite his early involvement with the club, Ripsher left London for Dover in 1894 and sadly died anonymous in a workhouse in 1907. It was only last year, in 2007, that his unmarked grave was discovered and he was rightfully honoured by Tottenham Tribute Trust with a new headstone to recognise his assistance and achievements at the club
In 1883, and with formalisation in mind, the club’s first first proper Annual General Meeting was called after John Ripsher had brought in added experience in the form of John Randall, an ex-Radicals player who was to take over the captaincy from Bobby Buckle, and a man named Billy Harston who played as a winger at the club for the following 10 years and was to remain an integral part of Tottenham Hotspur over the next 60. The clubs first full season saw them win 15 out of the 20 games played and regularly field two full teams. At the next AGM, in April 1884, the club decided to change its name after Hamilton Casey is said to have accidently received a letter addressed to another, more senior and well-known London football team who shared the Hotspur moniker and, in order to clearly define the club’s own identity, they settled on ‘Tottenham Hotspur Football & Athletic Club’. Not content on simply changing their name, the boys, having seen a Blackburn Rovers side beat Queen’s Park in a recent Challenge Cup final, decided to remodel their kit from an all navy blue to half white, half blue to match that of the Rovers. It certainly appeared to have an effect because Spurs managed to score more than 100 goals over the next 37 matches, which included a shock 5-2 victory against an older, more superior St. Albans side in the first round of the London Association Cup and Tottenham Hotspur’s earliest ever competitive game. By 1885 football had become increasingly popular and had emerged as an actual professional sport in the north of England under the Football Association, demonstrating its potential and bringing the money men into the game.
Over the next couple years the club continued to grow and on 19th November 1887 came Tottenham Hotspur’s first ever meeting with future rivals Woolwich Arsenal. Back then nobody could have predicted the significance of this fixture yet it still managed to attract controversy as the Arsenal players, while losing the game 2-1, managed to get it called off due to failing light with only 15 minutes left to play. Despite the team still being composed of schoolboys and amateurs playing friendlies and the occasional cup ties, Tottenham were attracting huge crowds to their match-days on the marshes. The marshes were public land and the gathering of as many as 4000 spectators was becoming an issue. Because it was a public space, there was no means of controlling them all and visiting teams were being put off by the intimidating, unruly mob. Even fencing off the pitch was little help and with complaints being made of fans attacking the opposition with missiles and rotting vegetables, it was generally accepted that something needed to be done. After a search conducted by Ham Casey, Bobby Buckle and the then footballing star of North London, Jack Jull, a plot next to a tennis club was soon discovered for rent just off of Northumberland Park and in 1888 the club had relocated to its new home. Being on private land meant that, although having to pay rates of £17/year, the club could now charge an entrance fee and their first match at Northumberland park, in September 1888, cost 3d/head to see the B team play Stratford St. John’s. Approximately 80 people turned up to watch the Spurs 2nd XI fixture, giving the club their first ever gate receipts of about 17 shillings!
In 1888 the FA had established the Football League and many similar leagues were being constructed all over the Midlands and the North. With the majority of their games up to this point being friendlies, Tottenham Hotspur were desperate to get involved with regular competition. However, the archaic London FA were distinctly rooted in the past and blankly refused to follow the FA’s example, prompting clubs to take matters into their own hands and begin planning their own leagues. Still, it was not until 1892 and the formation of the Southern Alliance that Spurs, along with 9 other teams from the London environs, were allowed to contend emulously on the basis that it was kept strictly an amateur affair. Any team non-compliant with the London FA’s standards would be forcibly ejected from the Alliance.
Tottenham Hotspur were to stay part of the Southern Alliance for just that one season as it ultimately failed but, after turning professional in 1895, Tottenham managed to join the more lucrative Southern League the following year in 1896, enabling them from then on to play regularly in an organised and competitive environment.