1871-1872 Association Foot Ball Summary

by Melvin Smith

There has always been a lack of foot-ball activity reported for the year 1871. Most listings of champions or historical articles invariably jump from 1870 to 1872. This article tries to give a fuller picture of actual foot-ball activity for the August 1, 1871–31 July 1872 seasonal period, which includes the current accepted period of September 1871 to January 1872. Games of foot-ball were still played every month of the year at this time. For the bigger picture, all game information found for colleges, independent clubs and high schools are included.

There were two basic forms of foot-ball being played during this time. Since we separate modern soccer, rugby and football games today, I will do the same here. In 1871, the kicking game was known as the association game of football (later soccer). Most rules written by the colleges were using the 1863 London Football Association Code. The carrying game (later rugby) became known as the Boston rules game during this season in the local Boston newspapers.


At the varsity level, Princeton College formed the Princeton Football Association on October 15, 1871. Ten rules of play were written. Rule #4 stated it would take four goals out of seven to win a game and #6 stated ‘no player shall throw or carry the ball’. The first outside game was played October 21, 1871, with the Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) and they had trouble winning. They must have been tied at 4 goals apiece before Princeton secured a 6 goals-4 goals’ victory (see the Princeton Packet newspaper, 10/23/1871). The game was played on College Field on the Princeton campus. Apparently, two other games were won by Princeton College over PTS scoring the 4 goals first. I do not have the actual scoring information for PTS. That college has never condoned any sports’ activity in their entire history. They may or may not have scored a goal. There may have been more games played between these colleges.

Columbia College, Rutgers College and Yale College never followed through on proposed games with other outside colleges. Rutgers declined a game with Princeton in the fall. Columbia and Yale could not agree on a field of play during the spring of 1872.

At the junior level, about nine colleges have been found playing intramural games on their campuses. These colleges were Brown University, Cornell University of New York, Dartmouth College, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton College, Rutgers College, University of Vermont and Yale College. None of these college teams played any outside games.

The Rutgers 1874 sophomore team may have scored the biggest win with a 6 goals to 1 goal win over their 1875 freshmen team. Students from Dartmouth College wrote their first set of seven rules for their football play in the fall of 1871 (see Scott Meacham, ‘Old Division Football: The Indigenous Mob Soccer of Dartmouth College’, 2006). The Cornell 1873 juniors won both games over their 1875 freshmen and 1874 sophomores’ class teams using their ‘best three out of five goals’ rule.

The Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute became a four-year college and graduated their first seniors in June 1871. They won and lost foot-ball games played with Adelphi Academy under the name of ‘Mr. Dollard’s Team’. Adelphi Academy students played under the name of ‘Mr. Brady’s Team’. These ice rink, foot-ball games were played on Capitoline Lake in Prospect Park in Brooklyn during December 1871 and January 1872.

The University of Pennsylvania 1872 Seniors beat an All-University of Pennsylvania team on February 22, 1872, by the score of 3 goals to 0.

The Alumni of the defunct Woodward College in Cincinnati, OH, played their annual kicking game on September 28, 1871. The score of the game has not been readily available for this season.

The University of Virginia had a new English professor teaching the students how to play the association football game, and the State University of Iowa (now University of Iowa) formed a student football association in February 1872.


Harvard had banished the mob, freshman-sophomore, carrying games of foot-ball on the campus in July 1860. Several local Boston high schools continued to play these carrying games on the Boston Common through the 1860s. A few ardent players entered Harvard in 1870 and 1871. They began to play impromptu carrying games of foot-ball on the Harvard campus in the fall of 1871. The administration did not stop this activity so class teams were formed in the spring and intramural games were played. The Harvard 1874 sophomore team was the best and never lost a game. They even beat an All-Harvard University team on April 27, 1872, 2 goals to 0 (any touches or touchdowns were not addressed). This game was played on the Cambridge, MA, Common and Henry R. Grant was captain of the all-victorious sophomore team. The local Boston newspapers began to call these carrying games the Boston Rules’ Game in the spring of 1872. It was done to differentiate the ball-handling game played in Boston as opposed to the kicking game of foot-ball being played elsewhere in America.


The New York Athletic Club of New York City was founded in 1868. Games of foot-ball were proposed this season, but any references to these games have not been found.

In Ohio, the Dover Firebrick Makers played a kicking game with the Sandyville Fireclay Miners on August 19, 1871. The game was played at the Fairgrounds in New Philadelphia, OH. The score has not been found.

If you can imagine, a New Orleans Hibernians team played a foot-ball game with another team called ‘The Others’ on the fourth of July, 1872. It was played on the Oakland Driving Course in New Orleans, LA, and this score has also not been found.


As mentioned in the college section, the Adelphi Academy of Long Island traded a win and a loss with the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in two ice rink foot-ball games. Adelphi students were identified as playing on Mr. Brady’s teams. The first game was won by Adelphi, 2 goals to 1 goal. Adelphi lost the second game played in January 1872. The actual score has not been found.

The Oakland High School in California formed a football club in October 1871. The San Francisco Industrial School played a foot-ball game on Christmas Day in 1871.

The Charles Barnwell School of Charleston, SC, saw foot-ball games played by their students on their campus, and the Freehold Military Institute of New Jersey had a foot-ball team. No other information is available as yet.


The Boston Public Latin School and the Boston English High School were housed in the same building during this time. Their entries and departures used two different doors, one on the east side and the other on the west side of the building. These schools were the two main high schools playing impromptu carrying games of foot-ball on the Boston Common. No interscholastic games have been found for the 1871/72 season.

College Football Historical Society (CFHS) Newsletter, Vol. XXIII, #3, May 2010

Last update: August 17, 2011

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