Documentary - Football on Film

Geoff Hurst

As the draw for the Third Round of the FA Cup is announced, the BFI has released online a new collection of classic, archive football films, with Football on Film on BFI Player...

The films are all available to view for free (see the link at the bottom of the article) and feature more than 120 titles, covering over 70 years of the beautiful game, including some of the earliest ever filmed games, from 1900 to the 1970s, in a rich blend of newsreels, feature films, instructional films, adverts and more.

Greg Dyke, Chair of the BFI, and President of the Football Association said, “Having lived and breathed films and football for the last few years it’s brilliant that BFI Player is releasing this collection. It offers a fascinating insight into the history of the beautiful game that everyone in the UK can enjoy. I hope everyone will share this great archive of footballing achievement.”

The collection, from the BFI and Regional and National Archives, includes films featuring almost every team from today's top two divisions, alongside a handful of lesser or forgotten sides (remember Gainsborough Trinity, Small Heath or Corinthians?).

This is a fascinating chance to see how your team looked and played in a previous era. Watching the early films from the 1900s, 1910s and 1920s, there are a few obvious differences. The balls were heavier, the shorts longer, and referees wore fetching tweed plus-fours and left goalkeepers to fend for themselves against marauding forwards.

But it's striking how little the game has changed. The fans then are every bit as passionate as today's. The wider issues are familiar too: big money signings caused concern (in 1923, Chelsea invested the then astonishing sum of £6,000 for new centre forward Andy Wilson), while women footballers challenged the male establishment (Dick Kerr's Ladies took on all-comers in the 1920s). Times change, and players - and even teams - come and go, but underneath the beautiful game is much the same as it ever was.

Andy Wilson

Here’s a few examples of what's on offer:

1. Burnley v Manchester United (1902)

Oldest film of the Red Devils - taken just months after the club changed its name from Newton Heath.

2. £6,000 Paid for a Centre Forward (1923)

Chelsea shell out a princely sum for prolific scorer 'Andy' Wilson - just in time for Christmas.

3. Alvey: Ashbourne Shrovetide Football '66 (1966) (Media Archive for Central England)

The legendary Sir Stanley Matthews makes a surprise appearance for the annual high-spirited chaos that is Shrovetide football in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.

4. Caerdydd, Tachwedd 1949 - Cymru 5 Belgium 1 (1949) (National Screen and Sound Archive

of Wales)

A stunning victory for Wales in an international friendly at Ninian Park.

Women's Team

5. Fair Footballers (1925)

Music hall star George Robey kicks off a women's football International between England and France.

6. Glasgow Cup Final (1929)

The Auld Firm face off in a tense draw at Hampden Park.

7. Mining Review 13th Year No. 7 (1960)

Miner's Family: a family weekend in Ashington, Northumberland with the footballing Charlton brothers, Bobby, Jack and Gordon.

8. The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939) (ITV)

A Highbury friendly turns unfriendly when a Trojans player is poisoned. This murder mystery features players from both Arsenal and First Division rivals Brentford in the cast.

9. Nigerian Footballers in England (1949)

Fascinating record of the first ever UK tour of an African side - an event aimed at challenging racial myths while highlighting the continuing strength of Britain's empire.

10. Target - Geoff Hurst (1968)

England's 1966 hat-trick hero is enlisted to advertise a new deodorant.

11. Exiles v Nomads in the Smallest League in the World (1980) (South West Film and Television Archive)

Penwith Exiles square off against arch-rivals Nomads on the Island of St Mary’s in the two-team-strong Isles of Scilly Football League.

You can watch all these and more at

Images - BFI
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