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British Football’s Floodlit Firsts

On this day, the 26th October, in 1955, two simultaneous floodlit firsts took place, the first time in British football history that two such games had been played on the same day. So perhaps it’s fitting given my fascination with floodlit football that we recap a few floodlit firsts of British football.

London v Frankfurt first floodlit game at WembleyFootball League v Scottish League 1955 Hillsborough

It was the football fans of Sheffield and London that witnessed the two floodlit firsts on the evening of the 26th October in 1955. At Hillsborough, Sheffield a crowd of just under 38000 were treated to a six goal thriller as a representative English League side beat their Scottish counterparts 4-2. Though this was the first inter-league fixture to be played under lights though the programme cover states it was an England v Scotland game perhaps suggesting it was a full international, which it wasn’t.

Down in London at Wembley Stadium the floodlights were used for the first time in a competitive fixture when in a thrilling game a London XI came back from two goals down to see off a Frankfurt XI in an Inter-Cities Fairs Cup match. 

World's first floddlit football match Bramall Lane Sheffield 1878The World’s first floodlit football match was held 14th October 1878 at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. “A great match by the aid of the electric light” was contested by two local representative sides, with the Blues beating the Reds 2-0.

Just nine days after the match in Sheffield, Cathkin Park in Glasgow hosted Scotland’s first floodlit game whilst three days later the first game in the Midlands at Aston Lower Grounds (later Villa Park) took place between a Birmingham XI and Nottingham Forest. London got it’s first taste of floodlit football in early November 1878 when Clapham Rovers took on Wanderers at The Oval. 

Other games followed, all friendly or representative fixtures. In June 1879 the first floodlit game in the British colonies was held at Wellington, New Zealand and later that year in December the first floodlit game on Welsh soil took place at The Green Field in Rhyl where Rhyl met the Grosvenor Club.

It wasn’t until 1930 that the first competitive game in Britain was played out under lights. The venue was Field Mill in Mansfield where on 22nd February 1930 Ollerton Forest met Welbeck Athletic in the North Notts Senior Cup Final. But it wasn’t until the fifties when the FA lifted it’s ban on the use of floodlights during competitive games that floodlit football really took off.

The first game featuring a league club to played under lights was in December 1950 when Headington United (now Oxford United) played Banbury Spencer in a Southern League fixture. This was followed in April 1951 by the first game featuring the first team of a league club when Swindon Town met Bristol City. Later that year in September Arsenal became the first top flight club to play a floodlit match when they met Israel’s Hapoel Tel Aviv in a friendly at Highbury. A couple of weeks later the first competitive reserve match was played at The Dell between Southampton and Spurs.

Arsenal v Hapoel Tel Aviv first floodlit match at HighburyEngland v Spain 1955 first use of floodlights during an England international game at Wembley

Northern Ireland got in on the act in December 1952 when Distillery played Burnley in a friendly at Belfast’s Grosvenor Park. The same venue played host to the first British league game played under floodlights in March 1953 when Distillery met Coleraine.

Southampton’s Dell ground chalked up another floodlit first in September 1955 when it hosted the first floodlit FA Cup match, the preliminary round replay between Kidderminster Harriers and Brierley Hill Alliance. A couple of months later that year Carlisle and Darlington played out the first FA Cup tie under lights between Football League clubs in their first round replay.

Portsmouth v Newcastle first football league game under floodlights

Following the London XI game at Wembley in October 1955 the first England international to see the use of lights was the November friendly fixture against Spain. The lights were switched on for the final fifteen minutes.

It wasn’t until November 1963 that the public got to watch England at Wembley for the full ninety minutes under lights. 55000 were at that game against Northern Ireland and what a spectacle they were treated to as England ran out 8-3 winners.

Meanwhile in 1956 Fratton Park hosted the first floodlit Football League fixture when Portsmouth entertained Newcastle United on a cold February evening in a game that Newcastle won 2-0.

If like me you have a fascination with floodlit football then I can highly recommend this book Blinded by the Lights: A History of Night Football in England. It is a truly wonderful and outstandingly researched book that not only explores and traces the development and use of floodlights in football but is for my money one of the very best social histories of football in Britain. Buy it you won’t be disappointed. 

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