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Lighting the Fire of Football

‘Harvest From The Deep’ is a weekly series from the Independent North Shields Supporters Association digging into the history of the football club.

Remarkably, this letter is signed off, JUVENTUS, Latin for ‘youth’ or ‘juveniles’, 14 years before The Old Lady of Turin was formed in 1897, a year after Shields. It is a prescient nom de plume, but little did the author know at the time that this letter would in its own tiny way, help to start the ball rolling on the creation of North Shields FC, a club that is still going today, with fabled European honours under its belt and a bright future ahead.

Yet there’s a further twist in this story. The late 1870s and early 1880s was a time when football teams were emerging, often as offshoots from rugby and cricket clubs hence the appeal to the Borough Club in the letter. Recreational sport and leisure time were very new concepts to the Victorians and the very first person to bring association rules to Tynemouth Borough was George Dormer Fawcus, a rugby and cricket captain as well as a champion rower. George was the scion of the Fawcus family of Dockwray Square, who owned the North Shields iron foundry and chain maker, Pow & Fawcus.

George lived on Prior’s Terrace in Tynemouth and as a young man in 1877, he founded and captained his own football team which played matches around the region and gathered some of the first large crowds to the sport. It wasn’t until 1890 that Tynemouth Borough formed an association football club, and then six years later North Shields Athletic came into being. Despite being slow starters, they can at least in part thank their existence to the early efforts of Fawcus in generating support for the game locally.

By 1882 George Fawcus had moved on to pastures new, living as an expatriate in Genoa where his father held a diplomatic post while simultaneously involved in the burgeoning shipbuilding and coal trade. I’d wager that George Fawcus senior was in his younger days, known to Giuseppe Garibaldi, the father of Italian nationhood. Garibaldi, along with his mentor Giuseppe Mazzini, are associated with the town of Genoa, but Garibaldi is also associated with Tynemouth, having spent time there gathering support from local industrialists for his new vision of Italy.

In 1893, three decades after the formation of modern Italy, George Fawcus junior, now 35, founded Genoa FC, making it the first football club in Italy, predating la Vecchia Signora — Genoa’s august rivals, Juventus, by four years.

Tynemouth, then, we can proudly say, forms the first link in a chain that leads to the oldest club in Italy a team that still grace the Serie A and who still venerate their founder from North Shields. At the same time, we can also attribute some of our own North East football heritage to George Fawcus’ lifelong and pioneering passion for the sport. His legacy lives on.

Thank you to Trudi Thompson, author of MEN FROM THE NORTH, for inspiring these serendipitous thoughts. Her book is a wonderful and compelling read covering the history of North Shields Football Club. It can be purchased here: https://www.northshieldsfc.co.uk/product/men-from-the-north/ 

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