The Beginning (1888-1918)
Even before the Army Football Association was formed Army teams were in the forefront of the developing game.
The Royal Engineers, Chatham, were in the first three FA Cup finals (1873-75) and were runners-up in the first two years and eventually won in 1875, beating Old Etonians 2-0 in a replay at the Kennington Oval.
In 1888 a meeting was held under the chairmanship of Major F A Marindin CMG, President of the Football Association of England. This was the first stage to the formation of the Army Football Association. Field Marshal His Royal Highness George Duke of Cambridge KG KP GCB GCMG GCH accepted the Presidency of the association. The winners of the first ever Army FA Cup were 2nd Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on 27th March 1889.
In 1901 an Army side played a civilian team for the first time competing against Dorset and also Surrey County. The following year Tottenham Hotspur became the first Football League club to play the Army.
The 2nd Battalion Coldsteam Guards' Corporal Lease was selected to play as goalkeeper for England versus France in April 1910.
In 1913 the War Office stated that the Army Council had no objections to matches taking place between officers of the Dutch and British Armies, and arrangements were made to organise the first match.
In the same year the Army FA took over the Army Athletics Ground in Aldershot as its permanent football home. The ground would be known as the Army Football Ground.
Between The Wars (1919-1939)
In 1919 the Army Challenge Cup recommenced after the end of the First World War in addition to the fixtures versus the French and Belgian Army.
The 1920 Army Cup Final at Aldershot was won by the Royal Army Medical Corps in front of 15,000 spectators in from of Their Majesties The King and Queen and the Royal Princess and Princes. In the same year the formation of the Army FA Referees' Committee was made with the appointment of Lietenant Colonel G H Impey DSC, Royal Sussex Regiment and Lieutenant A E Edwards, Royal Field Artillery, as the first PResident and Honorary Secretary respectively.
The Army Sports Control Board took over the Army Football Ground in Aldershot from the Army FA for a sum of £822.
In 1921 the annual Inter Service competition versus the Royal Navy FA was extended to include the Royal Air Force FA. The competition was named the Constantinople Cup.
“Territorial Army Football Association Challenge Cup Presented 30th April 1921 by Harold Sumner Esq OBE JP was first won by 1922-23 3 Royal Welch Fusiliers”
In 1939 the Army Sports Control Board instructed all associations that they were to close for the duration of World War 2. An emergency Wat Committee was formed and vaious army matches were authorised.
The National Service Era (1946-1962)
All players that played for the Army during the war years were presented with a trophy to take the form of an Army FA crest in recognition of funds totalling £24,875.11s.6d being raised by the various tours that were provided to charities and relief funds.
In 1948 during the Army Cup final between the RAC Bovington and 121 Teaining Regiment Royal Artillery the Aldershot stadium was struck by lightning, resulting in the death of one member of each team and injury to players, officials and spectators. The match was abandoned and the trophy was shared.
The 1949/50 season saw a record 205 entries for the Army Cup together with a record of 1,200 Referees. This was superceded in 1955 by a figure of over 2000.
In 1956 a representative Army team toured British Army of The Rhine and played against seven German civilian teams. RSM C F Blackman (Royal Artillery) was appointed team manager. The following were later selected as England international players: Pte D Edwards (RAOC), LCpl GJ Armfield (King's Own Royal Regiment). Later internationals would include Driver W Foulkes (RASC), Gunner C Jones (Roayal Artillery) (Wales), Sapper D McKay (Royal Engineers) (Scotland) and LCpl R Charlton (RAOC), Pte A Young (RASC) (Scotland), Pte J Baxter (Black Watch) (Scotland).
During the same year Brigadier General R J Kentish CMG DSO passed away. He had served Army football for a total of 40 years. The Triangular Tournament between the British, French and Belgian Armies would become known as The Kentish Cup.
In 1959 Major CH Dennis was appointed Linesman at the FA Cup FInal at Wembley.
In 1962 the end of National Service saw the end of a memoral epoch in Army Football. In the 15 year period the Army team included a long line of international players who became household names internationally. It was now important to reconstruct the Army team with regular Army players.
To the present day
Captain V Tennuci (RAMC) refereed the Challenge Cup Final and set up a unique record of being the only holder of a winners medal (Depot and Training Establishment RAMC 1949) to have taken charge of a Final tie. In 1968 CSM Instructor M Kerkhof (APTC) was promoted to the Referees List of the Football League.
In 1971 the Directors of Navy, Army and Air Force Instritutes presented a new Trophy to be known as the NAAFI Jubilee Cup for Inter Unit and Inter Service competition. Five year later, in 1976, the Army FA Six A Side competition was introduced. Major Alan Dobson (MBE), the Secretary of the association, was appointed a FIFA Referee Instructor and appointed to conduct the first Referees' Course dealing with third world countries. Three years later Rediffusion became the first sponsors of the Army Cup. The Grenadier Guards Trophy was intorduced in 1986 for an annual fixture versus the Metropolitan Police.
100 years of the Army FA was celebrated in 1988 as Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Kent presented the Army Challenge
Cup to School of Signals. The match was attended by England manager, Bobby Robson. To commemorate the centenary the Army senior team played a Football League XI.
Football remains the most popular sport in today's Army. Regular matches are played at unit level, corps (with the mens Massey Trophy) and Womens Inter Corps competitions too. The Army Officers Football Team (Crusaders), formed in 1922, continue to participate and now have a Veterans team too.
There are nine Army FA Representative teams including Men, Women, Development squads, Reserve (Men and Women), Crusaders and Masters.
In 1999 the Williamson Trophy was formed to provide a Womens Inter Services tournament whilst in 2006 an Under 23 Mens Development Inter Services competition commenced. In recent years there have also been successful representative tours including visits to Hong Kong, Thailand, Nepal, South Africa, Brazil and, in 2009, the mens senior team visited Croatia to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Liberation of the Dalmation coast.
Many players have progressed through the Army into professional football. In recent year they include Maik Taylor, Guy Whittingham and Lee Bradbury. Between them the trio have made over 1500 senior professional appearances for the likes of Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday, Portsmouth, Manchester City and Birmingham City whilst Taylor also represented Northern Ireland on over 80 occasions.
In addition the Army FA has provided an excellent platform for Match Officials too with Major Danny McDermid (RLC) being an established Football League Referee until his posting to Cyprus in 2012, WO1 Andy Halliday (APTC) a Premier League Assistant, Sgt Declan Ford (REME) and LCpl Rob Ellis (RAMC) Football League Assistants). In March 2011 the Army FA created history when four soldiers were appointed as the match officials for the Football League match between Notts County and Bristol Rovers.
In May 2011, for the first time in the history of the association, the Challenge Cup and Minor Units Cup Finals were both staged on the same day as part of the "Festival of Football" day in Aldershot.
The association moved offices in May 2012 and is now based within the headquarters of the RAPTC in Fox Lines, Aldershot. In the same month it played host to the German Bundeswehr in a friendly fixture; the first time the German armed forces had visited the United Kingdom. The Army FA remains a busy organisation and celebrated its 125th anniversary during 2013/14 where the highlight of a healthy activity of events was a fixture played at Reading FC's Madejski Stadium between the Army (managed by Stuart Pearce) and an FA Legends team managed by England boss Roy Hodgson.
During 2014-18 the sequence of Remembrance matches continued to gain momentum culminating in the 2018 Men and Womens rep matches played in Nottingham at the homes of Forest and County. The event raised over £50,000 for respective charities including Royal British Legion. Football has continued to widen within the Army with Community Engagement initiatives balanced with an annual Summer Roadshow held at various FA Premier and League clubs. The Reserve continues to flourish too. In 2015 the Army Super Cup was created involving the winners of the Territorial Army Challenge Cup (now Reserve) playing against the Army Challenge Cup winners. 22 Signal Regt were the inaugural victors beating 71 Engr Regt. Since then finals have been held in Glasgow, Estonia and, in 2019, Fleetwood Town International Football Academy where a Reserve unit were successful for the first time as 4 Lancashire Regiment lifted the trophy.