This Sporting Chiswick – Civil Service Football Club

Image above: Civil Service FC

A jewel in the crown of Chiswick’s and football’s history

The Civil Service Football Club is a jewel in the crown of Chiswick’s and football’s history. Celebrating 160 years this year, it was a founding member of the Football Association (FA), the governing body of the game in England, and is the only football club from the eleven original teams which formed the FA in 1863 to have played continuously since.

Talk about grass roots sports. This club is the taproot of the game.

Public servants have been playing the beautiful game at its current location near Duke’s Meadows since 1925 and CSFC retains a long-term lease and a positive relationship with its landlord, King’s House, a private school in Richmond, who bought the land when it was sold by the coalition government.

There are 10 playing teams including a women’s team and a veteran’s team, which is for people over the age of 38. Annual fees are around £100 per head and there are match fees of approximately £12 per game.

Image above: Club secretary Steve Evison, far left in red and black tracksuit top, posing with the over 35s team

Club secretary Steve Evison has been at the club over 20 years. He started playing in 1999 as a central defender and is now a part-time goalkeeper because his knees “don’t work like they used to”.

As secretary, he also has the important task of working with the amateur football association, the different league and cup organisers and the club’s executive team to keep the club fit for the future.

Although it is called the Civil Service Football Club, you do not have to work in the civil service to join, he says, and the club is definitely not populated solely by bowler hatted Whitehall mandarins playing keepie-uppie.

“Many of our members do work in the civil service or in the public sector. But they also come from the private sector. We just have to do a bit of administrative footwork to affiliate them to the civil service sports council and Bob’s your uncle. You are a member. Put simply, if you love football, no matter at what level, we have a place for you.”

Image above: Civil Service F.C. Continental Tour 1922

An important club in the history of football’s development

Most of the 200 or so members live in southwest London. The standard is high. “Amateur does not mean poor quality,” says Steve. The men’s teams play locally in the Southern Amateur League but sometimes travel the M25 to Essex, Hertfordshire and Kent to take on rivals.

Which is in keeping with their traditions. The club has always had a travel bug. It claims, “no other club did more towards the early development of the game in continental Europe” and, in its hey-day, CSFC travelled Europe to play Barcelona, the Slavia club of Prague and other football clubs to nurture the game beyond the white cliffs of Dover.

Astonishingly, they beat Real Madrid, the ever-so-humbly-self-proclaimed Galacticos, twice in 1924.

“At the end of the 19th century, the Government, through the foreign office, were keen to export the game and we played a part in that as the civil service team by travelling and playing other football teams. It’s a tradition we keep up. This April we went to Berlin and played three games against BFC Germania 1888 who are the oldest football club in Germany,” says Steve.

Image above: Poster advertising a 2023 ‘rematch’ 160 years on from the 1863 Berlin match, in April 

The club’s website hosts a short video which includes an autocue car crash by Sepp Blatter, the disgraced former President of FIFA, which should have won him a Golden Raspberry Award for Soulless Regurgitation of a Corporate Script. But ignore Blatter’s blather.

Instead, watch the video for its tour of the club’s charming history. Listen to a former keeper describing his polo necked woollen jumper, gloves and socks (‘which always shrunk in the wash’) and the heavy boots he had to wear to defend the CSFC goal. Civil Service FC history video

Feast on the sepia tinted nostalgia of a photo showing CSFC playing a German side in front of the Kaiser on a pitch with eccentrically tall grass, as tall as poppy field, in fact. Listen to a club lifer talk about why the club stayed amateur and its commitment to its amateur ethos.

Image above: Fixture card showing teh club’s results vs Madrid in 1924

Players being their ‘true selves’

I recently went to the National Theatre to see Dear England, with Joseph Fiennes in the lead role, wearing a beautifully cut suit and waistcoat, impersonating Gareth Southgate, who became a fashion icon for wearing beautifully cut suits and waistcoats while also coaching the England men’s football team.

The play tells the story of how Southgate, a footballing Derren Brown, mind-managed a divided group of young footballers to become ‘humble, proud and liberated in being their true selves’, while reaching a World Cup semi-final and the final of the Euros, a level no other manager has achieved since 1966.

‘True selves’ is a reference to the famous letter which Southgate wrote to the British public to defend his players from criticism that they lacked pride in ‘the shirt’ and their commitment to taking the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign.

The play is very funny but it asks some serious questions. What does the national game stand for? What does it mean to be English now? Southgate is clear. ‘We are heading for a much more tolerant and understanding society and I know our lads will be a big part of that.’

I ask Steve about the questions the play raises and whether they are reflected at the Civil Service Football Club.

“If you look at how players talk about mental health now you can see how much more open the players and culture of the game is now,” he says.

“We’ve always been a supportive group of people. Hopefully always will be. But the culture is more open and supportive now, which I think reflects a new generation in the game. We’ve certainly got more than a ‘just turn up and play’ ethos here.”

Dear England suggests Southgate and his England team have shown how the game can connect with a new generation of fans and a more tolerant set of values. But it’s grass roots clubs, like CSFC, with their ability to link the past and the present who will need to embed that change.

Looking for new recruits

Right now, the club is especially keen to attract younger players.

‘We’re looking for players who are turning 18 and can’t stay with their youth club any longer but want to carry on playing adult football. If that’s you, come and see us. The same is true for anyone over 30 who wants to get back into the game.’

The club is keen to recruit female footballers, too. The success of the Lionesses, the England’s women’s team who won the European Championships in 2022, has helped attract women to the game.  But the club would like more.

“The club has a women’s team which play in the Greater London Women’s Football League. Last year, they missed out on promotion to Division 1 by a point. We’re hopeful they’ll go one place better next season. If the team get promoted this will help us create a second women’s team squad” says Steve.

It seems this historical gem of a club is alive to that challenge and focused on fusing its past with its future.

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