Before giving details of the event, it may be helpful to put it into some form of context. The invention that enabled football to be played by electric light was a relatively recent innovation. A form of electric lighting had been possible since the mid-nineteenth century and had been used in coastal lighthouses for number of years. The next stage in the evolution of lighting was the invention of the dynamo-electric machine, which allowed the lighting of workshops and other large areas, while the third and most recent stage was the practice of illuminating a number of lights from a one single source of electricity.

As a result of these developments - 

"By the autumn of 1878 electricity was about to emerge as a valuable source of artificial lighting to rival gas, and what better way to promote it than to link it to the equally nascent gate money sport of football"

However the two parties to the event, the electrical companies and the football clubs had rather different motives and interests. The electrical companies saw the matches primarily as a publicity and marketing event; an opportunity to demonstrate the inherent value of electricity in an outdoor setting. The football clubs on the other hand saw the installation of lighting as a way of increasing attendances, and of course revenue

And so on the 14th October Bramall Lane staged a what turned out to be unique football match - the first in the World to be played under floodlights.

The local paper The Sheffield Telegraph reported ..

"There was an overwhelming interest in the experiment, and excursionists arrived in large numbers from distant grounds. Between six and seven o'clock, it seemed as if all Sheffield was heading for Bramall Lane. The streets were thronged from all directions. At the game curiosity conquered customary courtesy, and the few who were really interested in the play were obliged to give way to the many who had eyes only for the new lights. Many of the ladies, once within the rays, shot up umbrellas as they would parasols to shield them from the sun at mid-day!" (Sheffield Football: A History, Volume 1)

The actual match was between teams chosen by the Sheffield Association and local clubs.

The electric power was generated by two portable engines, one behind each goal; and the lamps, one in each corner of the ground, were on wooden towers 30ft high. They were of 8,000 candle-power, and a crowd estimated at nearly 20,000 saw the Association team win 2-0.

The next days edition of the local newspaper carried an excellent report of the proceedings under the title

The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (Sheffield, England), Tuesday, October 15, 1878

Another report is dated October 20, 1878

To the delight of the committee the official attendance of 12000 generated receipts of 300 but it was estimated that the crowd was as high as 20000, many scaling the perimeter walls to catch a glimpse of the electric lights.
Similar games were tried elsewhere in the country in the next few months but it soon became apparent that there were problems with the technology. Basically it boiled down to lack of experience in the lighting of sports-fields - the height to which the lamps could be raised was a factor as was the number that could be employed. If four separate lamps could be employed at a reasonable height, the results were considered satisfactory but most games took place under two lamps and in some cases just one which was plainly inadequate. But overshadowing the number of lamps employed, and their height was a far greater problem, the unreliable nature of the equipment. Few games managed to last the full length. Even those that did often had to suffer repeated interruptions due to power failure An some never even got started as the equipment just did not start.

The inherent unreliability of the equipment was further exacerbated by it's inability to handle the normal wet and windy conditions that are the norm at that time of year. In fact a month later the North and the Midlands had heavy snowfalls and whilst the snow aided reflection of the lights it did nothing for the comfort of those attending the matches. Needless to say, the unreliable equipment and the cold weather led to a lot of adverse comment which was not what the the electrical companies either wanted or anticipated

In fact the craze for floodlit football was short-lived - it was ten years later in  1888 when it took off again and that was due almost entirely to the development of what was known as the Wells Lamp which was to prove both a reliable and effective source of illumination.

But to go back to the first game at Bramall Lane. The consensus was that the event had been a great success. - the gate at Bramall Lane that night was the highest ever for an association match in England but it must be noted that a fair proportion of the crowd were there to witness the artificial lighting and not the football. There is no doubt that the success was due to the careful planning and preparation of the event - the game coincided with a full moon providing a modicum of natural light - and the weather for once that autumn was favourable. The other factor that cannot be under-estimated is that the lighting was provided and arranged by a Mr John Tasker Sons and co of Angel Street Sheffield who were already forerunners in this new field of electricity.

More to follow re Mr John Tasker  -

John Tasker was responsible for opening the first telephone exchange in Sheffield.

Tasker's main business was actually boot and shoe making, which involved him with the rubber and leather industry. He later added an engineering department, which patented an armour plate grinding machine that at one point was responsible for making all the armour plating on the navy's ships.

'Adaptability' was his motto, and he turned his hand to almost anything from the invention of a bouncy ball to a way of mending galoshes using India rubber. His involvement with rubber opened his eyes to electricity via wire insulation, and he was particularly intrigued by the phone, once Graham Bell's invention arrived in England. This prompted him to open Sheffield's first telephone exchange with just 12 subscribers, using the Williams sliding spring-peg switchboard.

The telephone was just one element in Tasker's appetite for all things electric. He also helped build Sheffield's first power station and electricity supply network.


Sheffield Football: A History Volume I, Farnsworth. 1995

The Official Encyclopaedia of Sheffield United, Matthews et al. 2003

Soccer History Volume 4

Connected Earth web-site

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This page was last updated on 12/01/14 16:14