“Maybe you played for the team, or maybe your father, grandfather or great-grandfather pulled on the red and white shirt. Relive the great moments of a proud football story.”
Before Rothbury Association Football Club was officially formed in 1881, the market town had long played an ancient Shrove Tuesday game of football which was started from a cairn on the surrounding hills against neighbouring Thropton. The Rothbury goal, or hale, was the church porch, the Thropton men’s the bridge over the Wreigh Burn. The Coquetdale men also played a game against the men from neighbouring Redesdale at Alwinton every year. Before that, a match between Coquetdale and Redewater was played at Harehaugh on the boundaries of Rothbury and Elsdon Parishes, which ‘often ended in blows or even bloodshed’ as it stirred up the ‘ill-blood that existed for centuries’ and sparked old Border feuds.
Rothbury played their first organised football match as Coquet against Rede at Rochester in 1876 and were awarded a centenary certificate by the Football Association in 1976.
In 1882 the Rothbury Association Football Club played an exhibition match against neighbours Alnwick Association Football Club after the Shrovetide game. So too did the more recently formed Alnwick Rugby Club (Alnwick Hotspur). This experiment was repeated in 1883, with both association and rugby clubs again playing exhibition matches, so that the Shrovetide players were able to learn ‘the proper method of play’ of association football.¹
Despite the club’s minor status, they played in the first three seasons of the Northumberland FA Senior Challenge Cup from 1883-1886, and in that year Rothbury players Rev. F.E. Ainger and W.H. Ainger played as Possibles in a Northumberland County trials match at Bedlington, with players from Newcastle West End and East End (who became Newcastle United) playing in the Probables.
Francis was capped by Northumberland in 1884 against Cleveland at Middlesbrough while his brother Walter went on to play for Old Carthusians, London, the South and England as an amateur of some distinction.
The Club played their football in friendly fixtures against the likes of Alnwick, Glanton, Belsay and Ashington before becoming founder members of the Coquetdale League in 1902 with the sides Amble Black Watch, Amble St. Cuthbert’s, Amble Blue Star, Chevington United, Felton, Warkworth, Shilbottle, Newburgh United and Widdrington.
Rothbury joined the North Northumberland League in 1920 and they were Division One Champions in 1935/36 and 1937/38.
Newcastle United used to send a team to play a Coquetdale League select side at Rothbury’s Armstrong Park for several seasons after the War (and donated towards the cost of constructing the ground in 1949) and the Magpies brought the FA Cup to the village with them after winning it in 1955.
England legend Sir Bobby Charlton played on the pitch for Northumberland County Juniors and a veteran Chris Waddle appeared on the hallowed turf for a visiting side in the North Northumberland League.
The club rejoined the Coquetdale League after the Second World War and returned to the North Northumberland League in 1967/68 when the Coquetdale folded. Rothbury were Division Two Champions and Tate Cup winners in their first season and went on to enjoy two Treble successes in the 1970s as they dominated the League. An unsuccessful application to join the Northern Football Alliance in 1975 led to a move into the Ashington & District League in 1977, where they remained until 1983. The club returned to the North Northumberland League in 1983/84 and celebrated the double with the Division One title and Anderson Cup a season later.
The Reds were North Northumberland League champions in 2009/10 and won the Anderson Cup, Sanderson Cup, Bilclough Cup, and the Lancaster/Laidler Cup throughout the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.
Rothbury successfully applied to join the Northern Football Alliance in 2018/19 and were Second Division champions at the first attempt. The 2022/23 season sees the club playing in the Northern Football Alliance First Division, Level 12 of the English football league pyramid.
Northern Football Alliance
Division Two Champions 2018/19
North Northumberland League
Division One Champions 1935/36, 1937/38, 1974/75, 1976/77, 1984/85, 2009/10.
Division Two Champions 1968/69, 2002/03.
Winners 1971/72, 1973/74, 1974/75, 1976/77, 1984/85, 1999/00.
Winners 1972/73, 1974/75, 1975/76, 1976/77, 1985/86, 1987/88, 1991/92, 2004/05.
Winners 1985/86, 1991/92, 1998/99.
Coquetdale Challenge Cup Winners 1948/49.
Ashington & District League
Subsidiary Cup Winners 1977/78.
¹ Excerpt taken from ‘A Fateful Love: Essays on Football in the North-East of England 1880-1930’ by Gavin Kitching.