Floodlights are now an established part of the English game, so much so that even clubs like ourselves in the lower echelons of the football pyramid have some. However, there was a time, not that long ago, when floodlit football in England was as a rarity.
The first ever floodlit game in England took place at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane ground in 1878 yet it took 52 years before the first competitive game in England was played under floodlights.
It took place 86 years ago this week, on Saturday 22nd February 1930 at Mansfield Town’s Field Mill Stadium. Though they only plyed their trade in the Midland League, Mansfield were an ambitious club and decide to experiment using the latest in lightning technology to stage the game. Four, forty-feet high towers were placed at each corner of the pitch so that all parts of the ground were illuminated up to a height of 70 feet. The cost of the equipment cost £1200 and the electricity for the match came to a total of £3!
The decision to stage the game caught the attention of a national audience. Officials from Wembley were present whilst representatives of Sheffield Wednesday, Arsenal, Notts County and several others all turned up to see the latest development in English Floodlit football.
Given all this, it was a surprise that the game chosen was a fairly small affair, a North Notts Senior Cup final between two local sides: Ollerton Forest and Welbeck Athletic.
A huge crowd of over 6000 people turned up to the game and they were entertained by half an hour of community singing. Before the game, Councillor J. Pollard gave a speech in which he remarked that both teams “were the pioneers of what might become a universally adopted sport”.
To make sure that those in attendance could clearly see what was happening on the field, Welbeck played in red shirt and white shorts whilst Ollerton played in white shirt and black shorts.
Hilariously, due to the fact all footballs at that stage were made of the traditional brown leather, the ball was painted white and used for the game to help spectators see. Five balls were used in total as the balls needed to be cleaned and repainted after being used for a while.
According to reports, visibility was very good and from the middle of the main stand, spectators could clearly see both goals and identify which team was which due to the colour of their kits. One problem that the teams did encounter however was that a strong wind blew smoke from the nearby houses across some of the pitch.
Ollerton’s line up for the game was:
Smart, Stockham, Tansley, Chadburn©, Ward, Harrison, White, Hallam, Lowds, Jordan and Castledine.
The match itself was an even affair in the opening period with the neither side managing to find a goal before half time.
It was to be Lowds who scored the game’s opening goal to set Ollerton on course for victory. He latched onto a defensive error before lobbing Chambers in the Welbeck goal. White scored Ollerton’s second to put them in a commanding position before Chadburn made it 3-0 from the penalty spot to complete an emphatic victory.
Mr Arthur Hines, of the FA, presented the trophy to Ollerton and he congratulated them on their success in what was also their debut season as a club.
The experiment was unanimous success with the referee and both captains going on record to discuss the quality of the lighting. In fact, the game went so well that a representative of Wembley Stadium commented that it would not be a surprise for Wembley to install similar lights sometime soon.
Therefore it may be a surprise to find out that a few months later, the FA banned member clubs playing games by artificial light, a ban that remained in place until December 1950.
It must be stated that at this time, what connection Ollerton Forest has to the Ollerton Colliery side who would win the Notts Senior Cup in 1937/38 remains unclear, as is where Ollerton Forest played their home games. However, what can’t be denied is the fascinating place in English football history that the players, and that game, have.
Massive thanks must go to Vince Taylor from Groundtastic Magazine and Paul Taylor, official historian of Mansfield Town FC, who allowed me to use their prior research and work to create this article.
If anyone thinks they can help provide more information about the game, make sure you get in touch!