Mitchell was born in Kirkmahoe, Dumfries in 1843. He moved to
Blackburn in 1867 and after they were formed in 1875 he took a
keen interest in Blackburn Rovers.
A well-respected referee, Mitchell was the first man to
officiate at games in all four home countries, England, Ireland,
Scotland and Wales. Mitchell was
In 1884 Tom Mitchell became secretary/manager of Blackburn
Rovers. At the end of the 1883-84 season Blackburn Rovers joined
forces with other clubs who were paying their players, such as
Preston North End, Aston Villa and Sunderland.
In October, 1884, these clubs threatened to form a break-away
British Football Association. The Football Association responded
by establishing a sub-committee, which included William Sudell,
to look into this issue. On 20th July, 1885, the FA announced
that it was "in the interests of Association Football, to
legalize the employment of professional football players, but
only under certain restrictions". Clubs were allowed to pay
players provided that they had either been born or had lived for
two years within a six-mile radius of the ground.
Blackburn Rovers immediately registered as a professional club.
Their accounts show that they spent a total of £615 on the
payment of wages during the 1885-86 season. Despite the fact
that clubs could now openly pay their players, Blackburn Rovers
continued to dominate English football. They reached the 1885 FA
Cup Final by beating Darwen Old Wanders (6-1), Staveley (7-1),
Brentwood (3-1) and Swifts (2-1) Seven of the Blackburn Rovers
team were appearing in their third successive final, whereas
Fergie Suter, Hugh McIntyre, Jimmy Brown and Jimmy Douglas were
playing in their fourth final in five season. The game against
West Bromwich Albion at the Oval ended in a 0-0 draw.
The replay took place at the Racecourse Ground, Derby. A goal by
Joe Sowerbutts gave Blackburn Rovers an early lead. In the
second-half James Brown collected the ball in his own area, took
the ball past several WBA players, ran the length of the field
and scored one of the best goals scored in a FA Cup final.
Blackburn Rovers now joined the Wanderers in achieving three
successive cup final victories.
The decision by the Football Association to allow clubs to pay
their players increased their out-goings. It was therefore
necessary to arrange more matches that could be played in front
of large crowds. In March, 1888, William McGregor, a director of
Aston Villa, circulated a letter suggesting that "ten or twelve
of the most prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home
and away fixtures each season."
Tom Mitchell agreed with McGregor and played an important role
in establishing the Football League. It consisted of six clubs
from Lancashire (Blackburn Rovers, Preston North End, Accrington,
Burnley and Everton) and six from the Midlands (Aston Villa,
Derby County, Notts County, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and
Wolverhampton Wanderers). The main reason Sunderland was
excluded was because the other clubs in the league objected to
the costs of travelling to the North-East.
The first season of the Football League began in September,
1888. Preston North End won the first championship that year
without losing a single match and acquired the name the "Invincibles".
Blackburn Rovers, who had lost most of their best players to
retirement, finished in 4th place, 14 points behind Preston.
At the beginning of the 1889-90 season Tom Mitchell, the club
secretary, recruited four top players from Scotland: Tom
Brandon, Johnny Forbes, George Dewar and Harry Campbell. These
players joined local men, James Forrest, Herbie Arthur, John
Barton, Billy Townley, Nathan Walton, Joseph Lofthouse, Jack
Southworth, John Horne and James Southworth.
Tom Mitchell was particularly concerned with the position of
goalkeeper. Herbie Arthur, at 36, was coming to the end of his
playing days. Mitchell initially signed Ted Doig from Arbroath.
However, he found it difficult to settle and after playing only
one game he returned to Scotland. Eventually, John Horne took
over as Blackburn's goalkeeper. The defence did not perform well
that season letting in 45 goals in 22 games.
Blackburn Rovers had little difficulty scoring goals. The team
beat Notts County (9-1), Stoke (8-0), Aston Villa (7-0), Bolton
Wanderers (7-1) and Burnley (7-1). Top scorers that season were
Jack Southworth (22), Harry Campbell (15), Nathan Walton (14)
and Joseph Lofthouse (11).
In the 1889-90 season Blackburn Rovers finished in 3rd place,
six points behind Preston North End. They did even better in the
FA Cup. On the way to the final they beat Sunderland (4-2),
Grimsby Town (3-0), Bootle (7-0) and Wolverhampton Wanderers
Blackburn were odds-on favorites to win the cup against
Sheffield Wednesday, who played in the Football Alliance league.
Blackburn selected the following players: (G) John Horne, (2)
Johnny Forbes, (3) James Southworth, (4) John Barton, (5) George
Dewar, (6) James Forrest, (7) Joseph Lofthouse, (8) Harry
Campbell, (9) Jack Southworth, (10) Nathan Walton and (11) Billy
Blackburn Rovers took the lead in the 6th minute when a shot
from Townley was deflected past the Sheffield Wednesday
goalkeeper. Campbell hit the post before Walton converted a pass
from Townley. Blackburn scored a third before half-time when
Southworth scored from another of Townley's dangerous crosses
from the wing.
Townley scored his second, and Blackburn's fourth goal in the
50th minute. Bennett got one back for the Sheffield side when
Bennett headed past the advancing Horne. Townley completed his
hat-trick when he converted a pass from Lofthouse. Ten minutes
before the end of the game, Lofthouse completed the scoring and
Blackburn had won the cup 6-1. As Philip Gibbons pointed out in
his book Association Football in Victorian England: "The
Blackburn side had given one of the finest exhibitions of
attacking football in an FA Cup Final, with England
internationals, Walton, Townley, Lofthouse and John Southworth
at the peak of their form."
After their 1890 FA Cup success, the Blackburn Committee
negotiated a 10 year lease with the Ewood racecourse ground. The
cost was £60 per annum for the first five years and then £70 per
annum for the remaining period. It was also decided to spend
£1,000 to improve Ewood Park.
In an effort to improve the quality of Blackburn's defense, Tom
Mitchell signed a new goalkeeper, John Gow from Scottish club
Renton. However, he was eventually lost his place to local lad,
Although the defense did slightly improve that year, Blackburn
Rovers was not as successful in front of goal and the club
finished in 6th place in the league. However, Blackburn had
another good run in the FA Cup and beat Middlesborough
Ironopolis (3-0), Chester (7-0), Wolverhampton Wanderers (2-0),
West Bromwich Albion (3-2) to reach their second successive
Notts County were their opponents. Mitchell selected the
following players: (G) Rowland Pennington, (2) Tom Brandon, (3)
Johnny Forbes, (4) John Barton, (5) George Dewar, (6) James
Forrest, (7) Joseph Lofthouse, (8) Nathan Walton, (9) Jack
Southworth, (10) Coombe Hall and (11) Billy Townley.
Blackburn Rovers put Notts County under pressure from the
beginning and in the 8th minute, centre-half Dewar scored from a
Townley corner. Before the end of the first-half, Southworth and
Townley added further goals. Jimmy Oswald of Notts County did
score a late consolation goal but Blackburn finished comfortable
3-1 winners and won the FA Cup for the 5th time in 8 years.
At the beginning of the 1891-92 season John Barton suffered a
serious injury that brought an end to his football career at
Blackburn Rovers. Jack Southworth and James Forrest also missed
a lot of games that season as a result of injuries. The club
also lost the services of Tom Brandon who was transferred to
Sheffield Wednesday after an argument with the Blackburn
Blackburn Rovers also got into trouble with the Football
Association after a game against Burnley in December 1891.
Joseph Lofthouse was fouled by Alexander Stewart. The two men
started fighting which resulted in both men being sent off my
the referee. The Blackburn players thought that Lofthouse had
been treated too severely and except for the goalkeeper, Herbie
Arthur, walked off in protest. Arthur then refused to restart
the game with a free-kick and the referee was forced to abandon
Blackburn finished in 9th position in the 1891-92 season. They
were also knocked out of the FA Cup in the second round by West
Blackburn Rovers won their first game in the 1892-93 season
against Newton Heath. Blackburn then began a bad run hat brought
five draws and five defeats from their next 10 League games. Tom
Mitchell, the club secretary, once again went to Scotland to
recruit players. He signed Scottish international defenders,
George Anderson (Leith Athletic) and Harry Marshall (Hearts).
Johnny Murray, who had also played for Scotland, arrived from
Blackburn still had problems with the goalkeeping position.
Rowland Pennington lost his place after letting in seven goals
in two games. Herbie Arthur was brought back into the side but
he was dropped after conceding ten goals in three games.
Mitchell then made the strange decision of putting inside
forward Nathan Walton in goal. That year Blackburn finished in
9th place in the league.
28,000 spectators watched Blackburn Rovers beat Sunderland, 3-0
in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. There was a record gate of £760,
the previous best being £454. One Blackburn supporter wrote
after the game: "Southworth is the finest centre-forward and
Anderson the finest half-back the world has ever seen, or ever
will have the luck to see." Unfortunately Blackburn lost 2-1 in
the semi-final to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The 1893-94 season saw Blackburn Rovers encounter serious
financial problems. The costs of developing Ewood Park had not
resulted in the expected higher attendances for marches. Only
the visit of Sunderland brought a 10,000 plus crowd. Tom
Mitchell was forced to sell his main asset, Jack Southworth, to
Everton for £400.
Adam Ogilvie was signed as the new goalkeeper. He joined fellow
Scotsmen, George Anderson, Harry Marshall, Johnny Murray, Johnny
Forbes, George Dewar, Coombe Hall, Tom Brandon and Harry
Campbell in the side.
Blackburn's defense was now completely made up of Scotsmen.
However, the club did have three talented Englishmen in the
forward line: Harry Chippendale, Jimmy Whitehead and Jamie
Haydock. In fact, Chippendale and Whitehead both obtained their
first international caps in March 1894 in a game against
Ireland. That year Blackburn finished in 4th place in the First
Division of the Football League.
In 1894 Blackburn Rovers signed Patrick Gordon from Liverpool.
Gordon replaced Jamie Haydock in the team. This upset the
supporters and one man wrote to the local newspaper and claimed
"Gordon is scarcely worth his place in the team after all. The
wiseacres on the Rovers' committee think him a dashing
outside-right. But he is not. Haydock is the best they have had
for a long time."
Gordon's form was not good and Haydock eventually got his place
back. On May, 1895 Patrick Gordon was sacked from the club for
what was described as "refractory conduct" during a tour of
Scotland. It was also stated that he refused to play for the
reserve team after he was replaced by Jamie Haydock.
Blackburn continued to have trouble balancing the books and in
1895 the club made a public appeal for £1,500. A club bazaar
raised £1,200 and all the players decided to contribute a week's
wages to the fund.
The 1895-96 season was a major disappointment. New signing Peter
Turnbull, a centre-forward with a good goal scoring record when
he played for Glasgow Rangers, Bolton Wanderers and Burnley,
only managed seven in 25 games for Blackburn. The all-Scottish
defense played well but the lack of goals resulted in the club
finishing in 8th place in the league.
Blackburn also lost the services of James Forrest, a man who had
played in five winning cup finals for the club. Forrest left the
club in October 1895 after he refused a request from the
Blackburn Committee to register as an amateur in order to avoid
paying him a wage.
In October, 1896, Tom Mitchell, resigned as Blackburn's
secretary/manager. His replacement was Joseph Walmsley, a local
cotton mill manager. It seemed Blackburn missed Mitchell as they
slumped to 14th place in the First Division of the Football
Thomas Mitchell died in Blackburn in August, 1921. His coffin
was carried by four former players, James Forrest, Johnny
Forbes, Nathan Walton and Herbert Fecitt.