English clubs · English football · Football finances & business · Sociology & community

Foundation Of English Football Clubs – Legal Fiction Or Sociological Phenomenon?

Continuing from here, and in reply to

If a club was formed in say for instance 1920, then changed there name in 1990, as long as there were no mergers along the way, and it was just pure name changes, I would say the club was formed in 1920.


So how about us then?

Formed as Apsley End FC in 1883 – changed name to Apsley FC in 1885 – Changed name again to Hemel Hempstead Town in 1949.

Brocks Sports & Social founded 1934 – changed name to Greenhills FC – 1953 – changed name to Adeyfield Athletic Fc 1955 – changed name to Hemel Hempstead United 1960.

Hemel Hempstead Town & Hemel Hempstead United merged 1972 to form Hemel Hempstead FC** – changed name back to Hemel Hempstead Town FC 1998

**Original Hemel Hempstead FC formed 1998 and disbanded 1922 nothing to do with Apsley club.

In my view, the crux of the issue is whether one sees football clubs in narrow legal terms, as companies coming into existence on their date of incorporation, or in broader sociological terms, determined by a continuous link to a fan base and community.

As set out in the earlier post and the comments thereto, my personal view is that football clubs represent a broader sociological phenomenon.

In the context of football clubs, the term “club” is itself usually a misnomer – while the ordinary meaning of the term refers to an unincorporated association, most football clubs are companies with corporate personalities.

Jurisprudence recognizes that corporate personality is a legal fiction, which strictly speaking, is only enforceable in a court of law.

There can be no agreement when fundamental premises are so at odds. When fundamental premises are as divergent as this, there is actually no argument at all.


6 thoughts on “Foundation Of English Football Clubs – Legal Fiction Or Sociological Phenomenon?

  1. In my view, the crux of the issue is whether one sees football clubs in narrow legal terms, as companies coming into existence on their date of incorporation, or in broader sociological terms, determined by a continuous link to a fan base and community.

    Nail on the head.

    Personally, I see football clubs more in terms of their links to their community. Hence I feel perfectly justified in saying that the current Maidstone United are a direct continuation of the previous one.

    A club formed by the merger of two or more others is, in my opinion, a continuation of the clubs which merged to form it, but honours and histories of the three or more clubs should be listed separately. However, I would differentiate between a merger and an absorption, where the new club retains the community links etc. of only one (or at least, not all) of the clubs that merged to form it. In this case, I would consider the absorbed club to have ceased to exist.

    Although not definitive criteria in themselves, the name and home of the club do help to determine the community links that the club has, and therefore name changes and moves can be considered to be events in which the community links of the club change.

    The situation in which the “reformation” or “fans club” co-exists with the original gives an interesting dilemma. The new club undoubtedly has the same links to the fan base and community as the original but the original club is still around. In these cases (e.g. Wimbledon, Enfield Town, FCUM) I would call the new club an “indirect continuation”, and the original club a “direct continuation”. In other words, I would view the formation of the new club as a “demerger” of the original club. As far as I’m concerned, AFC Wimbledon (as an example) are perfectly reasonable to list the honours and history of Wimbledon FC pre-2002 in the programme or wherever else, but should list it separately to the honours and history of AFC Wimbledon.

  2. In reply to

    On the subject of reformations and continuations – its tricky but certainly if a club has the same name, the same fans, the same ground and the time period bewteen both incarnations isnt too great (i.e. New Brighton’s long gap) then I believe its up to the club to decide whether they want to be officially recognised as a continuation/reformation of the extinct club. For clubs like Bradford Park Avenue – a blatant continuation and obviously see themselves as such (as entirely implied by the fact the reformed club chose the distinct name Bradford Park Avenue) I’d probably say they were formed in 1863.

    You say “name change don’t come into it”. That’s your opinion, but in that case can you explain when you believe MK Dons were formed (fact or opinion)?

    This is, in my opinion, an exception. My personal opinion is that Milton Keynes Dons were formed in 1889 as Wimbledon Old Centrals. This pretty much backed up by Milton Keynes being in the Football League – magically appearing in the place of Wimbledon!

    The other way of looking at the cold hard facts is that the football authorities allowed an entity with a particular sociological base in Wimbledon to be replaced by one with a sociological base in Milton Keynes (albeit they remained the same legal entity).

    Looked at that way, the sheer wrongfulness of the decision is what upset Wimbledon fans, motivated them to re-establish a club with the same sociological base in Wimbledon, and attract sufficient support and build sufficient momentum to take the club rapidly up to the sixth tier of English football. I wouldn’t be surprised if the rise of the current club outdoes the rise of the old Wimbledon from non-league to Premier League, thus sparing the non-league community of further discussion of the rights and wrongs of AFC Wimbledon.

    I imagine that most fans see themselves as part of a community, which is a sociological concept. The legal entities that are the football club businesses seek to exploit that feeling amongst fans to the utmost.

    I would imagine that sense of community is strongest amongst fans of non-league clubs, where the relationship between fans and clubs is more immediate and intimate than with bigger clubs, and is often the very reason many continue to support non-league clubs rather than the nearest or any Premier League or Football League club.

    It therefore surprises me how much of the non-league community, as represented on this forum, insist on the more legalistic approach to the issue of the continuity of Wimbledon.

    I suppose there is always going to be a difference of opinion, especially when the premises (legal or sociological) are so different.

    That is the cold hard facts. However as fans are as much of a club as the fixtures and fittings its a hard thing to admit, and this is why MK Dons were bullied in to relinquishing their claims to Wimbeldon’s past honours.

    Another way of looking at it is that the fans of “Wimbledon” were forced by commercial interests and the football authorities to give up the legal entity that was their club, so they replaced it with another.

    On the subject of Bradford Park Avenue, I found this piece particularly entertaining, even if it does conflict with my views on the sociological continuity of clubs.

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