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Early County Football
Early County Football 

The first county union in central England was formed in 1879 and was called the Midland Counties Football Union. The union covered the counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Staffordshire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. In 1881/82 a Midland Counties Challenge Cup was instituted by the union and was contested annually until 1926. Moseley reached the first six finals and won the inaugural event by defeating South Warwickshire Rovers from Leamington Spa. In all Moseley captured the cup on nine occasions. 

At first the new union seems to have had ambitions to be more than just a county organisation for in 1882 they played Wales at Newport. A defeat by four goals and four tries to nil brought them down to earth and they settled down to being a county union. In 1888/89 the first ever touring side, the New Zealand Native Football Team or the Maoris, arrived in Britain. The Midland Counties played the tourists twice, losing 0-10 at Edgbaston Crusaders’ ground and 1-8 at The Reddings (a try was then worth one point). This illustrates the fact that then, as now, club rugby took pride of place in the Midlands for the tourists also played two club sides, Moseley and Burton, and were defeated on both occasions. The Moseley victory meant that the club became the first side to defeat the first ever tourists to Britain. 

When the county championship was first organised in 1890/91 Midland Counties was placed in the southwestern division of the competition. Covering such a large area Midland Counties was somewhat unwieldy and after two seasons they were transferred to the southeastern division of the championship. Here they were joined, in 1897, by East Midlands comprising Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire. In 1898 Midland Counties, including seven Moseley players, beat Devon 5-3, at Plymouth, in the county championship semi-final. Unfortunately the final against Northumberland, at Coventry, turned out to be a fiasco because the Leicester players refused to play and Midland Counties were swamped 3-24.

 The First All Blacks toured in 1905/06 and a Midland Counties side containing two future internationals from Moseley, J.G. Cooper and C.H. Shaw, was defeated 5-21. Worse was to befall the Midland side in the following year when a team again containing Cooper and Shaw lost to the First Springboks 0-29. Victory over a touring side was finally achieved in 1908 when the First Wallabies were beaten 16-5. The only Moseley player in the side on that occasion was Cooper. The Midland Counties union played its last game against visitors from overseas in 1912 when the Second Springboks triumphed 25-3. Only one Moseley man, A. Wainwright, was included in the team.

In 1913/14 Midland Counties won the southeastern group of the county championship and qualified for a semi-final against Cornwall. A team containing two Moseley representatives, H.W. Hill and A. Woodward, won the game 24-10 and so progressed to the final. This match, against Durham, was played at Leicester and the Midland Counties won 22-5 to take the county championship for the first and only time. This triumph strangely proved to be the death knell of Midland Counties because it brought into focus the difficulty of non-Leicester players making the county side. Ten Tigers had played in the final and, as on other occasions in the past, the other clubs particularly Moseley and Coventry thought they deserved a larger representation. The outbreak of the Great War cut short the arguments but when rugby resumed in 1919 the Midlands was divided into four counties-Leicestershire, Warwickshire, North Midlands and East Midlands.

East Midlands, as before, was made up of Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire but what was this new creation called North Midlands? The original North Midlands area comprised Greater Birmingham, Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire. That partly explains the name although how Birmingham and Worcestershire could be considered to be in the north of the region is a bit of a mystery. Another point that needs explaining is why Greater Birmingham was not included in Warwickshire. It was felt that if the whole of Birmingham was included in Warwickshire then that county would have a very strong side while the weaker areas of the Midlands such as Derbyshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire would not be strong enough, even if they combined, to raise a competitive team. It was also suggested this solution was arrived at so that the Moseley and Coventry rivalry would not be compromised by the clubs being members of the same county.