In 1987, Lancastrian businessmen Sagar Mitchell and and James Kenyon founded one of the world’s first film production companies in Blackburn, Lancs. Mitchell and his father had been in the photographic business for a decade; Kenyon ran a furniture and cabinet making business. They traded under the name Norden, and their advertising slogans were “Local Films For Local People” and “We take them and make them”. These documentary films were either produced for local businesses or on Mitchell and Kenyon’s own initiative. In both cases, the films would be viewed locally. The first reported showing of a Mitchell & Kenyon production was a film of Blackburn Market, which was shown at 40 Northgate, Blackburn, on 27 November 1897.
More than sixty years before Match of the Day first aired, Mitchell and Kenyon began taking their cameras to football matches.
Newcastle United 1 Liverpool 0, 23 November 1901, at St James’ Park.
18,000 fans were at St James’ Park to see the Magpies defeat reigning League Champions Liverpool with a 65th minute goal from Scottish international Bob McCobb. The film features the only known pictures of the ground’s original West Stand, which was demolished in 1905 to make way for a far more modern structure.
Sheffield United 1 Bury 0, 6 September 1902 at Bramall Lane.
This was a high-profile match between what were at the time two of the country’s leading sides. The Blades won one League Championship and four FA Cups between 1897 and 1925, and the Shakers won the FA Cup in 1900 and 1903. But the glory days didn’t last and neither side has won a trophy since this halcyon period.
The quality of the picture is astonishingly good. We get a brief view of the home side’s impressive, newly-opened John Street Stand, the first in England to be designed by the renowned football stadium architect Archibald Leitch. The movie also features Sheffield United’s legendary goalkeeper William Foulke, who also played cricket for Derbyshire County Cricket Club. Foulke was a large man, unkindly known as Fatty Foulke. He measured 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) and his weight is said to have reached 152 kg (336 lb) at the end of his career. Also featuring for the Blades that day was Herbert Chapman, the future Huddersfield Town and Arsenal manager.
Everton 3 Liverpool 1, 27 September 1902 at Goodison Park.
This is the earliest moving footage of a Merseyside derby, which then as now was a major event. Forty thousand fans packed into Goodison Park to see the Toffees record a 3-1 win over their great rivals. Unfortunately, the picture quality is poor, but details of what was one of the world’s first super-stadia can just about be made out.
Burnley 0 Manchester United 2, 6 December 1902 at Turf Moor.
This match was due to shown that evening at the Burnley Mechanics’ Institute, but the showing was cancelled after the home side’s defeat. Manchester United had just adopted the name by which they would go on to become world famous, having previously been known as Newton Heath. But this match – the first moving picture to feature Man. Utd – was far from a high-profile affair. Both sides were playing in the Second Division (now the Championship), and Man. Utd not only failed to finish higher than fifth; they also had to endure Man. City topping the division and gaining promotion. They nevertheless did considerably better than Burnley, who finished rock bottom.
The quality of the pictures from the Sheffield United vs Bury match compare very favourably with those appearing on TV screens almost seven decades later.
Swindon Town 3 Arsenal 1, Football League Cup Final, 15 March 1969, at Wembley.
Arsenal’s predilection for losing to unfancied opposition was nothing new even in the 1960s. Trailing 1-nil to Third Division Swindon Town, Arsenal were seemingly rescued by a goal from striker Bobby Gould which took the match to extra time. Gould bizarrely marked the goal by bursting into tears. He should perhaps have waited until after the match as the Gunners were undone in extra time by two goals from Swindon winger Don Rogers.
The quality of the picture is almost as poor as that of the pitch, which had been badly cut up by staging the Horse of the Year show at Wembley a week before the match. Videotape technology had apparently yet to catch up with the cine film technology from the turn of the century.
Arsenal 2 Liverpool 1, FA Cup Final, 8 May 1971, at Wembley.
Arsenal, videotape technology, and the Wembley pitch had all markedly improved just two years later, as the Gunners came from behind to beat Liverpool in extra time and complete the League and FA Cup Double. Matches were now being shown in colour, although regular live football on TV was still some years off.
Mitchell and Kenyon continued to make documentary films, but by 1907 public interest was beginning to wane as movie companies shifted their emphasis to fictional productions. The last-known Mitchell and Kenyon production dates to 1913. After Kenyon’s death in 1925, Mitchell stored the films in the basement of his photographic shop, which he now ran with his son John. Mitchell died in 1952, and John continued to run the business until his retirement in 1960
The films were forgotten until 1994, when they were found during renovation work at what was by now a toy shop. They are now preserved at the British Film Institute’s National Film and Television Archive at Berkhamsted, Herts, and in 2005 they were the subject of a three-part BBC series The Lost World of Mitchell & Kenyon presented by historian Dan Cruickshank.