Love and Suter made history by becoming the first professional footballers in the world when they joined Darwen in 1878. This move had a profound impact on the game, challenging its amateur nature and paving the way for the commercialization and professionalization of football.
Their influence continues to be felt in the modern game, where we witness the legacy of their pioneering efforts through the astronomical salaries and worldwide popularity of today’s football stars. James Love and Fergus Suter will forever be remembered as the trailblazers who revolutionized football.
Under the guidance of Love and Suter, Darwen transformed into the first Northern team to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals. Their memorable campaign saw them face the favored Old Etonians in three matches held in London. In the first match, Darwen mounted a remarkable comeback, coming from behind to secure a 5-5 draw after being down 1-5 at halftime. However, the Old Etonians refused extra time and demanded a replay. The second match ended in a 2-2 draw, and it was only on the third attempt that the opponents emerged victorious, ultimately lifting the cup.
Darwen’s achievements with their “Scottish professors” catapulted them to nationwide fame. The presence of Love and Suter prompted other teams to engage players who were paid solely for their performances, leading to increased interest in football and its mass development as a sport for the entire population, not just the elite.
After his one-year stint with Darwen, Love played briefly for Blackburn Rovers and Haslingden before his football career seemingly came to an end. It is believed that he joined the army and tragically died during bombings in Egypt in 1882.
Suter, recognized as the more talented player, made an immediate impact. Just two weeks after joining Darwen, he earned a spot in the Lancashire county selection. He eventually became the captain of Darwen in his second season, with his brother Edward also joining the team.
However, in a surprising turn of events during the summer of 1880, Suter made an unexpected move to local rivals Blackburn Rovers. It is widely believed that a significantly better salary offer was the primary reason for his transfer. Although Darwen protested, their grievances yielded no results due to their own history of paying players and the lack of evidence against Blackburn.
Suter’s time with Blackburn Rovers was immensely successful. He stayed with the club for ten years, contributing to Blackburn becoming the first Northern team to reach the FA Cup final in 1882. Together, Suter and Blackburn won the prestigious tournament three times, in 1884, 1885, and 1886.
Suter also had the honor of playing one match for Blackburn Rovers in the inaugural season of the newly formed Football League in 1888. After retiring from professional football, he settled in Darwen, managing a hotel until his passing in 1916.
As for the Darwen team, they reached the FA Cup semifinals in 1891 and were members of the Football League from 1891 to 1899. Subsequently, they became part of the Lancashire Football League from 1900 and participated in regional amateur championships. In 2009, the original team ceased to exist, and AFC Darwen was established as its successor in the same year.
“The English Game,” a Netflix series, has brought the captivating story of Love and Suter to audiences worldwide. Although the series incorporates fictional elements and combines events, it beautifully portrays the early years of football in Lancashire. Particularly during times when football is absent, the series provides solace for fans longing for the beloved game.