14 October 1878: the first football match played under floodlights

Floodlights are an essential part of modern football. And not just for the evening matches, which hold their own special appeal, but for the boring old Saturday afternoon matches too. After all, in the depths of December, the sun sets before the start of the second half, even in London. In Newcastle, you won’t even make it to the end of the first half before darkness descends.

Floodlit football has been around for a long time. Even longer than the Football League, which didn’t get going until 1888. Because the first floodlit football match in the world took place on this day in 1878 at Bramall Lane in Sheffield, as the “Blues” played the “Reds” in an exhibition match under electric light.

As the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent reported, although “we have had plenty of athletic exhibitions by the light of gas”, electricity was still in its infancy at the time. Indeed, Edison hadn’t yet patented his electric light bulb. It was a huge novelty.

Advert for floodlit football at Bramall Lane in 1878And so that’s why 12,000 people paid sixpence each to watch the game, and as many more again snuck in under the cover of darkness without paying. “The roads to Bramall Lane were completely besieged”, said The Independent. “There seemed no end to the ever-coming stream.”

Four lights were installed on wooden “stages” 30 feet high. Behind each goal was a “portable engine” powering the lights, which put out a total of 8,000 candlepower. It was a big success. “Everybody seemed highly pleased with the result of the experiment, the light being most brilliant and effective”, said The Independent.

Of the football on offer, however, The Times reported the next day that “the brilliancy of the light dazzled the players and sometimes caused strange blunders”– a phenomenon which is, unfortunately, still all too common at Bramall Lane today.

Also on this day

14 October 1947: Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier

On this day in 1947, the rocket-powered Bell X-1 – nicknamed ‘Glamorous Glennis’ – blasted through the sound barrier, with Chuck Yeager at the controls. Read more here.