THE key role that the town of Darwen played in the rise of the popularity of football is just beginning to be recognised.

Next year, the six-part Netflix drama The English Game written by Julian Fellowes, the man behind Downton Abbey, will look at the development of the professional game.

And Darwen FC has a key role in that story and local historian Tony Foster has taken a keen interest in the club’s development.

Darwen FC first played on a ground close to where Hawkshaw Avenue now stands and by 1874 they had moved to Barley Bank and finally to their current home at the Anchor Ground.

During the early 1870s Darwen would sometimes play according to the rugby rules and at other times association football.

In 1878 Darwen FC was the first team in the north west (and only the second in the county) to play under floodlights. In the 1878-79 they were the first team from the north ever to reach the quarter final of the FA Challenge Cup. In this round the Darwen team consisting of working lads were playing against the gentlemen of the Old Etonians.

In the following year Darwen won the inaugural Lancashire Challenge Cup. The team featured Fergus Suter and James Love who at the time were reputed to be the first professional footballers in the world.

Both Suter and Love were Scots who played for Partick and twice played against Darwen FC in 1876 and 1878.

After these matches, they both expressed an interest to their team mate William Henry Kirkham, who was originally from Darwen that they would like to play for Darwen.

Later in 1878 Love moved first shortly followed by Suter.

Love left Darwen in late 1879 and then joined the 1880 joined the Royal Marines Light Infantry in 1880. He died two years later died of enteric fever in Egypt. As his time with Darwen was short he has almost disappeared from the club’s history.

On the other hand, more is known about Suter who first played as outside right, but subsequently became a full-back, in which position he established a great reputation. He was in the team that won the Lancashire Challenge Cup in 1880 and later in the year he moved to Blackburn Rovers were he was in the team that appeared in four FA Cup finals and collected winner’s medals in 1884, 1885 and 1886.

On retiring from football he became the licensee at the Bay Horse, Blackburn, before moving back to Darwen to run the Millstone Hotel and later still the White Horse.

He died in Blackpool in 1916 and was buried in Blackburn Cemetery.