Ralph Rylance. Football’s forgotten genius

Much has been made of R.L. Rylance’s contribution to establishing association football in Southport. He came to Southport from Blackburn in 1881 where he was employed by a firm of solicitors. Before moving he played for the Blackburn Law team.

To set one popular belief to bed, whilst it had originally been thought that it was not even possible to buy footballs in the town at the time of Rylance’s arrival that has since proven to be untrue. He did bring 3 footballs with him from his former club, but it has since been discovered that there was a sports store on Lord Street where it was possible to purchase footballs for the association game.

Football itself can be played on almost any surface and Players often find it easy to disguise their limited skills by blaming the pitch. Indeed some managers use it as a justifiable excuse too!

To prevent players hiding behind this popular excuse, it was felt necessary to provide a pitch with a flat and even surface in different seasonal weather conditions.

Step forward Ralph Leather Rylance.

As early as January 1881 Rylance had designed (GB 1881-7A) an entirely artificial pitch surface. It no longer had anything in common with your average natural grass field and he was not the inventor of astroturf. Even in it’s most primitive form however an artificial grass surface wasn’t to follow for nearly another 50 years. His invention consisted of a concrete, asphalt or wooden plank foundation with a rubber layer applied on top. Depending on the use and the sports grounds the rubber utilised was to be either solid, spongy or moulded.

Provisional specification left by Ralph Leather Rylance at the Office of the commissioners of Patents on 1st January 1881