It seems little has changed in the world of football in more than a century: new research has uncovered bankruptcy, high wages and scandalous love affairs in the lives of the two Scots who were the first professional players ever.

In the autumn of 1878, James Love and Fergus Suter left their club of Partick – long disbanded and no relation to Partick Thistle - to play for Darwen in Lancashire, becoming the first paid players in the game.

Their skills in passing and combination play helped take Darwen to the FA quarter-cup final, the first northern team to reach that stage.

But the story of who the Scots were has only now been revealed in a paper presented at the annual conference of the British Society of Sports History at the University of Edinburgh last week.

Author Andy Mitchell, who runs a sports history website and is a researcher for the FIFA World Football Museum, said James - or Jimmy - Love was recognised as an important figure in sporting history, but little was known about who he was.

His research has revealed he was a street-cleaning contractor in Partick who got into financial difficulties and lost his two horses and equipment. He was summoned to a bankruptcy court but failed to show up, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. But it was never served, as Love had run away to Darwen.

Mitchell said: “He had a very strong motive for getting out of Partick. As he was a footballer he was able to transfer those skills so he could make a new start and get reward for his sporting skills.

“Football then, as now, is the great escape from mundane day to day life.”

Love was soon scoring goals, appearing in cup ties and gaining the attention of an admiring public. He had an income from the club, but a year later mysteriously dropped out of the team.

“I have searched and searched to find out what went wrong and have come up with a complete blank,” Mitchell said. “Whether it was personal reasons or he just didn’t fit in any more, it is hard to say.

“There is nothing in the papers at the time which shed any light – he just suddenly stopped appearing in the team line, made a couple of guest appearances for other teams and then joined the Army.”

Love signed up with the Royal Marines and was called in action in Egypt, where he later died of a fever aged 24.

The research has also revealed how the players were paid high wages at Darwen – even though it was at a time when football was supposed to be a strictly amateur affair. Professionalism was not legalised by the Football Association in England until 1885.

In an interview given in 1902, Suter revealed there was no “settled” wage at Darwen, but they would be given £10 every few weeks "without difficulty" – compared to the typical working wage of less than two pounds a week.

Suter settled successfully at Darwen and later became a respectable businessman, running various hotels and pubs.

But a sudden move to local rivals Blackburn Rovers in 1880 may have been triggered by more than just a financial inducement.

Mitchell said he had uncovered a family legend which suggested Suter had fathered an illegitimate child by a servant girl – and his move to Blackburn coincided with that time.

“It can’t be proved, as it was an unmarried relationship with a servant girl - but there is that family legend,” he said. “It puts a different perspective on his move – maybe it wasn’t just money, he may well have left in a hurry rather than face up to his responsibilities.”

The annual conference of the British Society of Sports History also heard how research on sport has failed to examine the experience of female fans – even though they have attended football and rugby matches since the late 19th century.

Dr Stacey Pope, senior lecturer at Durham University said: “A lot of the existing research tends to focus on the experiences of men, is often focused on hooliganism and issues of fan rivalry and a result of that women’s experiences are largely neglected.”