A Brief History of Association Football

Games that involve kicking a ball have been recorded as far back as ancient times and have been played in Britain since at least the Middle Ages. By the first half of the nineteenth century, games were being played that resembled modern football but it was not until 1848 that a cohesive set of rules started to appear that can be said to be the beginnings of Association Football (or soccer).

Representatives from elite educational establishments such as Cambridge, Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Shrewsbury, and Winchester got together and came up with a standard set of rules, though in the North of England, teams were reluctant to follow suit and would establish the Sheffield Rules ten years later.

Ebenezer Cobb Morley and the Football Association 

In the following decade, a Yorkshireman called Ebenezer Cobb Morley became the father of the Football Association (FA). He he set up a meeting on 26 October 1863 at the Freemason’s Tavern in Great Queen Street, London to unify the emerging sport. Over the next month or so, more meetings were held that established a set of comprehensive rules for the game. 

However it was not all plain sailing as at the last of these meetings, the new FA treasurer withdrew his club, Blackheath, from the association over a disagreement over the removal of two rules. One of these allowed players to pick up the ball and run, the other would have allowed payers to trip and hold onto members of the opposing team. 

Some others at the meeting agreed and left to form the Rugby Football Union, with the term soccer commonly being used to distinguish between the two games. Eleven clubs remained in the FA and what started as thirteen rules were tweaked and improved over the coming years to make a game that would be recognisable to modern football fans. 

The Growth of Football

In 1872, Scotland and England played in the first-ever international match, a 0-0 draw that was witnessed by 4000 people. In the same year, the first FA Cup final was won by a team called Wanderers, who would go on to retain the trophy the following year. New Football Associations would soon spring up in Britain and in 1886, the FAs of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales got together in Manchester and formed the International Football Association Board, which is still in place today.

The Football League was established in 1888 though many disliked it at first, believing the game should stay an amateur sport and that the new league was just a ‘money-making circus.’ Despite this, the popularity of Association Football went from strength to strength and attendances rose in England from an average of 4,600 in 1888, to 7.900 in 1895. This continued to increase in the early years of the twentieth century as average attendances went from 13,200 in 1905 to 23,100 by 1914.

Today, football is one of the most popular pastimes on the planet and is played by millions of people of all ages. Millions more enjoy going to see their favourite teams play and billions watch matches and highlights on TV. With the rise in popularity of women’s football in recent times, Association Football is only going to get bigger as increasing numbers of people enjoy watching and participating in the beautiful game.

Written by Andrew Griffiths – Last updated 19/05/2023. Please visit my Sample Page or go to my passion project, The History of Fighting, for more examples of my writing. 

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Giulianotti, R.C et al. [Internet] 2023. Football. Britannica. Available from: https://www.britannica.com/sports/football-soccer/Professionalism [Accessed May 19, 2023]. 

Inglis, S. [Internet]. 2023. The History of Football in England. English Heritage. Available from: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/inspire-me/the-history-of-football-in-england [Accessed May 19, 2023].

Johnson, B. [Internet]. 2015. Association Football or Soccer. Historic UK. Available from: 
https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/inspire-me/the-history-of-football-in-englandhttps://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/inspire-me/the-history-of-football-in-england [Accessed May 19, 2023].

Football Quote

The ball is round, the game lasts ninety minutes, and everything else is just theory. 

~ Sepp Herberger ~
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