Football as we know it dates back to 1863, when the chief clubs and schools playing their own versions of the game met to form “The Football Association”.
There had been rules in the past. Too many and often conflicting - that was the problem. With its origins in mob football, an often violent game played on holy days in English towns and villages in which an anything-goes philosophy was adopted to get the ball to designated ends, differences early on centred on the amount of handling and hacking involved.
From the early 19th Century, matches were first played on the pitches, playgrounds and cloisters of England’s public schools, but Eton’s way of playing would differ to Harrow’s, theirs to Winchester’s, to Charterhouse’s and so on to the ultimate extreme at Rugby. Frustrated, undergraduates at Cambridge tried to unify the rules in the mid-to-late 1840s and those rules would largely be accepted on the evening of 26 October 1863. At London’s Freemason’s Tavern representatives from 12 clubs and schools from the London area met to bang out a code for the game.
One school, Blackheath, refused to accept the non-inclusion of hacking (kicking below the knee) and walked out but the 11 others agreed to form The Football Association. Under the charge of Ebenezer Cobb Morley, 14 laws were penned to a game that would in the following century break its little England origins to become the most played, watched and talked about activity on the planet.
The aim was to frame a set of official rules under which they could all play. The FA Cup, international football, professionalism and league competition followed. From there, football has spread irresistibly all over the world.
Despite the unification of the rules and the creation of The Football Association in 1863, disputes, largely involving Sheffield clubs who had announced their own set of ideas in 1857, persisted into the late 1870s. However, the creation of the International Football Association Board finally put an end to all arguments. Saturday holidays, the banning of blood sports, the sprouting railway system and a growing working class, both moneyed and passionate about the game, all contributed to the rise in football’s popularity.
It meant a body to protect and preserve the rules had become a necessity. Made up of two representatives from each of the four associations of the United Kingdom (the FAs of Wales and Ireland had been founded in 1876 and 1880 respectively), the IFAB met for the first time on 2 June 1886 to guard the Laws of the Game. Then, as today, a three-quarters majority was needed for a proposal to be passed.
The FA's influence increased significantly after a “Challenge Cup” was established in 1871. Within a decade the original membership of 12 clubs had increased to 128. Wanderers, a team formed by ex-public school and university players, won the first “Cup Final” 1-0 against Royal Engineers at Kennington Oval. From 1923 to 2000 the match was played at Wembley and The FA Cup has become established as one of England’s great sporting institutions. Its history and tradition, and especially the pageantry of the Final, is familiar to millions at home and abroad.
The first international matches were those played between England and Scotland in the 1870s. The series owed its beginning to the enterprise of Charles Alcock, Honorary Secretary of The FA, who advertised in a sporting newspaper that a match would be played between “the leading representatives of the Scotch and English sections”. A crowd of 4,000 watched the first official international in Glasgow in 1872. It was not until 1908, when an England side toured central Europe, that matches were played against countries outside Britain.
The FA rejoined FIFA, the world football authority, after the Second World War and an England team competed for the World Cup for the first time in Brazil in 1950. It was Bobby Charlton ( later Sir Bobby) who played a crucial role in England’s re-emergence as a world power in the 1960s, playing with team-mates of the calibre of Banks, Moore and Peters. Ably managed by Alf (later Sir Alf) Ramsey, England won the World Cup in 1966. Since that great day at Wembley, there have been two appearances in European Championship semi-finals (1968 and 1996) and one in a World Cup semi-final (1990).
The Football Association has been a Limited Company since 1903 and, as such, holds an AGM, at which amendments to its rules are agreed by shareholders. It has built on its reputation as the world’s senior football administration, adding greatly to its activities over the years. It remains English football’s governing body, promoting and protecting the game, and it values the input of leagues and associations up and down the country - because their enthusiasm and professionalism ensure that football will continue to thrive.