The contemporary history of football spans more than 100 years.
It all began in 1863 in England, when rugby football and association football
branched off on their different courses and the world's first football
association was founded - The Football Association in England. Both forms
of football stemmed from a common root and both have a long and intricately
branched ancestral tree. Their early history reveals at least half a dozen
different games, varying to different degrees and to which the historical
development of football is related and has actually been traced back. Whether
this can be justified in some instances is disputable. Nevertheless, the
fact remains that playing a ball with the feet has been going on for thousands
of years and there is absolutely no reason to believe that it is an aberration
of the more "natural" form of playing a ball with the hands.
On the contrary, apart from the absolute necessity to employ the
legs and feet in such a tough bodily tussle for the ball, often without
any laws for protection, it was no doubt recognised right at the outset
that the art of controlling the ball with the feet was extremely difficult
and, as such, it required special technique and talent. The very earliest
form of the game for which there is scientific evidence was an exercise
of precisely this skilful technique dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries
B.C. in China. A military manual dating from the period of the Han Dynasty
includes among the physical education exercises, the "Tsu'Chu". This consisted
of kicking a leather ball filled with feathers and hair through an opening,
measuring only 30 - 40 cm in width, into a small net fixed onto long bamboo
canes - a feat which obviously demanded great skill and excellent technique.
A variation of this exercise also existed, whereby the player was not permitted
to aim at his target unimpeded, but had to use his feet, chest, back and
shoulders whilst trying to withstand the attacks of his opponents. Use
of the hands was not permitted. The ball artistry of today's top players
is therefore not quite as new as some people may assume.
Another form of the game, also originating from the Far East, was
the Japanese Kemari, which dates from about 500 to 600 years later and
is still played today. This is a type of circular football game, far less
spectacular, but, for that reason, a 'more dignified and ceremonious experience,
requiring certain skills, but not competitive ' in the way the Chinese
game was, nor is there the slightest sign of struggle for possession of
the ball. The players had to pass the ball to each other, in a relatively
small space, trying not to let it touch the ground.
The Greek game "episkyros", relatively little of which has
been handed down, was much livelier, as was the Roman game "Harpastum".
The latter was played with a smaller ball with two teams contesting the
game on a rectangular field marked by boundary lines and a centre-line.
The object was to get the ball over the opponents' boundary lines. The
ball was passed between players and trickery was the order of the day.
Each team member had his own specific tactical assignment and the spectators
took a vociferous interest in the proceedings and the score. The role of
the feet in this game was so small as scarcely to be of consequence. This
game remained popular for 700 or 800 years, but, although the Romans took
it to England with them, it is doubtful whether it can be considered as
a forerunner of contemporary football. The same applies for hurling, a
popular game with the Celtic population, which is played to this very day
in Cornwall and Ireland. lt is possible that influences were asserted,
but it is certain that the decisive development of the game of football
with which we are now familiar took place in England and Scotland.
The game that flourished in the British Isles from the 8th to the
19th centuries had a considerable variety of local and regional versions
- which were subsequently smoothed down and smartened up to form the present
day sports of association football and rugby football. - They were substantially
different from all the previously known forms - more disorganised, more
violent, more spontaneous and usually played by an indefinite number of
players. Frequently, the games took the form of a heated contest between
whole village communities or townships - through streets, village squares,
across fields, hedges, fences and streams. Kicking was allowed, as in fact
was almost everything else. However, in some of these games kicking was
out of the question due to the size and weight of the ball being used.
In such cases, kicking was instead employed to fell opponents. Incidentally,
it was not until nine years after the football rules had been established
for the first time in 1863 that the size and weight of the ball were finally
standardised. Up to that time, agreement on this point had usually been
reached by the parties concerned when they were arranging the match, as
was the case for the game between London and Sheffield in 1866. This match
was also the first where the duration of the game was prearranged for one
and a half hours.
Shrovetide football, as it was called, belonged in the "mob football"
category, where the number of players was unlimited and the rules were
fairly vague (for example, according to an ancient handbook from Workington
in England, any means could be employed to get the ball to its target with
the exception of murder and manslaughter). Shrovetide football is still
played today on Shrove Tuesday in some areas, for example, Ashbourne in
Derbyshire. Needless to say, it is no longer so riotous as it used to be,
nor are such extensive casualties suffered as was probably the case centuries
This game is reputedly Anglo-Saxon in origin and there are many legends
concerning its first appearance. For example, in both Kingston-on-Thames
and Chester, the story goes that the game was played for the very first
time with the severed head of a vanquished Danish prince. In Derby, it
is said to have originated far earlier, in the 3rd century, during the
victory celebrations that followed a battle against the Romans.
Despite the legends of Kingston and Chester, certain facts appear
to contradict the Anglo-Saxon theory. Namely that there is no evidence
of it having been played at this time in Saxon areas or on the continent,
nor is the game mentioned in early Anglo-Saxon literature. Prior to the
Norman Conquest, the only trace found of any such ball game comes from
a Celtic source.
One other possible theory regarding its origin is that when the aforementioned
"mob football" was being played in the British Isles in the early centuries
A.D., a very similar game was thriving in France, particularly in Normandy
and Brittany. So it is quite feasible that the Normans brought this form
of the game to England with them.
All these theories produce a picture quite bewildering in its complexity
- far more complex than the simple rules that governed this form of the
game, if we dare even to call them rules.
Quite apart from man's natural impulse to demonstrate his strength
and skill, even in this chaotic and turbulent fashion, it is certain that
in many cases, pagan customs, especially fertility rites, played a major
role. The ball symbolised the sun, which had to be conquered in order to
secure a bountiful harvest. The ball had to be propelled around, or across,
a field so that the crops would flourish and the attacks of the opponents
had to be warded off.
A similar significance was attached to the games between married
men and bachelors that prevailed for centuries in some parts of England,
and, likewise, to the famous game between married and unmarried women in
the Scottish town of Inveresk at the end of the 17th century which, perhaps
by design, was regularly won by the married women. Women's football is
obviously not so new as some people think.
Scholars might have conflicting views on the origins of the game
and the influences that certain cults may have had on its evolution, but
one thing is incontestable: football has flourished for over a thousand
years in diverse rudimentary forms, in the very region which we describe
as its home, England and the British Isles. The chain of prohibitions and
censures, sometimes harsh, sometimes mild, proves beyond a shadow of a
doubt what tremendous enthusiasm there was for football, even though it
was so often frowned upon by the authorities. The repeated unsuccessful
intervention of the authorities and high offices of the land shows how
powerless they were to restrict it, in spite of their condemnation and
threats of severe punishment.
As long ago as 1314 the Lord Mayor of London saw fit to issue a proclamation
forbidding football within the city due to the rumpus it usually caused.
Infringement of this law meant imprisonment. King Edward III passed extremely
harsh measures in 1331 to suppress football, which was regarded as a public
nuisance. At the same time, similar measures were also introduced in France.
During the 100 years' war between England and France from 1338
to 1453 the court was also unfavourably disposed towards football, albeit
for different reasons. Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V made
football punishable by law because the well-loved recreation prevented
their subjects from practising more useful military disciplines, particularly
archery, which played an important and valuable role in the English army
at that time.
All the Scottish kings of the 15th Century also deemed it necessary
to censure and prohibit football. Particularly famous amongst these was
the decree proclaimed by the Parliament convened by James I in 1424: "That
na man play at the Fute-ball". None of these efforts had much effect. The
popularity of the game amongst the people and their obvious delight in
the rough and tumble for the ball went far too deep to be uprooted.
The passion for football was particularly exuberant in Elizabethan
times. An influence that most likely played a part in intensifying the
native popularity for the game came from Renaissance Italy, particularly
from Florence, but also from Venice and other cities that had produced
their own brand of football known as "Calcio". lt was certainly more organised
than the English equivalent and was played by teams dressed in coloured
livery at the important gala events held on certain holidays in Florence.
It was a truly splendid spectacle. In England the game was still as rough
and ungracious and lacking in refinement as ever, but it did at this time
find a prominent supporter who commended if for other reasons when he saw
the simple joy of the players romping after the ball. This supporter was
Richard Mulcaster, the great pedagogue, head of the famous schools of Merchant
Taylor's and St. Paul's. He pointed out that the game had positive educational
value and it promoted health and strength. He claimed that all that was
needed was to refine it a little and give it better manners. His notion
was that the game would benefit most if the number of participants in each
team were limited and, more importantly, there were a stricter referee.
Resentment of football up to this time had been mainly for practical
reasons. The game had been regarded as a public disturbance that resulted
in damage to property, for example, in Manchester in 1608, football was
banned again because so many windows had been smashed.
In the course of the 16th century a quite new type of attack
was launched against football. With the spread of Puritanism, the cry went
up against "frivolous" amusements, and sport happened to be classified
as such, football in particular. The main objection was that it supposedly
constituted a violation of peace on the Sabbath. Similar attacks were made
against the theatre, which strait-laced Puritans regarded as a source of
idleness and iniquity. This laid the foundations for the entertainment
ban on English Sundays, which would later become a permanent feature during
the Commonwealth and Puritanical eras (even though it is said that Oliver
Cromwell himself was a keen footballer in his youth). From then on football
on Sundays was taboo. It remained so for some 300 years, until the ban
was lifted once again, at first unofficially and ultimately with the formal
consent of The Football Association, albeit on a rather small scale.
However, none of these obstacles could eradicate football. Take Derby
as an example. Between 1731 and 1841, the town's authorities made continual
attempts to ban football from the streets. In the end, they had to resort
to riot laws before there was any effect at all.
All told there was scarcely any progress at all in the development
of football for hundreds of years. But, although the game was persistently
forbidden for 500 years, it was never completely suppressed. As a consequence,
it remained essentially rough, violent and disorganised. A change did not
come about until the beginning of the 19th century when school football
became the custom, particularly in the famous public schools. This was
the turning point. In this new environment, it was possible to make innovations
and refinements to the game.
The rules were still relatively free and easy as there was still
no standard, organised form of the game. Each school in fact developed
its own adaptation and, at times, these varied considerably. The traditional
aspects of the game remained but innovations depended for the most part
on the playing ground available. If use had to be made of a paved school
playground, surrounded by a brick wall, then there was simply not enough
space for the old hurly-burly mob football. Circumstances such as these
made schools like Charterhouse, Westminster, Eton and Harrow give birth
to the type of game in which more depended on the players' dribbling virtuosity
than the robust energy required in a scrum. On the other hand, schools
such as Cheltenham and Rugby were more inclined towards the more rugged
game in which the ball could be touched with the hands or even carried.
All these early styles were given a great boost when it was recognised
in educational circles that football was not merely an excuse to indulge
in a childish romp, but could actually be beneficial educationally. What
is more it was accepted that it also constituted a useful distraction from
less desirable occupations, such as heavy drinking and gambling. A new
attitude began to permeate the game, eventually leading to a "games cult"
in public schools. This materialised when it was observed how well the
team game served to encourage such fine qualities as loyalty, selflessness,
cooperation, subordination and deference to the team spirit. Games became
an integral part of the school curriculum and participation in football
became compulsory. Dr. Thomas Arnold, the head of Rugby school, made further
advances in this direction, when in 1846 in Rugby the first truly standardised
rules for an organised game were laid down. These were in any event quite
rough enough, for example, they permitted kicking an opponent's legs below
the knees, with the reserve that he should not be held still whilst his
shins were being worked on. Handling the ball was also allowed and ever
since the memorable occasion in 1823 when William Webb Ellis, to the amazement
of his own team and his opponents, made a run with the ball tucked under
his arm, carrying the ball has been permitted. Many schools followed suit
and adopted the rules laid down in Rugby, others, such as Eton, Harrow
and Winchester, rejected this form of football, and gave preference to
kicking the ball and carrying it was forbidden. Charterhouse and Westminster
were also against handling the ball. However, they did not isolate their
style as some schools did, instead they formed a nucleus from which this
style of game began to spread.
Finally, in 1863, developments reached a climax. At Cambridge
University, where in 1848 attempts had already been made by former pupils
from the various schools to find a common denominator for all the different
adaptations of the game, a fresh initiative began to establish some uniform
standards and rules that would be accepted by everyone. It was at this
point that the majority spoke out against such rough customs as tripping,
shin-kicking and so on. As it happened, the majority also expressed disapproval
at carrying the ball. It was this that caused the Rugby group to withdraw.
They would probably have agreed to refrain from shin-kicking, which was
in fact later banned in the Rugby regulations, but they were reluctant
to relinquish carrying the ball.
This Cambridge action was an endeavour to sort out the utter confusion
surrounding the rules. The decisive initiative, however, was taken after
a series of meetings organised at the end of the same year (1863) in London.
On 26 October 1863, eleven London clubs and schools sent their representatives
to the Freemason's Tavern. These representatives were intent on clarifying
the muddle by establishing a set of fundamental rules, acceptable to all
parties, to govern the matches played amongst them. This meeting marked
the birth of The Football Association. The eternal dispute concerning shin-kicking,
tripping and carrying the ball was discussed thoroughly at this and consecutive
meetings until eventually on 8 December the die-hard exponents of the Rugby
style took their final leave. They were in the minority anyway. They wanted
no part in a game that forbade tripping, shin-kicking and carrying the
ball. A stage had been reached where the ideals were no longer compatible.
On 8 December 1863, football and rugby finally split. Their separation
became totally irreconcilable six years hence when a provision was included
in the football rules forbidding any handling of the ball (not only carrying
Only eight years after its foundation, The Football Association already
had 50 member clubs. The first football competition in the world was started
in the same year - the FA Cup, which preceded the League Championship by
International matches were being staged in Great Britain before
football had hardly been heard of in Europe. The first was played in 1872
and was contested by England and Scotland. This sudden boom of organised
football accompanied by staggering crowds of spectators brought with it
certain problems with which other countries were not confronted until much
later on. Professionalism was one of them. The first moves in this direction
came in 1879, when Darwin, a small Lancashire club, twice managed to draw
against the supposedly invincible Old Etonians in the FA Cup, before the
famous team of London amateurs finally scraped through to win at the third
attempt. Two Darwin players, the Scots John Love and Fergus Suter, are
reported as being the first players ever to receive remuneration for their
football talent. This practice grew rapidly and the Football Association
found itself obliged to legalise professionalism as early as 1885. This
development predated the formation of any national association outside
of Great Britain (namely, in the Netherlands and Denmark) by exactly four
After the English Football Association, the next oldest are the Scottish
FA (1873), the FA of Wales (1875) and the Irish FA (1880). Strictly speaking,
at the time of the first international match, England had no other partner
association against which to play. When Scotland played England in Glasgow
on 30 November 1872, the Scottish FA did not even exist - it was not founded
for another three months. The team England played that day was actually
the oldest Scottish club team, Queen's Park.
The spread of football outside of Great Britain, mainly due to the
British influence abroad, started slow, but it soon gathered momentum and
spread rapidly to all parts of the world. The next countries to form football
associations after the Netherlands and Denmark in 1889 were New Zealand
(1891), Argentina (1893), Chile (1895), Switzerland, Belgium (1895), Italy
(1898), Germany, Uruguay (both in 1900), Hungary (1901) and Finland (1907).
When FIFA was founded in Paris in May 1904 it had seven founder members:
France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain (represented by the Madrid
FC), Sweden and Switzerland. The German Football Federation cabled its
intention to join on the same day.
This international football community grew steadily, although it
sometimes met with obstacles and setbacks. In 1912, 21 national associations
were already affiliated to the Fédération Internationale
de Football Association (FIFA). By 1925, the number had increased to 36,
in 1930 - the year of the first World Cup - it was 41, in 1938, 51 and
in 1950, after the interval caused by the Second World War, the number
had reached 73. At present, after the 2000 Ordinary FIFA Congress, FIFA
has 204 members in every part of the world