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
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
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 it).
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 17 years.
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 years.
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
more soccer history...
a bloody and murthering practice
a short history of football (soccer)
gender issues in soccer coaching
the colourful history of football (soccer)