A History Of Football – By Jack Elvin.

This is a guest post by our new intern Jack Elvin, Jack is living in Fulham, London but is currently studying History at the University of Edinburgh.

Although studying History, Jack still manages to focus on sport and has just submitted a large piece of work on football’s origins, which he will also be doing his dissertation on.

Jack has a big passion for sport, both playing and spectating, and his current university football team, Neville Wears Prada are still unbeaten three years in, and they are hoping to sustain that in our final year! Chelsea has always been his team, the current Champions League Winners!

Association football is played under the rules of the F.A., which was created in 1863 in the Freemason’s Tavern in London. Similar style games to football were played in a variety of forms in ancient Greece and China. In England, a game referred to as mob football was played from as early as the 9th Century annually on Shrove Tuesday, often involving entire villages kicking inflated animal bladders. However, if you have watched the Netflix show the English Game, you will know that public schools had a significant impact on creating the actual game of football we know today. Football began being played in the 1800s in Public Schools, and it was a very rough game as the older boys used it to assert their power over the younger boys and handling and hacking were allowed. At this point, football was a mixture of the games of modern rugby and football. However, during the 1800s, the middle-class grew in numbers and power during the Industrial Revolution and pressured the headmasters to reform the game. Led by Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby, the prefects now answered directly to the headmaster and in 1845 were encouraged to put their game into writing to make it more civilised. However, all the public schools had different rules, and as they moved into universities and the working world, there was a need to establish a set of universal rules, ones that weren’t so aggressive so that those working in London could work and play football. 


Folk Football – Shrove Tuesday 1846. 


Eton’s rules were against handling the ball and hacking, and a contest about the rules played out in December 1863 with teams such as Blackheath FC leaving the F.A. worrying that removing hacking would take out all the courage from the game. This was the turning point of the split into association football and, later, rugby. After this, the F.A. distributed printed copies of their rule book, which now excluded handling the ball and hacking in order to make the association game a national game. Teachers also spread the game in training colleges and missionaries through churches who believed that a healthy body and healthy mind were needed to serve God fully. Organised football taught boys bravery, honour and self-restraint attributes that would help develop young men before going into the Army or workplace. Although public schools played a critical role in establishing the 1863 rules, other influencers such as Sheffield, who had their own rules, were also extremely important and had become so popular they had created their own tournament whose final saw crowds of over 3,000. By 1867 the F.A.’s numbers had shrunk so much due to their rules being largely unpopular that they almost disbanded. However, the Sheffield F.A. was so popular, and its – rules which were far closer to the rules we have now – including goalkeepers and even offsides – saved the F.A. from disbanding.  

Sheffield FC Team 1857

Over the next few years, the F.A. synthesised its rules with the Sheffield rules. In 1871 the F.A. Cup was created by Charles Alcock, an Old Harrovian and the secretary of the F.A. from 1870 to 1895, based on the cock house competition at Harrow. The success of the F.A. Cup, transforming the game from a collection of regional matches to the national game we know now, was only possible due to the development of the railways. This allowed players and fans to travel all over the country in just one day. In the early parts of the F.A. Cup, as demonstrated in the English Game, public School teams like the Old Etonians dominated football until the working-class teams began to play professional players. Despite their importance, Sheffield and the public schools were fierce opponents of professionalism and commercialisation. They believed football should be played for the love of the game by all-rounded individuals in the spirit of fair competition and that winning was secondary to good behaviour.  


The Original Football Association Rules 


The modern professional game of football would not exist without the influence of areas such as Lancashire that had a history of professionalism in horse racing and other sports generating massive incomes through bets, selling food and drinks to spectators and paying jockeys to attract the best ones. In the People’s Game, Fergus Suter was the first-ever paid player brought from Scotland to play for the working-class Darwen team. The public schools massively contested this. However, professional players, like Suter, brought a more developed passing style of play than the compact, aggressive dribbling style of the public schools. These players improved the quality of the game and its popularity on the national stage as working-class teams began to beat public school teams. Blackburn Olympic winning the F.A. Cup in 1883 was seen as the end of the public school domination of football.  

Blackburn Olympic 1883 FA Cup Winners 


The F.A., despite initially fighting professionalism, was influenced by the popularity of the game in the Midlands and Lancashire, where professionalism was encouraged. As their teams threatened to leave and create their own tournaments, the F.A. then legalised professionalism in 1885 and created the Football League in 1888. This remains the oldest league tournament in World Football. The game was then spread by missionaries throughout the British Empire into Latin America and eventually the rest of the world. Football has since dominated television screens across the world, becoming the most-watched and played sport in history.  

The World Cup 2010. 

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