Football Association

In 1863 Ebenezer Cobb Morley the founder and captain of Barnes Football Club wrote a letter to Bell's Life newspaper proposing a governing body for football. This letter resulted in a meeting taking place at the Freeman's Tavern in London in October, 1863. The clubs represented at the meeting included Barnes, Blackheath, Perceval House, Kensington School, the War Office, Crystal Palace, Forest (later known as the Wanderers), the Crusaders and No Names of Kilburn. Charterhouse also sent an observer to the meeting.

The Football Association was established at this meeting. The aim of the FA was to establish a single unifying code for football. As Percy Young, has pointed out, that the FA was a group of men from the upper echelons of British society: "Men of prejudice, seeing themselves as patricians, heirs to the doctrine of leadership and so law-givers by at least semi-divine right."

Ebenezer Cobb Morley was elected as the secretary of the Football Association. At a meeting on 24th November, 1863, Morley presented a draft set of 23 rules. These were based on an amalgamation of rules played by public schools, universities and football clubs. This included provision for running with the ball in the hands if a catch had been taken "on the full" or on the first bounce. Players were allowed to "hack the front of the leg" of the opponent when they were running with the ball. Two of the proposed rules caused heated debate:

IX. A player shall be entitled to run with the ball towards his adversaries' goal if he makes a fair catch, or catches the ball on the first bound; but in case of a fair catch, if he makes his mark (to take a free kick) he shall not run.

X. If any player shall run with the ball towards his adversaries' goal, any player on the opposite side shall be at liberty to charge, hold, trip or hack him, or to wrest the ball from him, but no player shall be held and hacked at the same time.

Some members objected to these two rules as they considered them to be "uncivilised". Others believed that charging, hacking and tripping were important ingredients of the game. One supporter of hacking argued that without it "you will do away with the courage and pluck of the game, and it will be bound to bring over a lot of Frenchmen who would beat you with a week's practice." The main defender of hacking was F. W. Campbell, the representative from Blackheath, who considered this aspect of the game was vital in developing "masculine toughness". Campbell added that "hacking is the true football" and he resigned from the FA when the vote went against him (13-4). He later helped to form the rival Rugby Football Union. On 8th December, 1863, the FA published the Laws of Football.

1. The maximum length of the ground shall be 200 yards, the maximum breadth shall be 100 yards, the length and breadth shall be marked off with flags; and the goal shall be defined by two upright posts, eight yards apart, without any tape or bar across them.

2. A toss for goals shall take place, and the game shall be commenced by a place kick from the centre of the ground by the side losing the toss for goals; the other side shall not approach within 10 yards of the ball until it is kicked off.

3. After a goal is won, the losing side shall be entitled to kick off, and the two sides shall change goals after each goal is won.

4. A goal shall be won when the ball passes between the goal-posts or over the space between the goal-posts (at whatever height), not being thrown, knocked on, or carried.

5. When the ball is in touch, the first player who touches it shall throw it from the point on the boundary line where it left the ground in a direction at right angles with the boundary line, and the ball shall not be in play until it has touched the ground.

6. When a player has kicked the ball, any one of the same side who is nearer to the opponent's goal line is out of play, and may not touch the ball himself, nor in any way whatever prevent any other player from doing so, until he is in play; but no player is out of play when the ball is kicked off from behind the goal line.

7. In case the ball goes behind the goal line, if a player on the side to whom the goal belongs first touches the ball, one of his side shall he entitled to a free kick from the goal line at the point opposite the place where the ball shall be touched. If a player of the opposite side first touches the ball, one of his side shall be entitled to a free kick at the goal only from a point 15 yards outside the goal line, opposite the place where the ball is touched, the opposing side standing within their goal line until he has had his kick.

8. If a player makes a fair catch, he shall be entitled to a free kick, providing he claims it by making a mark with his heel at once; and in order to take such kick he may go back as far as he pleases, and no player on the opposite side shall advance beyond his mark until he has kicked.

9. No player shall run with the ball.

10. Neither tripping nor hacking shall be allowed, and no player shall use his hands to hold or push his adversary.

11. A player shall not be allowed to throw the ball or pass it to another with his hands.

12. No player shall be allowed to take the ball from the ground with his hands under any pretence whatever while it is in play.

13. No player shall be allowed to wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta-percha on the soles or heels of his boots.

In 1871, Charles W. Alcock, the FA Secretary, announced the introduction of the Football Association Challenge Cup. It was the first knockout competition of its type in the world. Only 15 clubs took part in the first staging of the tournament. It included two clubs based in Scotland, Donington School and Queen's Park. In the 1872 final, the Wanderers beat the Royal Engineers 1-0 at the Kennington Oval.

The early 1870s saw changes to FA rules. In 1871 hacking was abolished. Outfield players were also stopped from touching the ball with their hands. This encouraged footballers to develop their heading skills. This in itself changed tactics with and increasing number of clubs employing wingers who were good at crossing the ball to a centre forward who was good in the air.

1871 also saw the introduction of umpires and a neutral referee. Both sides were allowed to appoint an umpire to whom players could appeal to about incidents that took place on the pitch. However, the FA rule now stated: "Any point on which the umpires cannot agree shall be decided by the referee".

The FA Cup helped to popularize the game of football. Up until this competition only fifty clubs were members of the Football Association and played by their rules. This included teams who played as far away as Lincoln, Oxford and York. The main rival to the FA was the 26-member Sheffield Association. Other football clubs were totally independent and played by their own set of rules. In 1877 the clubs in Sheffield decided to join the FA and by 1881 its membership had risen to 128.

The FA continued to adapt the rules of the game. In 1882 all clubs had to provide crossbars. Ten years later goal nets became compulsory. This reduced the number of disputes as to whether the ball had crossed the goal-line or passed between the posts.

Charles W. Alcock, the Secretary of the Football Association, was the dominant figure in the early days of the game. As he pointed out: "What was ten or fifteen years ago the recreation of a few has now become the pursuit of thousands. An athletic exercise carried on under a strict system and in many cases by an enforced term of training, almost magnified into a profession."

In January, 1884, Preston North End played the London side, Upton Park, in the FA Cup. After the game Upton Park complained to the Football Association that Preston was a professional, rather than an amateur team. Sudell admitted that his players were being paid but argued that this was common practice and did not breach regulations. However, the FA disagreed and expelled them from the competition.

Major William Sudell, the secretary/manager of Preston North End admitted that he had improved the quality of the team by importing top players from other areas. This included several players from Scotland. As well as paying them money for playing for the team, Sudell also found them highly paid work in Preston.

Preston North End now joined forces with other clubs who were paying their players, such as Aston Villa and Sunderland. In October, 1884, these clubs threatened to form a break-away British Football Association. The Football Association responded by establishing a sub-committee, which included William Sudell, to look into this issue. On 20th July, 1885, the FA announced that it was "in the interests of Association Football, to legalise the employment of professional football players, but only under certain restrictions". Clubs were allowed to pay players provided that they had either been born or had lived for two years within a six-mile radius of the ground.

This decision increased club's wage bills. It was therefore necessary to arrange more matches that could be played in front of large crowds. In March, 1888, William McGregor, a director of Aston Villa, circulated a letter suggesting that "ten or twelve of the most prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home and away fixtures each season." The following month the Football League was formed. It consisted of six clubs from Lancashire (Preston North End, Accrington, Blackburn Rovers, Burnley and Everton) and six from the Midlands (Aston Villa, Derby County, Notts County, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers). The main reason Sunderland was excluded was because the other clubs in the league objected to the costs of travelling to the North-East.

The first season of the Football League began in September, 1888. Preston North End won the first championship without losing a single match and acquired the name the "invincibles". Major William Sudell, had persuaded some of the best players in England, Scotland and Wales to join Preston: John Goodall, Jimmy Ross, David Russell, John Gordon, John Graham, Robert Mills-Roberts, James Trainer, Samuel Thompson and George Drummond. He also recruited some outstanding local players, including Bob Holmes, Robert Howarth and Fred Dewhurst. As well as paying them money for playing for the team, Sudell also found them highly paid work in Preston.

The Preston North End team that won the Football League title in 1888-89: George Drummond, Bob Holmes, John Graham and Robert Mills-Roberts are in the back row.John Gordon, Jimmy Ross, John Goodall, Fred Dewhurst and Samuel Thompson are sitting on the bench.
The Preston North End team that won the Football League title in 1888-89:
George Drummond, Bob Holmes, John Graham and Robert Mills-Roberts
are in the back row.John Gordon, Jimmy Ross, John Goodall,
Fred Dewhurst and Samuel Thompson are sitting on the bench.

Preston North End also beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-0 to win the 1889 FA Cup Final. Preston won the competition without conceding a single goal. The club also won the league the following season. However, other teams began to employ the same tactics. Clubs like Derby County, Everton, Sunderland, Aston Villa, and Wolverhampton Wanderers had more money at their disposal and could pay higher wages than Preston. Over the next couple of years Preston lost all their best players and they were never to win the league title again.

In May 1900 the Football Association passed a rule at its AGM that set the maximum wage of professional footballers playing in the Football League at £4 a week. It also abolished the paying of all bonuses to players.

The Association Footballers' Union (AFU) complained about this decision. However, the AFU was badly wounded by the decision of several members of the committee to seek higher wages in the Southern League. This included the AFU secretary John Cameron, who joined Tottenham Hotspur. Tom Bradshaw also joined him at the club. Other leading figures in the union who left the Football League included Harry Wood and Abe Hartley (Southampton), Johnny Holt (Reading), and Jack Bell and David Storrier who joined Celtic.

In the 1903-04 season Manchester City finished in second place in the First Division. They also won the FA Cup in 1904 when they beat Bolton Wanderers in the final at Crystal Palace. The only goal of the game was scored by the great Billy Meredith.

The Football Association was amazed by Manchester City's rapid improvement and that summer they decided to carry out an investigation into the way the club was being run. However, the officials only discovered some minor irregularities and no case was brought against the club.

The following season Manchester City again challenged for the championship. City needed to beat Aston Villa on the final day of the season. Sandy Turnbull gave Alec Leake, the Villa captain, a torrid time during the game. Leake threw some mud at him and he responded with a two-fingered gesture. Leake then punched Turnbull. According to some journalists, at the end of the game, Turnbull was dragged into the Villa dressing-room and beaten-up. Villa won the game 3-1 and Manchester City finished third, two points behind Newcastle United.

After the game Alec Leake claimed that Billy Meredith had offered him £10 to throw the game. Meredith was found guilty of this offence by the Football Association and was fined and suspended from playing football for a year. Manchester City refused to provide financial help for Meredith and so he decided to go public about what really was going on at the club: "What was the secret of the success of the Manchester City team? In my opinion, the fact that the club put aside the rule that no player should receive more than four pounds a week... The team delivered the goods, the club paid for the goods delivered and both sides were satisfied."

The Football Association was now forced to carry out another investigation into the financial activities of Manchester City. They discovered that City had been making additional payments to all their players. Tom Maley was suspended from football for life. Seventeen players were fined and suspended until January 1907.

The Football Association also established the FA Amateur Cup in 1893, but in 1907 the amateurs decided to break away to form their own Amateur Football Association (AFA).

The FA joined the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in 1905 but resigned in 1920 over the participation of those countries that fought against Britain in the First World War.

The Football Association came under pressure from the government to accept women's football during the war. David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, encouraged these games as it helped reinforce the image of women doing the jobs normally done by men now needed to fight on the Western Front. This was especially important after the introduction of conscription in 1916. These matches also helped to raise money for wartime charities.

Attitudes changed after the war. David J. Williamson argued in Belles of the Ball (1991): "Nor surprisingly, it was extremely difficult for many men to accept the idea of ladies playing what had always been regarded as a male preserve, their sport. Those who had been away at the front during the Great War would have had no real idea as to how the country was changing in their absence; how the role of their womenfolk within society was beginning to change quite dramatically, responding to the opportunity they had been given."

Women's football games were extremely popular. For example, a game between Dick Kerr Ladies and Newcastle United Ladies played at St. James's Park, in September, 1919, attracted a crowd of 35,000 people and raised £1,200 (£250,000) for local war charities.

These charity games continued. On 26th December, 1920, Dick Kerr Ladies played the second best women's team in England, St Helens Ladies, at Goodison Park, the home ground of Everton. The plan was to raise money for the Unemployed Ex Servicemens Distress Fund in Liverpool. Over 53,000 people watched the game with an estimated 14,000 disappointed fans locked outside. It was the largest crowd that had ever watched a woman's game in England. The game at Goodison Park raised £3,115 (£623,000 in today's money) for ex-servicemen.

However, on 5th December 1921, the Football Association issued the following statement:

Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, the Council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.

Complaints have been made as to the conditions under which some of these matches have been arranged and played, and the appropriation of the receipts to other than Charitable objects.

The Council are further of the opinion that an excessive proportion of the receipts are absorbed in expenses and an inadequate percentage devoted to Charitable objects.

For these reasons the Council requests the clubs belonging to the Association refuse the use of their grounds for such matches.

This measure removed the ability of women to raise significant sums of money for charity as they were now barred from playing at all the major venues. The Football Association also announced that members were not allowed to referee or act as linesman at any women's football match.

This action virtually destroyed women's football in Britain. The number of women's teams declined dramatically and although the most famous of these, Dick Kerr Ladies, survived, they found it increasingly difficult to find opponents to play against.

The FA rejoined FIFA in 1924 but resigned again in 1928 over the definition of amateur status in the Olympic Games.

In 1930 the Football Association rejected the idea of taking part in the first World Cup. They also failed to take part in 1934 and 1938.

Stanley Rous became secretary of the Football Association and after the Second World War he made it clear that he was willing to embrace international football. In 1946 the FA rejoined the FIFA and took part in the 1950 World Cup. In 1954 the FA became a founder member of the European governing body UEFA.

Primary Sources

(1) Frederick Wall, 50 Years of Football (1935)

Some seventy years ago those who played Association football in England were generally regarded as harmless lunatics. Men shrugged their shoulders and said: "If they hurt anybody it will only be themselves, and the fewer lunatics the better." That is an impression given me by a man who was enjoying a football frolic when I was a child.

It seems to me as if football has always had detractors and scoffers. Royalty, Parliament, bishops and puritans for centuries tried to prevent the rough revels of parish against parish, when the playing area was a large track of country and town, with a millwheel and a church-door, miles apart, as the goals! An encounter of this character would frighten most modern players.

Possibly these rude games were the forerunners of the football that the old-foundation public schools developed according to the size and nature of their playgrounds. All the various rules of these schools were carefully considered by a body of gentlemen at Cambridge University.

These enthusiasts, trying to work out a code that all could play under, whatever may have been their school, produced a set of rules or laws of play that the Football Association, founded in 1863, took as a model for the game they wished to popularize.

It is not necessary to enlarge this summary by details. Suffice it to say that the parent body, as it is now called, gradually evolved the laws under which most civilized nations now play what I like to speak of as "our game."

During the fifty years from 1863 to 1913 this form made a great advance and became the national winter game of all Britain.

© John Simkin, April 2013