HOP on: A Quick History of Football
Football, or at least some form of football, has been played all over the world for thousands of years.
The Ancient Chinese played a game called Cuju from the Han Dynasty onwards.
The ancient Romans developed the game of Harpastum from the earlier Greek game of Phaininda.
The Greek historian Herodotus talked of seeing young men in Egypt playing a game that involved kicking a ball made of goatskin and straw (about 450 BC).
And various mob-rule football games were popular all across Europe throughout medieval times.
A Football Association Forms in England
The game we know today came into existence in Victorian England.
Ebenezer Morley, a London solicitor, wrote to the Bell’s Life newspaper suggesting that football, like cricket, should have a set of universally accepted rules. And so, on 26th October 1863 in The Freemasons’ Tavern on Great Queen Street (and at subsequent meetings over the next 3 months) the game we know as football today was born.
These meetings, involving 12 of London’s leading clubs, led to the formation of the ‘FA’. It became the world’s first football association.
Eight years later, on 20th July 1871, the FA agreed to Charles Alcock’s suggestion that they should create a challenge Cup competition for its members, and the FA Cup was born.
Later still, on 17th April 1888, the Football League was founded. It is the oldest football league competition in the world.
Playing by the Rules
A set of rules in use by the Cambridge University football team proved greatly influential at those initial FA meetings in 1863. The rules promoted skill and foot-work over brute-force, handling and tripping. These Cambridge Rules made the game more skillful for the players and more attractive to spectators, thus helping to make football the global phenomenon it is today.
The University football dates from 1856, making it the oldest football teams still playing today. But the University team is open only to students attending the University. Therefore the amateur club Sheffield FC (founded in 1857) are officially recognised as the oldest football club in the world. And Notts County (founded 1862) are the oldest professional football club in the world.
Modern Football Spreads Worldwide
Throughout the late Victorian era British businessmen and workers travelled the world, taking their game of football with them. They formed clubs for expats and locals alike, leaving an indelibly British mark on the game the whole world over.
In 1867 European communities in Argentina, including many British railway workers, formed the Great British Football League comprising mostly English and Scottish expatriates. At the same time, two English brothers, Thomas and James Hogg, created the Buenos Aires Football Club.
In April 1894 the first football match played in Brazil was organised by Scotsman Thomas Donohoe.
In the late 1800s British shipyard workers and Basque students returning home from England helped to form Athletic (note; not Athletico!) Bilbao in Northern Spain.
In 1899 Herbert Kilpin, a textile worker from Nottingham, helped to form the Milan Foot-ball & Cricket Club. AC Milan, as we know them today, still wear the cross of St George on their shirts. Around the same time, in Turin, another Nottingham businessman, John Savage, was making arrangements to supply his club with some new shirts from back home. Juventus still wear Notts County’s black and white stripes to this day.
History in the Making?
So there we have a potted history of football. But history is being written, and re-written, every day. On Sunday night at Wembley Stadium, just 10 miles from the Freemasons’ Tavern where those first FA meetings were held 162 years ago, England will play in their first-ever European Championships Final.
This is your chance to watch history being made.
Come on England!
— By Craig Hatfield
Craig Hatfield has taught at History Off the Page since 2014. While travelling to teach history, he can often be found touring “thankful villages“, logging golden post boxes or, of course, watching a football match. He is a devoted Notts County fan.