The first meeting of the Football League, a league competition featuring professional association football clubs from England and Wales, was held at Anderton’s Hotel in London on this date in 1888. As far as milestones in the history of football in general are concerned, this one is not awfully important – meetings to codify rules and create clubs are probably more significant. However, the date gives me an excuse to celebrate the development of football in all of its manifestations worldwide. It also allows me to dribble on for a bit about how so much of what we take for granted as timeless in the modern world grew out of the ideals of the 19th century.
Let me start with the word “football.” Football is a family of team sports that involve, to varying degrees, kicking a ball to score a goal. Unqualified, the word “football” is understood to refer to whichever form of football is the most popular in the regional context in which the word appears. Sports commonly called “football” in certain places include: association football (known as “soccer” in some countries); gridiron football (specifically American football or Canadian football); Australian rules football; rugby football (either rugby league or rugby union); and Gaelic football. These different variations of football are known as football codes.
Various forms of football can be identified throughout history, often as popular peasant games. Contemporary codes of football, with the exception of Gaelic football, can be traced back to the codification of these games at English public schools during the 19th century. The expansion of the British Empire allowed these rules of football to spread to areas of British influence outside of the directly controlled Empire, though by the end of the 19th century, distinct regional codes were already developing. During the 20th century, several of the various kinds of football grew to become some of the most popular team sports in the world.
Medieval football is a modern term sometimes used for a wide variety of localized football games which were invented and played in Europe during the Middle Ages. Alternative names include folk football, mob football and Shrovetide football. These games may be regarded as the ancestors of modern codes of football, and by comparison with later forms of football, the medieval matches were chaotic and had few rules.
The Middle Ages saw a huge rise in popularity of games played annually at Shrovetide throughout Europe, particularly in England. The games played in England at this time may have arrived with the Roman occupation but there is little evidence to indicate this. Certainly the Romans played ball games, in particular Harpastum. There is also one reference to ball games being played in southern Britain prior to the Norman Conquest. In the 9th century Nennius’s Historia Britonum speaks of a group of boys playing at ball (pilae ludus). This could have been in either Southern England or Wales. References to a ball game played in northern France known as La Soule or Choule, in which the ball was propelled by hands, feet, and sticks, date from the 12th century.
These archaic forms of football, typically classified as mob football, would be played between neighboring towns and villages, involving an unlimited number of players on opposing teams, who would clash in a heaving mass of people struggling to drag an inflated pig’s bladder by any means possible to markers at each end of a town. By some accounts, in some such events any means could be used to move the ball towards the goal, as long as it did not lead to manslaughter or murder. Sometimes instead of markers, the teams would attempt to kick the bladder into the balcony of the opponents’ church. These antiquated games went into sharp decline in the 19th century when the Highway Act 1835 was passed banning the playing of football on public highways. This kind of football continues to be played in some parts of the United Kingdom, for example, the Ba game played at Christmas and New Year at Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, Uppies and Downies over Easter at Workington in Cumbria and the Royal Shrovetide Football Match on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday at Ashbourne in Derbyshire.
Few images of medieval football survive. One engraving from the early 14th century at Gloucester Cathedral, England, clearly shows two young men running vigorously towards each other with a ball in mid-air between them. There is a hint that the players may be using their hands to strike the ball. A second medieval image in the British Museum, London clearly shows a group of men with a large ball on the ground. The ball clearly has a seam where leather has been sewn together. It is unclear exactly what is happening in this set of three images, although the last image appears to show a man with a broken arm. It is likely that this image highlights the dangers of some medieval football games.
While football continued to be played in various forms throughout Britain, its public schools (known as private schools in other countries) are widely credited with four key achievements in the creation of modern football codes. First of all, the evidence suggests that they were important in taking football away from its “mob” form and turning it into an organized team sport. Second, many early descriptions of football and references to it were recorded by people who had studied at these schools. Third, it was teachers, students and former students from these schools who first codified football games, to enable matches to be played between schools. Finally, it was at English public schools that the division between “kicking” and “running” (or “carrying”) games first became clear.
The earliest evidence that games resembling football were being played at English public schools – mainly attended by boys from the upper, upper-middle and professional classes – comes from the Vulgaria by William Herman in 1519. Herman had been headmaster at Eton and Winchester colleges and his Latin textbook includes a translation exercise with the phrase “We wyll playe with a ball full of wynde”.
Richard Mulcaster, a student at Eton College in the early 16th century and later headmaster at other English schools, has been described as “the greatest sixteenth Century advocate of football”. Among his contributions are the earliest evidence of organized team football. Mulcaster’s writings refer to teams (“sides” and “parties”), positions (“standings”), a referee (“judge over the parties”) and a coach “(trayning maister)”. Mulcaster’s “footeball” had evolved from the disordered and violent forms of traditional football:
some smaller number with such overlooking, sorted into sides and standings, not meeting with their bodies so boisterously to trie their strength: nor shouldring or shuffing one an other so barbarously … may use footeball for as much good to the body, by the chiefe use of the legges.
A more detailed description of football is given in Francis Willughby’s Book of Games, written in about 1660. Willughby, who had studied at Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School, Sutton Coldfield, is the first to describe goals and a distinct playing field: “a close that has a gate at either end. The gates are called Goals.” His book includes a diagram illustrating a football field. He also mentions tactics (“leaving some of their best players to guard the goal”); scoring (“they that can strike the ball through their opponents’ goal first win”) and the way teams were selected (“the players being equally divided according to their strength and nimbleness”). He is the first to describe a “law” of football: “they must not strike [an opponent’s leg] higher than the ball”.
English public schools were the first to codify football games. In particular, they devised the first offside rules, during the late 18th century. In the earliest manifestations of these rules, players were “off their side” if they simply stood between the ball and the goal which was their objective. Players were not allowed to pass the ball forward, either by foot or by hand. They could only dribble with their feet, or advance the ball in a scrum or similar formation. However, offside laws began to diverge and develop differently at each school, as is shown by the rules of football from Winchester, Rugby, Harrow and Cheltenham, during between 1810 and 1850. The first known codes – in the sense of a set of rules – were those of Eton in 1815 and Aldenham in 1825.
During the early 19th century, most working class people in Britain had to work six days a week, often for over twelve hours a day. They had neither the time nor the inclination to engage in sport for recreation and, at the time, many children were part of the labor force. Feast day football played on the streets was in decline. Public school boys, who enjoyed some freedom from work, became the inventors of organized football games with formal codes of rules.
Each school drafted its own rules, which varied widely between different schools and were changed over time with each new intake of pupils. Two schools of thought developed regarding rules. Some schools favored a game in which the ball could be carried (as at Rugby, Marlborough and Cheltenham), while others preferred a game where kicking and dribbling the ball was promoted (as at Eton, Harrow, Westminster and Charterhouse). The division into these two camps was partly the result of circumstances in which the games were played. For example, Charterhouse and Westminster at the time had restricted playing areas; the boys were confined to playing their ball game within the school cloisters, making it difficult for them to adopt rough and tumble running games.
The boom in rail transport in Britain during the 1840s meant that people were able to travel further and with less inconvenience than they ever had before. Inter-school sporting competitions became possible. However, it was difficult for schools to play each other at football, as each school played by its own rules. The solution to this problem was usually that the match be divided into two halves, one half played by the rules of the host “home” school, and the other half by the visiting “away” school.
The modern rules of many football codes were formulated during the mid- or late- 19th century. This also applies to other sports such as lawn bowls, lawn tennis, etc. The major impetus for this was the patenting of the world’s first lawnmower in 1830. This allowed for the preparation of modern ovals, playing fields, pitches, grass courts, etc.
Apart from Rugby football, the public school codes have barely been played beyond the confines of each school’s playing fields. However, many of them are still played at the schools which created them. Public schools’ dominance of sports in the UK began to wane after the Factory Act of 1850, which significantly increased the recreation time available to working class children. Before 1850, many British children had to work six days a week, for more than twelve hours a day. From 1850, they could not work before 6 a.m. (7 a.m. in winter) or after 6 p.m. on weekdays (7 p.m. in winter); on Saturdays they had to cease work at 2 p.m. These changes mean that working class children had more time for games, including various forms of football.
Sports clubs dedicated to playing football began in the 18th century, for example London’s Gymnastic Society which was founded in the mid-18th century and ceased playing matches in 1796.The first documented club to bear in the title a reference to being a ‘football club’ were called “The Foot-Ball Club” who were located in Edinburgh, Scotland, during the period 1824–41. The club forbade tripping but allowed pushing and holding and the picking up of the ball. In 1845, three boys at Rugby school were set the task of codifying the rules then being used at the school. These were the first set of written rules (or code) for any form of football. This further assisted the spread of the Rugby game.
In Europe, early footballs were made out of animal bladders, more specifically pig’s bladders, which were inflated. Later leather coverings were introduced to allow the balls to keep their shape. However, in 1851, Richard Lindon and William Gilbert, both shoemakers from the town of Rugby (near the school), exhibited both round and oval-shaped balls at the Great Exhibition in London. Richard Lindon’s wife is said to have died of lung disease caused by blowing up pig’s bladders. Lindon also won medals for the invention of the “Rubber inflatable Bladder” and the “Brass Hand Pump”. In 1855, the U.S. inventor Charles Goodyear – who had patented vulcanized rubber – exhibited a spherical football, with an exterior of vulcanized rubber panels, at the Paris Exhibition Universelle. The ball was to prove popular in early forms of football in the U.S.A.
In 1848, at Cambridge University, Mr. H. de Winton and Mr. J.C. Thring, who were both formerly at Shrewsbury School, called a meeting at Trinity College, Cambridge with 12 other representatives from Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester and Shrewsbury. An eight-hour meeting produced what amounted to the first set of modern rules, known as the Cambridge rules. No copy of these rules now exists, but a revised version from circa 1856 is held in the library of Shrewsbury School. The rules clearly favor the kicking game. Handling was only allowed when a player catches the ball directly from the foot entitling him to a free kick and there was a primitive offside rule, disallowing players from “loitering” around the opponents’ goal. The Cambridge rules were not widely adopted outside English public schools and universities (but it was arguably the most significant influence on the Football Association committee members responsible for formulating the rules of Association football).
By the late 1850s, many football clubs had been formed throughout the English-speaking world, to play various codes of football. Sheffield Football Club, founded in 1857 in the English city of Sheffield by Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest, has been recognized as the world’s oldest club playing association football. However, the club initially played its own code of football: the Sheffield rules. The code was largely independent of the public school rules, the most significant difference being the lack of an offside rule.
The code was responsible for many innovations that later spread to association football. These included free kicks, corner kicks, handball, throw-ins and the crossbar. By the 1870s they became the dominant code in the north and midlands of England. At this time a series of rule changes by both the London and Sheffield FAs gradually eroded the differences between the two games until the adoption of a common code in 1877.
During the early 1860s, there were increasing attempts in England to unify and reconcile the various public school games. In 1862, J. C. Thring, who had been one of the driving forces behind the original Cambridge Rules, was a master at Uppingham School and he issued his own rules of what he called “The Simplest Game” (these are also known as the Uppingham Rules). In early October 1863 another new revised version of the Cambridge Rules was drawn up by a seven member committee representing former pupils from Harrow, Shrewsbury, Eton, Rugby, Marlborough and Westminster.
At the Freemasons’ Tavern, Great Queen Street, London on the evening of October 26, 1863, representatives of several football clubs in the London Metropolitan area met for the inaugural meeting of The Football Association (FA). The aim of the Association was to establish a single unifying code and regulate the playing of the game among its members. Following the first meeting, the public schools were invited to join the association. All of them declined, except Charterhouse and Uppingham. In total, six meetings of the FA were held between October and December 1863. After the third meeting, a draft set of rules were published. However, at the beginning of the fourth meeting, attention was drawn to the recently published Cambridge Rules of 1863. The Cambridge rules differed from the draft FA rules in two significant areas; namely running with (carrying) the ball and hacking (kicking opposing players in the shins). The two contentious FA rules were as follows:
9. 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 he shall not run.
10. 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.
At the fifth meeting it was proposed that these two rules be removed. Most of the delegates supported this, but F. M. Campbell, the representative from Blackheath and the first FA treasurer, objected. He said: “hacking is the true football”. However, the motion to ban running with the ball in hand and hacking was carried and Blackheath withdrew from the FA. After the final meeting on 8 December, the FA published the “Laws of Football”, the first comprehensive set of rules for the game later known as Association Football. The term “soccer”, in use since the late 19th century, derives from an Oxford University abbreviation of “Association.” It was still common in Oxford in my time to create slang terms by abbreviating a word and adding /-er/ as in champers (champagne), brekker (breakfast), and rugger (rugby). So “soccer” comes from asSOCiation.
The first FA rules still contained elements that are no longer part of association football, but which are still recognizable in other games (such as Australian football and rugby football): for instance, a player could make a fair catch and claim a mark, which entitled him to a free kick; and if a player touched the ball behind the opponents’ goal line, his side was entitled to a free kick at goal, from 15 yards (13.5 meters) in front of the goal line.
Need I go on? The point I am trying to make is that the 19th century was a watershed period in so many ways. It was an industrial era in which Britain was transformed in myriad ways – among them, the development of amateur and professional games, such as various codes of football, with formal rules and matches.
I’ve already given some thought for cooking and rugby here https://www.bookofdaystales.com/william-webb-ellis/ Association football is more of a challenge. You can’t really pinpoint a single place of origin. Nor can you associate food with it in the same way that you can in the U.S. with its tradition of tailgate parties, Super Bowl events, and the like. When I played football in England or went to matches, food was not an issue (nor was there a tradition of televised matches beyond Saturday evening Match of the Day which my mates and I watched in the college television room drinking beer).
So let’s focus on the oldest surviving independent club (as recognized by the FA and FIFA), that is, the first club that was organized solely for football playing and not associated with an institution such as a school, university, or hospital – Sheffield Football Club. This brings me to South Yorkshire cooking. I’ve covered the mainstays already in previous posts, so let’s cut straight to Yorkshire Curd Pie. This is a 2-day process. You have to make the curds on one day, then the pie on the second.
Yorkshire Curd Pie
Heat 2 pints (5 cups) of full cream milk in a large pan over medium-low heat. As it comes to a gentle simmer, add the juice of a lemon. Turn the heat to low and gently stir while the curds form. Stir carefully so as not to break the curds. When the mixture is watery with creamy lumps in it, turn off the heat and let the mix cool. Drain the curds overnight in a cool place by placing a double thickness of cheesecloth in a fine sieve and pouring the curd mix into it over a bowl to collect the whey (which can be used for other baking).
Cream 50g of unsalted butter with 50g of caster sugar in a mixer, then add a beaten egg. When fully incorporated, gently stir in the prepared curds and 25g of currants.
Line a 20 cm pie dish with pastry and pour in the filling mix.
Bake in a 180°C/350°F oven for about 40 minutes or until the filling is set and the crust is golden. Cool and serve in slices with whipped cream or golden syrup (or both).