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Football refers to a number of sports that involve, to varying degrees, kicking a ball with the foot to score a goal. The most popular of these sports worldwide is association football, more commonly known as just "football" or "soccer". Unqualified, the word football applies to whichever form of football is the most popular in the regional context in which the word appears, including association football, as well as American football, Australian rules football, Canadian football, Gaelic football, rugby league, rugby union and other related games. These variations of football are known as football codes.
Various forms of football can be identified in history, often as popular peasant games. Contemporary codes of football can be traced back to the codification of these games at English public schools in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The influence and power 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 nineteenth century, distinct regional codes were already developing: Gaelic Football, for example, deliberately incorporated the rules of local traditional football games in order to maintain their heritage. In 1888, The Football League was founded in England, becoming the first of many professional football competitions. During the twentieth century, the various codes of football became amongst the most popular team sports in the world.
The various codes of football share the following common elements:
- Two teams of usually between 11 and 18 players; some variations that have fewer players (five or more per team) are also popular.
- A clearly defined area in which to play the game.
- Scoring goals or points, by moving the ball to an opposing team's end of the field and either into a goal area, or over a line.
- Goals or points resulting from players putting the ball between two goalposts.
- The goal or line being defended by the opposing team.
- Players being required to move the ball—depending on the code—by kicking, carrying, or hand-passing the ball.
- Players using only their body to move the ball.
In most codes, there are rules restricting the movement of players offside, and players scoring a goal must put the ball either under or over a crossbar between the goalposts. Other features common to several football codes include: points being mostly scored by players carrying the ball across the goal line; and players receiving a free kick after they take a mark or make a fair catch.
There are confilicting explanations of the origin of the word "football". It is widely assumed that the word "football" (or "foot ball") references the action of the foot kicking a ball. There is an alternative explanation, which is that football originally referred to a variety of games in medieval Europe, which were played on foot. There is no conclusive evidence for either explanation.
The Ancient Greeks and Romans are known to have played many ball games, some of which involved the use of the feet. The Roman game harpastum is believed to have been adapted from a Greek team game known as "ἐπίσκυρος" ( Episkyros) or "φαινίνδα" (phaininda), which is mentioned by a Greek playwright, Antiphanes (388–311 BC) and later referred to by the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c.215 AD). These games appear to have resembled rugby football. The Roman politician Cicero (106–43 BC) describes the case of a man who was killed whilst having a shave when a ball was kicked into a barber's shop. Roman ball games already knew the air-filled ball, the follis.
Documented evidence of an activity resembling football can be found in the Chinese military manual Zhan Guo Ce compiled between the 3rd century and 1st century BC. It describes a practice known as cuju (蹴鞠, literally "kick ball"), which originally involved kicking a leather ball through a small hole in a piece of silk cloth which was fixed on bamboo canes and hung about 9 m above ground. During the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), cuju games were standardized and rules were established. Variations of this game later spread to Japan and Korea, known as kemari and chuk-guk respectively. Later, another type of goal posts emerged, consisting of just one goal post in the middle of the field.
The Japanese version of cuju is kemari (蹴鞠), and was developed during the Asuka period.This is known to have been played within the Japanese imperial court in Kyoto from about 600 AD. In kemari several people stand in a circle and kick a ball to each other, trying not to let the ball drop to the ground (much like keepie uppie). The game appears to have died out sometime before the mid-19th century. It was revived in 1903 and is now played at a number of festivals.
There are a number of references to traditional, ancient, or prehistoric ball games, played by indigenous peoples in many different parts of the world. For example, in 1586, men from a ship commanded by an English explorer named John Davis, went ashore to play a form of football with Inuit (Eskimo) people in Greenland. There are later accounts of an Inuit game played on ice, called Aqsaqtuk. Each match began with two teams facing each other in parallel lines, before attempting to kick the ball through each other team's line and then at a goal. In 1610, William Strachey, a colonist at Jamestown, Virginia recorded a game played by Native Americans, called Pahsaheman. On the Australian continent several tribes of indigenous people played kicking and catching games with stuffed balls which have been generalised by historians as Marn Grook ( Djab Wurrung for "game ball"). The earliest historical account is an anecdote from the 1878 book by Robert Brough-Smyth, The Aborigines of Victoria, in which a man called Richard Thomas is quoted as saying, in about 1841 in Victoria, Australia, that he had witnessed Aboriginal people playing the game: "Mr Thomas describes how the foremost player will drop kick a ball made from the skin of a possum and how other players leap into the air in order to catch it." Some historians have theorised that Marn Grook was one of the origins of Australian rules football.
The Māori in New Zealand played a game called Ki-o-rahi consisting of teams of seven players play on a circular field divided into zones, and score points by touching the 'pou' (boundary markers) and hitting a central 'tupu' or target.
Games played in Mesoamerica with rubber balls by indigenous peoples are also well-documented as existing since before this time, but these had more similarities to basketball or volleyball, and since their influence on modern football games is minimal, most do not class them as football.Northeastern American Indians, especially the Iroquois Confederation, played a game which made use of net racquets to throw and catch a small ball; however, although a ball-goal foot game, lacrosse (as its modern descendant is called) is likewise not usually classed as a form of "football."
These games and others may well go far back into antiquity. However, the main sources of modern football codes appear to lie in western Europe, especially England.
Medieval and early modern Europe
The Middle Ages saw a huge rise in popularity of annual Shrovetide football matches throughout Europe, particularly in England. An early reference to a ball game played in Britain comes from the 9th century Historia Brittonum, which describes "a party of boys ... playing at ball". 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.
The early forms of football played in England, sometimes referred to as " mob football", would be played between neighbouring towns and villages, involving an unlimited number of players on opposing teams who would clash en masse, struggling to move an item, such as inflated animal's bladder to particular geographical points, such as their opponents' church, with play taking place in the open space between neighbouring parishes. The game was played primarily during significant religious festivals, such as Shrovetide, Christmas, or Easter, and Shrovetide games have survived into the modern era in a number of English towns (see below).
The first detailed description of what was almost certainly football in England was given by William FitzStephen in about 1174–1183. He described the activities of London youths during the annual festival of Shrove Tuesday:
- After lunch all the youth of the city go out into the fields to take part in a ball game. The students of each school have their own ball; the workers from each city craft are also carrying their balls. Older citizens, fathers, and wealthy citizens come on horseback to watch their juniors competing, and to relive their own youth vicariously: you can see their inner passions aroused as they watch the action and get caught up in the fun being had by the carefree adolescents.
Most of the very early references to the game speak simply of "ball play" or "playing at ball". This reinforces the idea that the games played at the time did not necessarily involve a ball being kicked.
An early reference to a ball game that was probably football comes from 1280 at Ulgham, Northumberland, England: "Henry... while playing at ball.. ran against David". Football was played in Ireland in 1308, with a documented reference to John McCrocan, a spectator at a "football game" at Newcastle, County Down being charged with accidentally stabbing a player named William Bernard. Another reference to a football game comes in 1321 at Shouldham, Norfolk, England: "[d]uring the game at ball as he kicked the ball, a lay friend of his... ran against him and wounded himself".
In 1314, Nicholas de Farndone, Lord Mayor of the City of London issued a decree banning football in the French used by the English upper classes at the time. A translation reads: "[f]orasmuch as there is great noise in the city caused by hustling over large foot balls [rageries de grosses pelotes de pee] in the fields of the public from which many evils might arise which God forbid: we command and forbid on behalf of the king, on pain of imprisonment, such game to be used in the city in the future." This is the earliest reference to football.
In 1363, King Edward III of England issued a proclamation banning "...handball, football, or hockey; coursing and cock-fighting, or other such idle games", showing that "football" — whatever its exact form in this case — was being differentiated from games involving other parts of the body, such as handball.
A game known as "football" was played in Scotland as early as the 15th century: it was prohibited by the Football Act 1424 and although the law fell into disuse it was not repealed until 1906. There is evidence for schoolboys playing a "football" ball game in Aberdeen in 1633 (some references cite 1636) which is notable as an early allusion to what some have considered to be passing the ball. The word "pass" in the most recent translation is derived from "huc percute" (strike it here) and later "repercute pilam" (strike the ball again) in the original Latin. It is not certain that the ball was being struck between members of the same team. The original word translated as "goal" is "metum", literally meaning the "pillar at each end of the circus course" in a Roman chariot race. There is a reference to "get hold of the ball before [another player] does" (Praeripe illi pilam si possis agere) suggesting that handling of the ball was allowed. One sentence states in the original 1930 translation "Throw yourself against him" (Age, objice te illi).
King Henry IV of England also presented one of the earliest documented uses of the English word "football", in 1409, when he issued a proclamation forbidding the levying of money for "foteball".
There is also an account in Latin from the end of the 15th century of football being played at Cawston, Nottinghamshire. This is the first description of a "kicking game" and the first description of dribbling: "[t]he game at which they had met for common recreation is called by some the foot-ball game. It is one in which young men, in country sport, propel a huge ball not by throwing it into the air but by striking it and rolling it along the ground, and that not with their hands but with their feet... kicking in opposite directions" The chronicler gives the earliest reference to a football pitch, stating that: "[t]he boundaries have been marked and the game had started.
Other firsts in the mediæval and early modern eras:
- "a football", in the sense of a ball rather than a game, was first mentioned in 1486. This reference is in Dame Juliana Berners' Book of St Albans. It states: "a certain rounde instrument to play with ...it is an instrument for the foote and then it is calde in Latyn 'pila pedalis', a fotebal."
- a pair of football boots was ordered by King Henry VIII of England in 1526.
- women playing a form of football was in 1580, when Sir Philip Sidney described it in one of his poems: "[a] tyme there is for all, my mother often sayes, When she, with skirts tuckt very hy, with girles at football playes."
- the first references to goals are in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. In 1584 and 1602 respectively, John Norden and Richard Carew referred to "goals" in Cornish hurling. Carew described how goals were made: "they pitch two bushes in the ground, some eight or ten foote asunder; and directly against them, ten or twelue [twelve] score off, other twayne in like distance, which they terme their Goales". He is also the first to describe goalkeepers and passing of the ball between players.
- the first direct reference to scoring a goal is in John Day's play The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green (performed circa 1600; published 1659): "I'll play a gole at camp-ball" (an extremely violent variety of football, which was popular in East Anglia). Similarly in a poem in 1613, Michael Drayton refers to "when the Ball to throw, And drive it to the Gole, in squadrons forth they goe".
In the 16th century, the city of Florence celebrated the period between Epiphany and Lent by playing a game which today is known as "calcio storico" ("historic kickball") in the Piazza Santa Croce. The young aristocrats of the city would dress up in fine silk costumes and embroil themselves in a violent form of football. For example, calcio players could punch, shoulder charge, and kick opponents. Blows below the belt were allowed. The game is said to have originated as a military training exercise. In 1580, Count Giovanni de' Bardi di Vernio wrote Discorso sopra 'l giuoco del Calcio Fiorentino. This is sometimes said to be the earliest code of rules for any football game. The game was not played after January 1739 (until it was revived in May 1930).
Official disapproval and attempts to ban football
Numerous attempts have been made to ban football games, particularly the most rowdy and disruptive forms. This was especially the case in England and in other parts of Europe, during the Middle Ages and early modern period. Between 1324 and 1667, football was banned in England alone by more than 30 royal and local laws. The need to repeatedly proclaim such laws demonstrated the difficulty in enforcing bans on popular games. King Edward II was so troubled by the unruliness of football in London that on April 13, 1314 he issued a proclamation banning it: "Forasmuch as there is great noise in the city caused by hustling over large balls from which many evils may arise which God forbid; we command and forbid, on behalf of the King, on pain of imprisonment, such game to be used in the city in the future."
The reasons for the ban by Edward III, on June 12, 1349, were explicit: football and other recreations distracted the populace from practicing archery, which was necessary for war. In 1424, the Parliament of Scotland passed a Football Act that stated it is statut and the king forbiddis that na man play at the fut ball under the payne of iiij d – in other words, playing football was made illegal, and punishable by a fine of four pence.
By 1608, the local authorities in Manchester were complaining that: "With the ffotebale...[there] hath beene greate disorder in our towne of Manchester we are told, and glasse windowes broken yearlye and spoyled by a companie of lewd and disordered persons ..." That same year, the word "football" was used disapprovingly by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare's play King Lear contains the line: "Nor tripped neither, you base football player" (Act I, Scene 4). Shakespeare also mentions the game in A Comedy of Errors (Act II, Scene 1):
Am I so round with you as you with me,
That like a football you do spurn me thus?
You spurn me hence, and he will spurn me hither:
If I last in this service, you must case me in leather.
"Spurn" literally means to kick away, thus implying that the game involved kicking a ball between players.
King James I of England's Book of Sports (1618) however, instructs Christians to play at football every Sunday afternoon after worship. The book's aim appears to be an attempt to offset the strictness of the Puritans regarding the keeping of the Sabbath.
Establishment of modern codes
English public schools
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 organised 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 organised 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:
[s]ome 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.
In 1633, David Wedderburn, a teacher from Aberdeen, mentioned elements of modern football games in a short Latin textbook called Vocabula. Wedderburn refers to what has been translated into modern English as "keeping goal" and makes an allusion to passing the ball ("strike it here"). There is a reference to "get hold of the ball", suggesting that some handling was allowed. It is clear that the tackles allowed included the charging and holding of opposing players ("drive that man back").
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 labour force. Feast day football played on the streets was in decline. Public school boys, who enjoyed some freedom from work, became the inventors of organised football games with formal codes of rules.
Football was adopted by a number of public schools as a way of encouraging competitiveness and keeping youths fit. 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 favoured 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.
William Webb Ellis, a pupil at Rugby School, is said to have "with a fine disregard for the rules of football, as played in his time [emphasis added], first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus creating the distinctive feature of the rugby game." in 1823. This act is usually said to be the beginning of Rugby football, but there is little evidence that it occurred, and most sports historians believe the story to be apocryphal. The act of 'taking the ball in his arms' is often misinterpreted as 'picking the ball up' as it is widely believed that Webb Ellis' 'crime' was handling the ball, as in modern soccer, however handling the ball at the time was often permitted and in some cases compulsory, the rule for which Webb Ellis showed disregard was running forward with it as the rules of his time only allowed a player to retreat backwards or kick forwards.
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 (see Surviving UK school games below).
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.
Two clubs which claim to be the world's oldest existing football club, in the sense of a club which is not part of a school or university, are strongholds of rugby football: the Barnes Club, said to have been founded in 1839, and Guy's Hospital Football Club, in 1843. Neither date nor the variety of football played is well documented, but such claims nevertheless allude to the popularity of rugby before other modern codes emerged.
In 1845, three boys at Rugby school were tasked with 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. For instance, Dublin University Football Club—founded at Trinity College, Dublin in 1854 and later famous as a bastion of the Rugby School game—is the world's oldest documented football club in any code.
One of the longest running football fixture is the Cordner-Eggleston Cup, contested between Melbourne Grammar School and Scotch College, Melbourne every year since 1858. It is believed by many to also be the first match of Australian rules football, although it was played under experimental rules in its first year. The first football trophy tournament was the Caledonian Challenge Cup, donated by the Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne, played in 1861 under the Melbourne Rules. The oldest football league is a rugby football competition, the United Hospitals Challenge Cup (1874), while the oldest rugby trophy is the Yorkshire Cup, contested since 1878. The South Australian Football Association (30 April 1877) is the oldest surviving Australian rules football competition. The oldest surviving soccer trophy is the Youdan Cup (1867) and the oldest national soccer competition is the English FA Cup (1871). The Football League (1888) is recognised as the longest running Association Football league. The first ever international football match took place between sides representing England and Scotland on March 5, 1870 at the Oval under the authority of the FA. The first Rugby international took place in 1871.
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.
Modern ball passing tactics
The earliest reference to a game of football involving players passing the ball and attempting to score past a goalkeeper was written in 1633 by David Wedderburn, a poet and teacher in Aberdeen, Scotland. Nevertheless, the original text does not state whether the allusion to passing as 'kick the ball back' ('Repercute pilam') was in a forward or backward direction or between members of the same opposing teams (as was usual at this time)
"Scientific" football is first recorded in 1839 from Lancashire and in the modern game in Rugby football from 1862 and from Sheffield FC as early as 1865. The first side to play a passing combination game was the Royal Engineers AFC in 1869/70 By 1869 they were "work[ing] well together", "backing up" and benefiting from "cooperation". By 1870 the Engineers were passing the ball: "Lieut. Creswell, who having brought the ball up the side then kicked it into the middle to another of his side, who kicked it through the posts the minute before time was called" Passing was a regular feature of their style By early 1872 the Engineers were the first football team renowned for "play[ing] beautifully together" A double pass is first reported from Derby school against Nottingham Forest in March 1872, the first of which is irrefutably a short pass: "Mr Absey dribbling the ball half the length of the field delivered it to Wallis, who kicking it cleverly in front of the goal, sent it to the captain who drove it at once between the Nottingham posts" The first side to have perfected the modern formation was Cambridge University AFC and introduced the 2–3–5 "pyramid" formation.
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 favour the kicking game. Handling was only allowed when a player catches the ball directly from the foot entitling them 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, was later recognised 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.
Various forms of football were played in Australia during the Victorian gold rush, from which emerged a distinct and locally popular sport. While these origins are still the subject of much debate the popularisation of the code that is known today as Australian Rules Football is currently attributed to Tom Wills.
Wills wrote a letter to Bell's Life in Victoria & Sporting Chronicle, on July 10, 1858, calling for a "foot-ball club" with a "code of laws" to keep cricketers fit during winter. This is considered by historians to be a defining moment in the creation of the new sport. Through publicity and personal contacts Wills was able to co-ordinate football matches in Melbourne that experimented with various rules, the first recorded of which occurred on July 31, 1858. On 7 August 1858, Wills umpired a relatively well documented schoolboys match between Melbourne Grammar School and Scotch College. Following these matches, organised football matches rapidly increased in popularity.
Wills and others involved in these early matches formed the Melbourne Football Club (the oldest surviving Australian football club) on May 14, 1859. The first members included Wills, William Hammersley, J.B. Thompson and Thomas H. Smith. They met with the intention of forming a set of rules that would be widely adopted by other clubs.
The backgrounds of the original rule makers makes for interesting speculation as to the influences on the rules. Wills, an Australian of convict heritage was educated in England. He was a rugby footballer, a cricketer and had strong links to indigenous Australians. At first he desired to introduce rugby school rules. Hammersley was a cricketer and journalist who emigrated from England. Thomas Smith was a school teacher who emigrated from Ireland. The committee members debated several rules including those of English public school games. Despite including aspects similar to other forms of football there is no conclusive evidence to point to any single influence. Instead the committee decided on a game that was more suited to Australian conditions and Wills is documented to have made the declaration "No, we shall have a game of our own". The code was distinctive in the prevalence of the mark, free kick, tackling, lack of an offside rule and that players were specifically penalised for throwing the ball.
The Melbourne football rules were widely distributed and gradually adopted by the other Victorian clubs. They were redrafting several times during the 1860s to accommodate the rules of other influential Victorian football clubs. A significant re-write in 1866 by H C A Harrison's committee to accommodate rules from the Geelong Football Club made the game, which had become known as "Victorian Rules", increasingly distinct from other codes. It used cricket fields, a rugby ball, specialised goal and behind posts, bouncing with the ball while running and later spectacular high marking. The form of football spread quickly to other other Australian colonies. Outside of its heartland in southern Australia the code experienced a significant period of decline following World War I but has since grown other parts of the world at an amateur level and the Australian Football League emerged as the dominant professional competition.
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:
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 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.—
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 abbreviation of "Association".
The first FA rules still contained elements that are no longer part of association football, but which are still recognisable 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 metres) in front of the goal line.
In Britain, by 1870, there were about 75 clubs playing variations of the Rugby school game. There were also "rugby" clubs in Ireland, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. However, there was no generally accepted set of rules for rugby until 1871, when 21 clubs from London came together to form the Rugby Football Union (RFU). The first official RFU rules were adopted in June 1871. These rules allowed passing the ball. They also included the try, where touching the ball over the line allowed an attempt at goal, though drop-goals from marks and general play, and penalty conversions were still the main form of contest.
North American football codes
As was the case in Britain, by the early 19th century, North American schools and universities played their own local games, between sides made up of students. Students at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire played a game called Old division football, a variant of the association football codes, as early as the 1820s.
The first game of rugby in Canada is generally said to have taken place in Montreal, in 1865, when British Army officers played local civilians. The game gradually gained a following, and the Montreal Football Club was formed in 1868, the first recorded football club in Canada.
In 1869, the first game played in the United States under rules based on the FA code occurred, between Princeton and Rutgers. This is also often considered to be the first U.S. game of college football, in the sense of a game between colleges (although the eventual form of American football would come from rugby, not association football).
Modern American football grew out of a match between McGill University of Montreal, and Harvard University in 1874. At the time, Harvard students are reported to have played the Boston Game — a running code — rather than the FA-based kicking games favoured by U.S. universities. This made it easy for Harvard to adapt to the rugby-based game played by McGill and the two teams alternated between their respective sets of rules. Within a few years, however, Harvard had both adopted McGill's rugby rules and had persuaded other U.S. university teams to do the same. In 1876, at the Massasoit Convention, it was agreed by these universities to adopt most of the Rugby Football Union rules, with some variations. Princeton, Rutgers and others continued to compete using soccer-based rules for a few years before switching to the rugby-based rules of Harvard and its competitors. U.S. colleges did not generally return to soccer until the early 20th century.
In 1880, Yale coach Walter Camp, devised a number of major changes to the American game. Camp's two most important rule innovations in establishing American football as distinct from the rugby football games on which it is based are scrimmage and down-and-distance rules.
Scrimmage refers to the practice of starting action by delivering the ball from the ground to another player's hand. Camp's original rule allowed this delivery to be done only with the feet; the rule was soon changed to allow the ball to be passed by hand. The rule also established a distinct line of scrimmage which separates the two teams from each other. When a player is tackled, he is ruled down and play stops, while the teams reset on either side of the line of scrimmage. Play then resumes with the delivery of the ball. Teams are given a limited number of downs to achieve a certain distance (always measured in yards). In American football, teams are given four downs to advance the ball ten yards, after which possession of the ball changes. In Canadian football, teams are allowed three downs to advance ten yards. These rules created a fundamental distinction between the North American codes and rugby codes. Rugby is still fundamentally a continuous-action game, while North American codes are organized around running discrete " plays", as defined as starting with the delivery from "scrimmage" and ending with the "down".
Criticisms and partial adjustments
- "No sport is wholesome in which ungenerous or mean acts which easily escape detection contribute to victory." - Charles William Eliot, President of Harvard University (1869-1909) opposing football in 1905.
American football, in its early years, was an excessively violent game, plagued with several deaths and life-changing injuries every year. The violence became so drastic that President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to shut down the game in 1905, should rules not be changed to minimize this violence. Several rule changes were put into place that year, but the most enduring has been the introduction of the legal forward pass which opened up the play and, like Camp's rule changes of the 1880s, fundamentally changed the nature of the sport. When it became legal to throw the ball forward, an entire new method of advancing the ball emerged. As a result, players became more specialized in their roles, as the different positions on the team required different skill sets. Thus, some players are primarily involved in running with the ball (the running back) while others specialize in throwing (the quarterback), catching (the wide receiver), or blocking (the offensive line). With the advent of free substitution rules in the 1940s and 1950s, teams could deploy separate offensive and defensive "platoons" which led to even greater specialization.
Over the years, Canadian football absorbed some developments in American football, but also retained many unique characteristics. One of these was that Canadian football, for many years, did not officially distinguish itself from rugby. For example, the Canadian Rugby Football Union, founded in 1884 was the forerunner of the Canadian Football League, rather than a rugby union body. (The Canadian Rugby Union, today known as Rugby Canada, was not formed until 1965.) American football was also frequently described as "rugby" in the 1880s.
In the mid-19th century, various traditional football games, referred to collectively as caid, remained popular in Ireland, especially in County Kerry. One observer, Father W. Ferris, described two main forms of caid during this period: the "field game" in which the object was to put the ball through arch-like goals, formed from the boughs of two trees; and the epic "cross-country game" which took up most of the daylight hours of a Sunday on which it was played, and was won by one team taking the ball across a parish boundary. "Wrestling", "holding" opposing players, and carrying the ball were all allowed.
By the 1870s, Rugby and Association football had started to become popular in Ireland. Trinity College, Dublin was an early stronghold of Rugby (see the Developments in the 1850s section, above). The rules of the English FA were being distributed widely. Traditional forms of caid had begun to give way to a "rough-and-tumble game" which allowed tripping.
There was no serious attempt to unify and codify Irish varieties of football, until the establishment of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in 1884. The GAA sought to promote traditional Irish sports, such as hurling and to reject imported games like Rugby and Association football. The first Gaelic football rules were drawn up by Maurice Davin and published in the United Ireland magazine on February 7, 1887. Davin's rules showed the influence of games such as hurling and a desire to formalise a distinctly Irish code of football. The prime example of this differentiation was the lack of an offside rule (an attribute which, for many years, was shared only by other Irish games like hurling, and by Australian rules football).
Schism in Rugby football
The International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) was founded in 1886, but rifts were beginning to emerge in the code. Professionalism was beginning to creep into the various codes of football.
In England, by the 1890s, a long-standing Rugby Football Union ban on professional players was causing regional tensions within rugby football, as many players in northern England were working class and could not afford to take time off to train, travel, play and recover from injuries. This was not very different from what had occurred ten years earlier in soccer in Northern England but the authorities reacted very differently in the RFU, attempting to alienate the working class support in Northern England. In 1895, following a dispute about a player being paid broken time payments, which replaced wages lost as a result of playing rugby, representatives of the northern clubs met in Huddersfield to form the Northern Rugby Football Union (NRFU). The new body initially permitted only various types of player wage replacements. However, within two years, NRFU players could be paid, but they were required to have a job outside sport.
The demands of a professional league dictated that rugby had to become a better "spectator" sport. Within a few years the NRFU rules had started to diverge from the RFU, most notably with the abolition of the line-out. This was followed by the replacement of the ruck with the "play-the-ball ruck", which allowed a two-player ruck contest between the tackler at marker and the player tackled. Mauls were stopped once the ball carrier was held, being replaced by a play-the ball-ruck. The separate Lancashire and Yorkshire competitions of the NRFU merged in 1901, forming the Northern Rugby League, the first time the name rugby league was used officially in England.
Over time, the RFU form of rugby, played by clubs which remained members of national federations affiliated to the IRFB, became known as rugby union.
Globalisation of association football
The need for a single body to oversee association football had become apparent by the beginning of the 20th century, with the increasing popularity of international fixtures. The English Football Association had chaired many discussions on setting up an international body, but was perceived as making no progress. It fell to associations from seven other European countries: France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, to form an international association. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was founded in Paris on May 21, 1904. Its first president was Robert Guérin. The French name and acronym has remained, even outside French-speaking countries.
Further divergence of the two rugby codes
Rugby league rules diverged significantly from rugby union in 1906, with the reduction of the team from 15 to 13 players. In 1907, a New Zealand professional rugby team toured Australia and Britain, receiving an enthusiastic response, and professional rugby leagues were launched in Australia the following year. However, the rules of professional games varied from one country to another, and negotiations between various national bodies were required to fix the exact rules for each international match. This situation endured until 1948, when at the instigation of the French league, the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) was formed at a meeting in Bordeaux.
During the second half of 20th century, the rules changed further. In 1966, rugby league officials borrowed the American football concept of downs: a team could retain possession of the ball for no more than four tackles. The maximum number of tackles was later increased to six (in 1971), and in rugby league this became known as the six tackle rule.
With the advent of full-time professionals in the early 1990s, and the consequent speeding up of the game, the five metre off-side distance between the two teams became 10 metres, and the replacement rule was superseded by various interchange rules, among other changes.
The laws of rugby union also changed significantly during the 20th century. In particular, goals from marks were abolished, kicks directly into touch from outside the 22 metre line were penalised, new laws were put in place to determine who had possession following an inconclusive ruck or maul, and the lifting of players in line-outs was legalised.
In 1995, rugby union became an "open" game, that is one which allowed professional players. Although the original dispute between the two codes has now disappeared — and despite the fact that officials from both forms of rugby football have sometimes mentioned the possibility of re-unification — the rules of both codes and their culture have diverged to such an extent that such an event is unlikely in the foreseeable future.
Use of the word "football"
The word "football", when used in reference to a specific game can mean any one of those described above. Because of this, much friendly controversy has occurred over the term football, primarily because it is used in different ways in different parts of the English-speaking world. Most often, the word "football" is used to refer to the code of football that is considered dominant within a particular region. So, effectively, what the word "football" means usually depends on where one says it.
Association football is known generally as soccer where other codes of football are dominant, including: the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. American football is always football in the United States. In francophone Quebec, where Canadian football is more popular, the Canadian code is known as football and association football is known as le soccer. Of the 45 national FIFA affiliates in which English is an official or primary language, most currently use Football in their organizations' official names. The FIFA affiliates in Canada and the United States use Soccer in their names.
A few FIFA affiliates have recently "normalized" to using "Football", including:
- Australia's association football governing body changed its name in 2007 from using "soccer" to "football"
- New Zealand also changed in 2007, saying "the international game is called football."
- Samoa changed from "Samoa Football (Soccer) Federation" to "Football Federation Samoa" in 2009.
Football codes board
|Football||Cambridge rules (1848)||Association Football (1863)|
|Sheffield rules (1857)|
|Rugby rules (1845)|
|Rugby union (1871)|
|Rugby sevens (1883)|
|Rugby league (1895)|
|American football (1869)||Arena football (1987)|
|Canadian football (1861)||Flag football|
|Australian rules (1859)|
Present day codes and families
Association football and descendants
- Association football, also known as football, soccer, footy and footie
- Indoor/basketball court varieties of Football:
- Five-a-side football — played throughout the world under various rules including:
- Futebol de Salão
- Futsal — the FIFA-approved five-a-side indoor game
- Minivoetbal — the five-a-side indoor game played in East and West Flanders where it is hugely popular
- Papi fut — the five-a-side game played in outdoor basketball courts (built with goals) in Central America.
- Indoor soccer — the six-a-side indoor game, known in Latin America, where it is often played in open air venues, as fútbol rápido ("fast football")
- Masters Football — six-a-side played in Europe by mature professionals (35 years and older)
- Five-a-side football — played throughout the world under various rules including:
- Paralympic football — modified Football for athletes with a disability. Includes:
- Beach soccer — football played on sand, also known as beach football and sand soccer
- Street football — encompasses a number of informal varieties of football
- Rush goalie — is a variation of football in which the role of the goalkeeper is more flexible than normal
- Headers and Volleys — where the aim is to score goals against a goalkeeper using only headers and volleys
- Crab football — players stand on their hands and feet and move around on their backs whilst playing football as normal
- Swamp soccer — the game is played on a swamp or bog field
There are also motorsport variations of the game.
Rugby school football and descendants
- Rugby football
- Rugby league — often referred to simply as "league", and usually known simply as "football" or "footy" in the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland.
- Rugby league nines (or sevens)
- Touch football (rugby league) — a non-contact version of rugby league. Often called simply "touch", in South Africa it is known as "six down"
- Rugby union
- Mini rugby a variety for children.
- Rugby sevens
- Rugby tens
- Beach rugby — rugby played on sand
- Touch rugby — generic name for forms of rugby football which do not feature tackles
- Tag Rugby — a non-contact version of rugby, in which a velcro tag is removed to indicate a tackle
- Rugby league — often referred to simply as "league", and usually known simply as "football" or "footy" in the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland.
- Gridiron football
- American football — called "football" in the United States and Canada, and "gridiron" in Australia and New Zealand. Sometimes called "tackle football" to distinguish it from the touch versions
- Indoor football, arena football — an indoor version of American football
- Nine-man football, eight-man football, six-man football — versions of tackle football, played primarily by smaller high schools that lack enough players to field full 11-man teams
- Touch football (American) — non-tackle American football
- Flag football — non-tackle American football, like touch football, in which a flag that is held by velcro on a belt tied around the waist is pulled by defenders to indicate a tackle
- Street football (American) — American football played in backyards without equipment and with simplified rules
- Canadian football — called simply "football" in Canada; "football" in Canada can mean either Canadian or American football depending on context
- Canadian flag football — non-tackle Canadian football
- Nine-man football — similar to nine-man American football, but using Canadian rules; played by smaller schools in Saskatchewan that lack enough players to field full 12-man teams
Irish and Australian varieties
These codes have in common the absence of an offside rule, the requirement to bounce or solo (toe-kick) the ball while running, handpassing by punching or tapping the ball rather than throwing it, and other traditions.
- Australian rules football — officially known as "Australian football", and informally as "football", "footy" or "Aussie rules". In some areas (erroneously) referred to as " AFL", which is the name of the main organising body and competition
- Auskick — a version of Australian rules designed by the AFL for young children
- Metro footy (or Metro rules footy) — a modified version invented by the USAFL, for use on gridiron fields in North American cities (which often lack grounds large enough for conventional Australian rules matches)
- Kick-to-kick – informal versions of the game
- 9-a-side footy — a more open, running variety of Australian rules, requiring 18 players in total and a proportionally smaller playing area (includes contact and non-contact varieties)
- Rec footy — "Recreational Football", a modified non-contact touch variation of Australian rules, created by the AFL, which replaces tackles with tags
- Touch Aussie Rules — a non-contact variation of Australian Rules played only in the United Kingdom
- Samoa rules — localised version adapted to Samoan conditions, such as the use of rugby football fields
- Masters Australian football (a.k.a. Superules) — reduced contact version introduced for competitions limited to players over 30 years of age
- Women's Australian rules football — played with a smaller ball and (sometimes) reduced contact version introduced for women's competition
- Gaelic football — Played predominantly in Ireland. Commonly referred to as "football" or "Gaelic"
- Ladies Gaelic football
- International rules football — a compromise code used for games between Gaelic and Australian Rules players
Surviving medieval ball games
Inside the UK
- The Haxey Hood, played on Epiphany in Haxey, Lincolnshire
- Shrove Tuesday games
- Scoring the Hales in Alnwick, Northumberland
- Royal Shrovetide Football in Ashbourne, Derbyshire
- The Shrovetide Ball Game in Atherstone, Warwickshire
- The Shrove Tuesday Football Ceremony of the Purbeck Marblers in Corfe Castle, Dorset
- Hurling the Silver Ball at St Columb Major in Cornwall
- The Ball Game in Sedgefield, County Durham
- In Scotland the Ba game ("Ball Game") is still popular around Christmas and Hogmanay at:
- Duns, Berwickshire
- Scone, Perthshire
- Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands
Outside the UK
- Calcio Fiorentino — a modern revival of Renaissance football from 16th century Florence.
Surviving UK school games
Games still played at UK public (independent) schools:
- Eton field game
- Eton wall game
- Harrow football
- Winchester College football
Recent inventions and hybrid games
- Keepie uppie (keep up)
- is the art of juggling with a football using feet, knees, chest, shoulders, and head.
- is a small bean bag or sand bag used as a ball in a number of keepie uppie variations, including hacky sack (which is a trade mark).
- Freestyle football
- a modern take on keepie uppie where freestylers are graded for their entertainment value and expression of skill.
Based on FA rules
- Three sided football
Based on rugby
- Force ’em backs a.k.a. forcing back, forcemanback
- mixes Association football and beach volleyball; played on sand
Note: although similar with football and volleyball in some aspects, Sepak takraw has ancient origins and cannot be considered an hybrid game.
- Football tennis
- mixes Association football and tennis
- a hybrid of Association football and baseball, invented in the United States in about 1942.
- Speedball (American)
- a combination of American football, soccer, and basketball, devised in the United States in 1912.
- Universal football
- a hybrid of Australian rules and rugby league, trialled in Sydney in 1933.
- a game resembling Association football and European handball, devised by Italian fascist leader, Augusto Turati, in the 1920s.
- Wheelchair rugby
- also known as Murderball, invented in Canada in 1977. Based on ice hockey and basketball rather than rugby.
Tabletop games and other recreations
Based on Football (soccer)
- Blow football
- Table football — also known as foosball, table soccer, babyfoot, bar football or gettone
- Fantasy football (soccer)
- Button football — also known as Futebol de Mesa, Jogo de Botões
- Penny football
- FIFA Video Games Series
- Pro Evolution Soccer
- Mario Strikers
Based on American football
- Paper football
- Blood Bowl
- Fantasy football (American)
- Madden NFL
Based on Australian football
- AFL video game series
- List of AFL video games
Based on Rugby League football
- Sidhe's Rugby League series
- Rugby League 3
- Australian Rugby League