A change did not come about until the beginning of the 19th century when school football became the custom, particularly in the famous public schools. This was the turning point. In this new environment, it was possible to make innovations and refinements to the game.
The rules were still relatively free and easy, with no standard form of the game. Each school in fact developed its own adaptation and, at times, these varied considerably. The traditional aspects of the game remained but innovations depended for the most part on the playing ground available. If use had to be made of a paved school playground, surrounded by a brick wall, then there was simply not enough space for the old hurly-burly ‘mob football’.
Circumstances such as these prompted schools like Charterhouse, Westminster, Eton and Harrow to favour a game more dependent on the players’ dribbling virtuosity than the robust energy required in a scrum. On the other hand, schools such as Cheltenham and Rugby were more inclined towards the more rugged game in which the ball could be touched with the hands or even carried.
As the 19 th century progressed, a new attitude developed towards football. The education authorities observed how well the sport served to encourage such fine qualities as loyalty, selflessness, cooperation, subordination and deference to the team spirit. Games became an integral part of the school curriculum and participation in football compulsory. Dr Thomas Arnold, the head of Rugby School, made further advances in this direction, when in 1846 in Rugby the first truly standardised rules for an organised game were laid down.
These were in any event quite rough enough: for example, they permitted kicking an opponent’s legs below the knees, with the reserve that he should not be held still while his shins were being worked on. Handling the ball was also allowed – and had been ever since the historic occasion in 1823 when William Webb Ellis, to the amazement of his own team and his opponents, made a run with the ball tucked under his arm. Many schools followed suit and adopted the rules laid down in Rugby; others, such as Eton, Harrow and Winchester, rejected this form of football, and gave preference to kicking the ball. Charterhouse and Westminster were also against handling the ball. However, they did not isolate their style as some schools did – instead they formed a nucleus from which this style of game began to spread.
Finally, in 1863, developments reached a climax. At Cambridge University, where in 1848 attempts had already been made by former pupils from the various schools to find a common denominator for all the different adaptations of the game, a fresh initiative began to establish some uniform standards and rules that would be accepted by everyone.
It was at this point that the majority spoke out against such rough customs as tripping, shin-kicking and so on. As it happened, the majority also expressed disapproval at carrying the ball. It was this that caused the Rugby group to withdraw. They would probably have agreed to refrain from shin-kicking, which was in fact later banned in the Rugby regulations, but they were reluctant to relinquish carrying the ball.
This Cambridge action was an endeavour to sort out the utter confusion surrounding the rules. The decisive meeting, however, came on 26 October 1863, when 11 eleven London clubs and schools sent their representatives to the Freemason’s Tavern. These representatives were intent on clarifying the muddle by establishing a set of fundamental rules, acceptable to all parties, to govern the matches played among them. This meeting marked the birth of The Football Association. The eternal dispute concerning shin-kicking, tripping and carrying the ball was discussed thoroughly at this and consecutive meetings until eventually on 8 December the die-hard exponents of the Rugby style – led by Blackheath – took their final leave. A stage had been reached where the ideals were no longer compatible. On 8 December 1863, football and rugby finally split. Their separation became totally irreconcilable six years hence when a provision was included in the football rules forbidding any handling of the ball (not only carrying it).
From there progress was lightning-quick. Only eight years after its foundation, The Football Association already had 50 member clubs. The first football competition in the world, the FA Cup, was established in 1872. By 1888 the first league championship was under way.
International matches were being staged in Great Britain before football had hardly been heard of in Europe. The first was played in 1872 and was contested by England and Scotland. This sudden boom of organised football accompanied by staggering crowds of spectators brought with it certain problems with which other countries did not face until much later on.
Professionalism was one of them. The first moves in this direction came in 1879, when Darwin, a small Lancashire club, twice managed to draw against the supposedly invincible Old Etonians in the FA Cup, before the famous team of London amateurs finally scraped through to win at the third attempt. Two Darwin players, the Scots John Love and Fergus Suter, are reported as being the first players ever to receive remuneration for their football talent. This practice grew rapidly and the FA found itself obliged to legalise professionalism as early as 1885. This development predated the formation of any national association outside of Great Britain (namely, in the Netherlands and Denmark) by exactly four years.
After the English FA, the next oldest are the Scottish FA (1873), the FA of Wales (1875) and the Irish FA (1880). Strictly speaking, at the time of the first international match, England had no other partner association against which to play. When Scotland played England in Glasgow on 30 November 1872, the Scottish FA did not even exist – it was not founded for another three months. The team England played that day was actually the oldest Scottish club team, Queen’s Park, but as today the Scottish side wore blue shirts and England white (albeit with shorts and socks in the colours of their public schools). Both teams employed what might today be considered rather attacking formations – Scotland (2-2-6), England (1-1-8) – but back then the game still retained many of the mob-football characteristics of kicking and rushing and, in tactics at least, probably more closely resembled modern-day rugby than football.
The spread of football outside of Great Britain, mainly due to the British influence abroad, started slowly, but it soon gathered momentum and rapidly reached all parts of the world.
The next countries to form football associations after the Netherlands and Denmark in 1889 were New Zealand (1891), Argentina (1893), Chile (1895), Switzerland, Belgium (1895), Italy (1898), Germany, Uruguay (both in 1900), Hungary (1901) and Finland (1907).
When FIFA was founded in Paris in May 1904 it had seven founder members: France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain (represented by Madrid FC), Sweden and Switzerland. The German Football Federation cabled its intention to join on the same day.
This international football community grew steadily, although it sometimes met with obstacles and setbacks. In 1912, 21 national associations were already affiliated to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). By 1925, the number had increased to 36, while in 1930 – the year of the first World Cup – it was 41.
Between 1937 and 1938, the modern-day Laws of the Game were set out by future FIFA President Stanley Rous. He took the original Laws, written in 1886 and subject subsequently to piecemeal alterations, and drafted them in a rational order. (They would be revised a second time in 1997.)
By the late 1930s there were 51 FIFA members; in 1950, after the interval caused by the Second World War, that number had reached 73. Over the next half-century, football’s popularity continued to attract new devotees and at the end of the 2007 FIFA Congress, FIFA had 208 members in every part of the world.