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FA at 150: The Birth of the Modern Game


“Success to football, irrespective of class or creed”, the toast given after the first exhibition game played using FA rules on 9 January 1864. 

This was the birth of the modern game of football as we know it. Before this point there had been no universal rules for the game, they were just formalised depending on local conditions. Different areas of the country would play the game by different rules. Evidently, this caused mayhem from time to time but most notably when the generation that had grown up playing football regularly went off to university. Although this was 150 years ago, Britain had developed significantly since the Tudor period and things were a little more civilized, Britain had become the greatest industrial power of Europe (although we still had Queen Victoria as our monarch). The intellects at Cambridge University devised a set of rules in 1848 which were known as the Cambridge Rules. These rules allowed for forward passes, goal kicks and throw ins and became widely adopted. These rules were a significant basis for the revised set of rules that later became Association football in 1863. The Cambridge Rules were notable for being pinned to the trees of Parker’s Piece (a large open park in the centre of Cambridge). These were the first formulated rules of football and are the origins of the beautiful game. 
Not quite Wembley!
The Cambridge University team is often credited with revolutionising the tactics and the way that football was played. They also played a major role in developing modern passing football which helped to establish the modern game in 1882. The Cambridge team was often described as being the first combination team whereby each player within the team was allocated a specific area of the field and the tactics were based upon passing. 

The plaque commemorating the birth of football in Parker's Piece
However, Cambridge cannot take all the credit for the birth of the modern game. Ebenezer Cobb Morley was a key figure at this time and central to the creation of modern football as well as the Football Association. Morley even drafted the laws of the game in his own home and became the FA’s first ever secretary. The first edition of the modern rules were recorded over a series of meetings in a tavern! This was far removed from todays FA meetings and discussions about such things as goal line technology. Back in the 1860s, they were concerned with whether to eradicate rules such as being able to run with the ball in hand and, being able to obstruct runs by hacking, tripping and holding. In 1871, the Rugby Football Union was formed and the term ‘soccer’ was first coined due to this split and refers to football played under association rules. The establishment of Morley’s FA represented the official creation of the modern game and the FA Cup, the longest running association football competition in the world, was established in 1871 by then secretary and treasurer, Charles Alcock.             



No copy of the 1848 rules survives but the following set of University Rules, circa 1856, still exists in the Library of Shrewsbury School.
The Laws of the University Foot Ball Club
  1. This club shall be called the University Foot Ball Club.
  2. At the commencement of the play, the ball shall be kicked off from the middle of the ground: after every goal there shall be a kick-off in the same way.
  3. After a goal, the losing side shall kick off; the sides changing goals, unless a previous arrangement be made to the contrary.
  4. The ball is out when it has passed the line of the flag-posts on either side of the ground, in which case it shall be thrown in straight.
  5. The ball is behind when it has passed the goal on either side of it.
  6. When the ball is behind it shall be brought forward at the place where it left the ground, not more than ten paces, and kicked off.
  7. Goal is when the ball is kicked through the flag-posts and under the string.
  8. When a player catches the ball directly from the foot, he may kick it as he can without running with it. In no other case may the ball be touched with the hands, except to stop it.
  9. If the ball has passed a player, and has come from the direction of his own goal, he may not touch it till the other side have kicked it, unless there are more than three of the other side before him. No player is allowed to loiter between the ball and the adversaries' goal.
  10. In no case is holding a player, pushing with the hands, or tripping up allowed. Any player may prevent another from getting to the ball by any means consistent with the above rules.
  11. Every match shall be decided by a majority of goals.

In October 1863, shortly before the first meeting of The FA, a committee drew up a new revision of the Cambridge rules. These would be the basis for the draft rules that were then under discussion by the FA. The FA committee voted to adopt parts of the Cambridge rules (and parts of Sheffield Football Association rules).
Below are the 1863 Cambridge University Rules
  1. The length of the ground shall not be more than 150 yds. and the breadth not more than 100 yds. The ground shall be marked out by posts and two posts shall be placed on each side-line at distances of 25 yds. from each goal line.
  2. The GOALS shall consist of two upright poles at a distance of 15 ft. from each other.
  3. The choice of goals and kick-off shall be determined by tossing and the ball shall be kicked off from the middle of the ground.
  4. In a match when half the time agreed upon has elapsed, the side shall change goals when the ball is next out of play. After such change or a goal obtained, the kick off shall be from the middle of the ground in the same direction as before. The time during which the game shall last and the numbers in each side are to be settled by the heads of the sides.
  5. When a player has kicked the ball any one of the same side who is nearer to the opponent's goal line is OUT OF PLAY and may not touch the ball himself nor in any way whatsoever prevent any other player from doing so.
  6. When the ball goes out of the ground by crossing the side lines, it is out of play and shall be kicked straight into the ground again from the point where it first stopped.
  7. When a player has kicked the ball beyond the opponents' goal line, whoever first touches the ball when it is on the ground with his hand, may have a FREE kick bringing the ball straight out from the goal line.
  8. No player may touch the ball behind his opponents' goal line who is behind it when the ball is kicked there.
  9. If the ball is touched down behind the goal line and beyond the line of the side-posts, the FREE kick shall be from the 25 yds. post
  10. When a player has a free-kick, no-one of his own side may be between him and his opponents' goal line and no one of the opposing side may stand within 10 yds. of him.
  11. A free kick may be taken in any manner the player may choose.
  12. A goal is obtained when the ball goes out of the ground by passing between the poles or in such a manner that it would have passed between them had they been of sufficient height.
  13. The ball, when in play may be stopped by any part of the body, but it may NOT be held or hit by the hands, arms or shoulders.
  14. ALL charging is fair; but holding, pushing with the hands, tripping up and shinning are forbidden.
    The hardest rule for many to understand remembered by the 2012 Olympics!

    By Ollie Jackson  (@Ollie_Jackson)

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