England v Scotland - First Ever InternationalThe Birth of Soccer

There is a myth abroad on the internet that the question 'Who invented soccer?' is debatable and uncertain. In fact we can put a date, a time and a place to it and name the people who sat around the table.

It's right to make the point that people have kicked or chased after a ball or ball like object for most of recorded history and that forms of the football may have been played in ancient China ; but 'soccer ' was public school slang for the form of the game known as Association Football.  It was called 'soccer' , short for Association Football to distinguish it from 'rugger', which was short for Rugby Football. The game we know as football and that americans call soccer was invented in 1863 at the Freemasons Tavern, London, England[2896].

Football's Unruly Ancestor

Football, in terms of people kicking and chasing after a ball had been around for a while but it was a violent and, quite literally, unruly game. Typical matches were played between whole villages with a stream or the boundary of a field as the 'goal posts'. Mob football was so unruly, and such a distraction from more useful pastimes like the practice of archery, that in the 1300s  English kings banned it for a while.

Football and the English Public Schools[2899]

Around the 16th century English Public Schools (elite schools for the well off) began to adapt the  game for their pupils. the trouble was that each school played its own version of the game so that matches between sides from different schools were impossible. Eton College still plays two versions of football, the Wall Game and the Field Game that are unique to Eton and are not played anywhere else. 

By the 19th century, speeded by the coming of rail travel, the inability for matches to be played between pupils from different schools became an increasing problem.  There were attempts from around the 1840s to capture the rules and get agreement on how the game should be played.

There were broadly speaking three versions of the game. Rugby and Charterhouse favoured a form of the game where the ball was carried. Eton and Harrow championed a game based on dribbling the ball with the feet but that had a very strict offside rule forbidding players to be in front of the ball. The Eton Field Game that operates to these rules is still played at Eton today. Winchester and Chelmsford favoured a game in which handling was not allowed but which permitted the forward pass. 

The Role of Cambridge University

The different versions of  football were a particular problem at the universities where students who had attended different public schools came together. A set of rules was agreed at Cambridge University in the 1840s that was close to the rules that would finally adopted but it was not until 1863 that the Football Association (as England's F.A., the oldest football association in the world) was finally formed.

Soccer Is Born

Soccer, or Association Football as it is correctly known, was born on the 26th October 1863 when the chief clubs and schools, who had been playing their own versions of the game met at the Freemasons Tavern, London. They largely adopted the rules that had been developed at Cambridge University. Representatives from 12 clubs and schools in the London area met to thrash out the rules. One school, Blackheath, refused to accept the non inclusion of 'hacking'; that is kicking below the knees but the other eleven agreed to form the Football Association and soccer was born.

Ebenezer Cobb MorleyThe  laws of the game were written under the leadership of Ebenezer Cobb Morley[2896].

The first international matches were played between England and Scotland in the 1870s. The F.A. Challenge Cup started in 1871 and did much to boost the games popularity as did it's adoption by the working class.

There were continuing disputes around the rules but on 2nd June 1886 the FAs of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland came together to form the Internal Football Association Board. The rules of the game were firmly established and the game has gone from strength to strength spreading rapidly across the globe. The first World Cup of football took place in 1930 in Uruguay.

U.S. writer and enthusiast John Doyle on the origins and history of soccer.