Tuesday, 18 Jun 2024

The Origins of the Football Association

Football Association Formation
Image Source: Spudgun67, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Football Association (FA) is not only responsible for governing football in England but also in Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man. Established in 1863, it holds the distinction of being the oldest football association in the world, overseeing all aspects of the game, both amateur and professional, within its jurisdiction.

Before the FA

Football has been played for centuries, with early versions of the game such as Tsu’ Chu, Cuju, or Zuqiu being played in ancient China during the Han Dynasty in the second and third centuries BC. While the English cannot claim to have invented football, they did formalize the game as it is played today.

Before the formation of the FA, there were no universally accepted rules for football. Each school or organization that played the game had their own set of rules, leading to chaos when players from different backgrounds came together to play. The lack of organization prompted Cambridge University to establish a set of rules in 1848, which was soon followed by other universities. These rules, known as the Cambridge Rules, and the Sheffield Rules used by Northern clubs in the 1950s, provided some structure to the game.

The Beginnings of the FA

First Set of Football Rules
Image Source: Adrian Roebuck, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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On October 26, 1863, representatives from eleven London clubs convened at The Freemason’s Tavern on Great Queen Street. Their aim was to establish common rules that would be universally accepted throughout the country. This meeting was the result of a letter written by Ebenezer Cobb Morley, the captain and founder of Barnes, to Bell’s Life newspaper in 1862. Morley proposed the need for standardized rules and a governing body for football, similar to the structure of the Marylebone Cricket Club for cricket.

The initial meeting at the pub was just the beginning. Over the next three months, six additional meetings were held to draft the official rules. Notably, F. M. Campbell withdrew his club’s support when two rules established at the penultimate meeting were removed in the final one. This led to the split between those who wanted to play by the “association rules” and those who wanted to continue playing their own way. Campbell’s team, Blackheath, joined other English rugby clubs and eventually formed the Rugby Football Union in 1871.

Who Was There in 1863?

Civil Service FC
Image Source: Civil Service FC Badge

At the initial meetings of the FA, representatives from eleven clubs were present to outline the rules of the game. These clubs included Barnes, Civil Service, the Crusaders, Forest of Leytonstone, No Names Club of Kilburn, Crystal Palace, Blackheath, Kensington School, Perceval House of Blackheath, Surbiton, and Blackheath Proprietary School. Charterhouse also sent their captain, B. F. Hartshome, but declined to join the new association.

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Today, only Civil Service Football Club remains in existence, playing in the Southern Amateur League. Crystal Palace, although well-known, is not the same club as the one in the Premier League. The other clubs mentioned are defunct or chose to continue playing rugby football instead of the modern game.

Putting Theory Into Practice

Having finalized the rules, the FA was scheduled to take place on January 2, 1864. However, the enthusiastic members of the association couldn’t wait and played an experimental game on December 19, 1863. The game, between Barnes and nearby Richmond, who were not members of the newly formed association, ended in a 0-0 draw. Richmond chose to continue playing by the old rules and later contributed to the formation of the Rugby Football Union. The first official game under the new rules took place on January 9, 1864, with a toast given to “Success to football, irrespective of class or creed.”

Alternative Football Associations

London Association
Image Source: London Football Association Team in 1857

Besides the FA we’ve been discussing, there was also the Sheffield Football Association, which continued playing the Sheffield Rules even after the formation of the London FA. The need for undisputed rules became evident with the establishment of the Football Association Cup in 1871. Prior to this, there had been 16 inter-association matches played under various rules. In 1877, a set of rules was outlined, incorporating elements from both the London Football Association’s rulebook and the Sheffield Rules. These rules formed the foundation of the FA’s rules that are still in use today.

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Q: What is the Football Association (FA)?
A: The FA is the oldest football association in the world. It governs football in England, Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man, overseeing both amateur and professional aspects of the game.

Q: When was the FA formed?
A: The FA was established in 1863.

Q: Who was responsible for the formation of the FA?
A: Ebenezer Cobb Morley, the captain and founder of Barnes, played a significant role in the formation of the FA.

Q: What were the initial rules of football before the FA was formed?
A: Before the FA, different schools and organizations had their own rules for the game. The Cambridge Rules and the Sheffield Rules provided some structure before the FA established unified rules.

Q: Which clubs were present at the initial FA meetings?
A: Clubs such as Barnes, Civil Service, Crystal Palace (amateur club), and Blackheath were among those represented at the initial meetings.


The establishment of the Football Association in 1863 marked a pivotal moment in the history of football. It brought together clubs from across London to agree upon common rules that would govern the game and set the stage for the development of organized football. Today, the FA continues to shape the sport, ensuring its growth and success both in England and its associated territories. For more information about the Football Association, visit Movin993.