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FOOTBALL. The game of American football as played today by high school, college, and professional teams grew out of rugby-style football which in the mid-1870s replaced a largely kicking game known as association football. Although initially played on village greens and on college fields, the first intercollegiate game took place on 6 November 1869 when Rutgers defeated Princeton 6–4 in a soccer-style game. Five years later, Montreal's McGill University playing at Harvard introduced rugby football, which would be rapidly adopted by eastern teams.

Collegiate Development

For the first fifty years of football, college teams enjoyed a virtual monopoly of what they called the gridiron (the term applied to the football field because of the lines drawn at five-yard intervals). In 1876, students at Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and Yale met to form the Intercollegiate Football Association, all agreeing to play by rugby rules. Of the four schools, only Yale chose to re-main an independent. Nevertheless, Yale continued to meet with the other schools and played a crucial role in the adoption of new rules and in the popularization of American football. Beginning in the 1880s, the eastern institutions led by Yale played "big games" before large crowds in the New York and Boston areas. From 1880 to 1888, changes in the intercollegiate rules led to the transformation of British rugby into American football. The possession rule of 1880, which decreed that the team with the ball would keep possession if tackled, led to a series of further changes. The result was a game of physical contact and deception that had progressively less in common with rugby and association football.

The possession rule and the changes that accompanied it were associated with Walter Camp, a player for Yale in the late 1870s. A gifted strategist and promoter, Camp served as a coach or adviser to the Yale team from 1879 to 1910 and as the key figure on various rules committees. Through devices such as his All-America teams, he was also instrumental in making football a nationwide intercollegiate sport. Led by Camp, the handful of youthful rules-makers enacted the yards and downs rule (three downs to gain five yards), numerical scoring, interference in front of the ball carrier, and tackling between the waist and the knees (rather than above the waist). Players could move forward before the snap of the ball (momentum plays), and push and pull the ball carrier through the defense (mass play). As a result of these rules changes, football became noticeably rougher and by the late 1800s was criticized by clergy, newspaper editors, and some older college faculty and administrators for its dangers and brutality.

In the 1890s, football spread rapidly to colleges in every part of the country. Spearheaded by former players or "missionary coaches," the teams closely followed the rules and rituals of eastern colleges, including Thanksgiving Day rivalries such as Michigan and Chicago or Stanford and California. As football gained in popularity with students and alumni, criticism of the game among faculty, college presidents, and crusading journalists grew more shrill, especially at a time when several players were killed or seriously injured each year.

On 9 October 1905, just after the beginning of the football season, President Theodore Roosevelt met with six alumni gridiron advisers from Yale, Harvard, and Princeton, including Camp and Coach Bill Reid of Harvard. Roosevelt secured their pledge to draw up a statement in which they would agree to eliminate brutal and unsportsmanlike play. Contrary to a widely held belief, Roosevelt did not issue an edict to the colleges, nor did he have a direct role in reforming the rules. In October and November 1905, football at all levels had eighteen fatalities—three in college play—and 159 serious injuries.

Following the death of a Union College player in a game against New York University, Chancellor Henry MacCracken of NYU called a meeting of nineteen colleges to consider the evils of football. That gathering in early December 1905 of twenty-four delegates led to a second, larger conference, which met in New York late in the same month. The more than sixty colleges represented appointed a reform rules committee. In addition, they organized themselves into the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (ICAA), predecessor of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), to challenge the older, big-college football committee. Meeting together, the two committees agreed to sweeping gridiron reforms, including the ten-yard rule (ten yards to be gained in three downs), six men on the line of scrimmage and a defined neutral zone between the teams, stiffer penalties, and the forward pass. Although the number of injuries declined under the new rules, another round of deaths and injuries in 1909 led to the enactment of more comprehensive rules between 1910 to 1912.

Football in the 1920s and 1930s

After World War I, both college football and the fledgling professional version of the game prospered as a result of the booming economy and the remarkable popularity of major sports. Thousands of gridiron enthusiasts flocked to the newly constructed stadiums modeled after the Harvard, Yale, and Princeton stadiums. In October 1924, Harold "Red" Grange of Illinois became football's best-known player when he ran for five touchdowns and passed for a sixth in a game against Michigan. After his final college game, Grange signed a contract with the professional Chicago Bears of the National Football League (NFL). He immediately played to overflow crowds in Chicago and New York and agreed to lucrative deals for endorsements and movie appearances. The highly publicized and profitable entry of the "Galloping Ghost" into pro football was a precursor to the wealth of NFL players later in the twentieth century.

Just as football grew at the college level, it also took hold in the high schools. Football had been played at private secondary schools since the 1880s, and some public schools fielded teams in the 1890s and early 1900s. Promising players at private schools and high schools became the object of fierce recruiting struggles by the colleges. In the early 1900s, the emergence of the larger consolidated high schools created a need for football as a means of forging loyalties among large and diverse student bodies. Even before World War I, some coaches became known in high school football before moving up to the college level.

Football was also widely played as an unorganized, sandlot sport, or as a supervised playground recreation. By 1929, many of the serious injuries and occasional deaths in the first three decades of the twentieth century occurred during unsupervised play. Because of the need for protective equipment and adult supervision, youth leagues gradually evolved. What became the Pop Warner Leagues began as a local Philadelphia area football club in 1929. The organization was later renamed for Glenn Scobie "Pop" Warner, best known as a college coach at Carlisle Indian School, the University of Pittsburgh, and Stanford University. Beginning in 1947, the Pop Warner Leagues initiated their own national championship modeled after college and professional competitions in football and other sports.

Professional football had originated in the towns of western Pennsylvania and taken root in the smaller cities of Ohio. In 1920, a group of midwestern teams met to form the American Professional Football Association, changed the next year to the National Football League. In the 1920s and 1930s, NFL teams often went bankrupt or moved and changed names, and professional football ranked a distant second to college football in popularity

and prestige. Only after World War II, with the advent of television and air travel, did the NFL and other leagues challenge the college game.

Post–World War II Football

Television, a medium that rapidly expanded in the 1940s and 1950s, proved well-suited to the gridiron game. After setting records in the first years after World War II, attendance at college football games began to slump from 1949 on. The alarmed NCAA members ceded to their TV committee the right to control or even to ban college football telecasts. In 1951, the NCAA contracted with Westinghouse (CBS) television network to televise one game each Saturday, later broadening the agreements to include several regional games. This cartel would help to strengthen the power of the NCAA, but it would also lead to near rebellion within the association in the 1980s.

Although college football attendance revived, professional football rapidly surpassed its collegiate parent. A national audience watched a gripping telecast of the NFL championship game in 1958 when the Baltimore Colts won a dramatic sudden-death overtime victory against the New York Giants. Frustrated by the NFL's cautious approach toward expansion, the oil billionaires Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams began the American Football League (AFL) in 1959, with its first game in 1960. Bolstered by a network contract, the AFL challenged the NFL for blue-chip draft choices and TV audiences. In 1966, the AFL and NFL agreed to merge, and an annual championship known as the Super Bowl was played between the two leagues after the following season, though they would not become one league with two conferences until 1970. That year, ABC Sports innovator Roone Arledge teamed up with NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to launch "Monday Night Football," an instant hit on prime-time evening television. Professional football franchises, which had once struggled for attendance, became businesses worth millions of dollars.

Although the players' salaries rose, they would not reach the levels achieved by major league baseball until the 1990s. Strikes in 1974 and 1987 led to victories by the owners, who effectively blocked the free agency that had resulted in soaring salaries in major league baseball. Attempts to found new professional leagues—the World Football League in 1974–1975, the United States Football League in 1983–1985, and the XFL in the winter of 2000—failed to breach the NFL cartel. Only the Canadian Football League (CFL), arena football played indoors, the World League of American Football (an NFL minor league with teams mainly in Europe), and the Women's Professional Football League (WPFL) offered an outlet for players who could not play in the NFL.

Following World War II, African American players appeared in rapidly growing numbers both in college and professional ranks. In college football, a handful of black players had participated since the 1890s in the East, Midwest, and West. In addition to being subjected to harassment and brutality, these players were by mutual consent "held out" of games with southern teams. In the postwar years, colleges outside the South refused to accept these "gentlemen's agreements" that kept blacks out of games. Except in the South, the number of African American players grew steadily in the 1950s. Southern teams were not integrated until the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1961, Ernie Davis of Syracuse became the first African American Heisman Trophy winner.

African Americans had played professional football in the early 1900s. A handful played in the early years of the NFL. In 1934, the league's last players, Jack Lilliard and Ray Kemp, were forced out of pro football. After World War II, the Cleveland Browns of the new All America Football League (AAFL) and the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL both integrated their teams, and the number of black professional players would show a steady increase after 1950.

College Football in the Age of the NFL

In the 1960s, college football enjoyed a brief period of prosperity and relative calm. In the fall of 1966, 33 million viewers watched a fierce struggle between Michigan State and Notre Dame, the college game's version of the Giants-Colts showdown in 1958. ABC's innovations in telecasting and the advent of color television brought more revenue and recognition to big-time teams and their coaches.

Following World War II, many teams adopted two-platoon football in which teams had separate defensive and offensive units (the innovation doubled the need for scholarships and players). Unnerved by rising costs and wedded to past practice, the NCAA football rules committee attempted in the 1950s to banish two-platoon football but returned to unlimited substitution by the end of the decade. (Unlike the colleges, the NFL never tried to abolish separate offensive and defensive teams.)

In 1951, nearly fifty institutions dropped football because of rising costs and dwindling attendance (some of these such as Georgetown, Fordham, and Detroit were ranked in the top twenty in the 1920s and 1930s). In the East, eight Ivy League institutions adopted joint rules deemphasizing football. They began less costly round-robin play in 1956 and eliminated spring practice, football scholarships, and postseason contests.

After World War II, the NCAA failed in its first attempt to regulate subsidies for supposedly amateur players. The subsequent scandals created support both for deemphasis of big-time football and for a nationwide system to enforce athletic codes of conduct. Other scandals involved booster clubs that funneled illicit payments to players and recruits. Beginning in 1956, a series of pay-for-play schemes were uncovered at five institutions in the Pacific Coast Conference, contributing to the conference's demise in 1959. Stepping into the vacuum, the NCAA levied stiff penalties against offenders, including bans on TV appearances. The commercial model pursued by many college football conferences led to charges that colleges had become the minor leagues for professional football. To some extent, the charges were true. Not only did the colleges supply the training for NFL recruits, but coaches also moved easily between the professional and collegiate ranks.

The quest for revenues in college football proved both a motivator for top teams and a cause of internecine quarrels. Faced with rising expenditures in the 1970s, big-time college teams opposed sharing TV revenues with NCAA members who had smaller football teams or no teams at all. Formed in 1976 as a lobbying group within the NCAA, the College Football Association (CFA) proposed to negotiate their own TV contracts. In 1984, two CFA members, Georgia and Oklahoma, won a Supreme Court decision against the NCAA, thereby ending the association cartel. Institutions and conferences within the association would now be responsible for their own TV contracts.

Unlike professional football, Division I-A football, comprising the most prominent intercollegiate football institutions, had no playoff championship. Beginning in 1998, the NCAA initiated the bowl championship system to replace the mythical champion chosen by sportswriters and coaches. Using a variety of methods, including computer ratings, the NCAA chose the top two teams to play in one of the major bowl games, the designations of which rotated from year to year. Critics pointed out that college football still was the only college or professional sport that did not choose the champion by playoffs.


Beginning in the late nineteenth century, American football developed far differently from rugby football and association football (soccer, as it is referred to in the United States). Unlike baseball and basketball, American football has been largely confined to the United States and Canada. It has remained a predominantly male game, though a women's professional league has fielded teams, and female place kickers have competed at the high school and college levels. Whereas baseball was once clearly the American pastime, football has gained preeminence at the high school, college, and professional levels. In addition, football has developed a distinctive fan culture. Tailgating or picknicking in the parking lot, participating in booster clubs, and traveling vast distances for Bowl games or intersectional rivalries have become part of the football culture of dedicated spectators. Moreover, the availability of football through cable and network TV has transformed millions of television viewers who seldom attend a major contest into knowledgeable and enthusiastic football fans.


Davis, Parke H. Football, the American Intercollegiate Game. New York: Scribners, 1911.

Harris, David. The League: The Rise and Decline of the NFL. New York: Bantam, 1986.

Lester, Robin. Stagg's University: The Rise, Decline, and Fall of Big-Time Football at Chicago. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Nelson, David M. Anatomy of a Game: Football, the Rules, and the Men Who Made the Game. London and Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1994; Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1996.

Oriard, Michael. King Football: Sport and Spectacle in the Golden Age of Radio and Newsreels, Movies and Magazines, the Weekly and the Daily Press. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Peterson, Robert W. Pigskin, the Early Years of Pro Football. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Roberts, Randy, and James Olson. Winning Is the Only Thing: Sports in America since 1945. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.

Ross, Charles K. Outside the Lines: African-Americans and the Integration of the National Football League. New York: New York University Press, 1999.

Smith, Ronald A. Sports and Freedom: The Rise of Big-Time Athletics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

———. Play-by-Play: Radio, TV, and Big-Time College Sport. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Watterson, John Sayle. College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

Weyand, Alexander M. The Saga of American Football. New York: Macmillan, 1955.

John SayleWatterson

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football, any of a number of games in which two opposing teams attempt to score points by moving an inflated oval or round ball past a goal line or into a goal. Differing greatly in their rules, these include soccer (association football) and rugby, in addition to the games covered in this article: American football, Canadian football, Gaelic football, and Australian football. In the United States, the word football generally refers only to the American game; in many other parts of the world it usually means soccer. Football, amateur and professional, is perhaps the most popular spectator sport in the United States, attracting a total attendance of over 40 million and watched by many more millions on television each year.

Most of the modern forms of football are derived from ancient games, especially harpaston and harpastrum, played in Greece and Rome. These survive today in Tuscany and Florence under the name calcio. Meanwhile a rugged, undisciplined type of football took root in the Middle Ages in England, where despite royal edicts banning the game from time to time, football remained popular until the early 19th cent. Different forms of the game soon developed at the various English public schools, including Rugby, Eton, and Harrow. Eventually, two main games emerged. One was primarily a kicking game, which later became association football, or soccer; the other (dating from 1823) was football as played at Rugby, in which carrying the ball and tackling were permitted.

American Football

Basic Rules

The American game is played by two opposing teams of eleven. The football field is level, measures 100 by 531/3 yd (91.4 by 48.8 m), is marked off by latitudinal stripes every 5 yd (4.57 m) and has at each end an end zone 10 yd (9.14 m) deep. In the center of each end zone stand goal posts not exceeding 20 ft (6.10 m) in height, with a crossbar 10 ft (3.05 m) from the ground and with the uprights on either end 24 ft (73.2 m) apart.

Play is directed toward moving the ball across the opponent's goal line, thereby scoring a touchdown, worth six points. In advancing the ball a team may run with it or pass it (forward or laterally), but the team must gain 10 yd (9 m) in four plays (downs) or yield possession of the ball to the opponent. The defending team tries to stop the ball carrier by tackling him, i.e., forcing him to the ground—thus causing the team with the ball to use up one of its downs. The defending team can gain possession of the ball before the end of four downs by recovering a dropped ball (fumble), or by intercepting a pass.

Because strategies and skills required on offense and on defense differ, most organized football clubs have offensive and defensive squads that alternate on the field as possession of the ball changes. All professional and most collegiate teams employ special teams for various game situations (e.g., offense, defense, kickoffs, and punt returns) and coaches who specialize in various aspects of the game. The offensive team traditionally comprises a quarterback (the field leader), a fullback, two halfbacks, and seven linemen—a center, two guards, two tackles, and two ends. A typical defensive unit has two tackles and two ends, who play on the line, as well as three linebackers, two cornerbacks, and two safeties.

The game is divided into two halves, each consisting of two quarters, periods of 15 minutes playing time. At the end of each of the first three quarters, the teams exchange goals. Each half begins with a kickoff, which also initiates play after every score (except a safety). In addition to the touchdown, points are scored by kicking the ball (which is held on the ground by a teammate of the kicker) over the crossbar between the goal posts (a field goal), for three points; and by downing a player in possession of the ball behind his own goal line (a safety), for two points. Additional points, known as conversions, may be scored after the scoring of a touchdown. In professional play the conversion is earned by kicking the ball over the crossbar of the goal post (worth one point) or by running or passing the ball over the goal line from 2 yd (1.83 m) away (worth two points). In amateur (high school and college) football, the conversion play is begun 3 yd (2.74 m) from the end zone.

When a team is not likely to gain 10 yards in four downs, it often kicks, or punts, the ball downfield, usually on the fourth down. After each down, before resuming play, the opposing teams face each other along an imaginary line, called the line of scrimmage, determined by the position of the ball relative to the goals. Among standard offensive formations, the basic T formation (a balanced line with the quarterback behind the center and the other backs behind the quarterback) is, with modern variations, the most popular in both amateur and professional football. Blocking and tackling make football one of the most rugged sports played; thus players wear heavy protective gear.

Five officials—the referee, umpire, field judge, linesman, and electric clock operator—control a game, and penalties, chiefly in the form of moving the ball away from a team's object goal, are meted out for violations of the rules. Rules concerning the field, scoring, playing time, downs, scrimmage, substitution, officials, and equipment have undergone numerous changes, generally to make the game safer.

College and Amateur Football

The first intercollegiate football match in America (actually a 50-person soccer game) was played (1869) at New Brunswick, N.J. The Intercollegiate (Soccer) Football Association, composed of Columbia, Princeton, Rutgers, and Yale, was created (1873) to standardize rules. Harvard, meanwhile, refused to join the group and, looking for other opponents, accepted a challenge from McGill Univ. of Montreal to play a series of games (1874–75) under Rugby rules. The Rugby-type game soon caught on at the other schools also, and within a decade the distinctive game of American football evolved.

Since the late 19th cent. football has enjoyed tremendous popularity as a collegiate sport. In 1902 the first Rose Bowl game was played at Pasadena, Calif., and that postseason tournament has been conducted annually since 1916. Other annual, postseason, collegiate games include the Sugar, Orange, Sun, and Cotton bowls. In 1996 a national system to pick bowl opponents so as to determine a national champion was introduced. Selection of All-America teams, begun (1889) by Walter Camp and Caspar Whitney, has also contributed to football's popularity. The Heisman trophy, originated in 1935, is awarded annually to the nation's outstanding college football player.

Most collegiate teams play in athletic conferences. Among the best-known are the Ivy League, Big Ten, Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, and Pacific 10 conferences. Famous collegiate rivalries include Army–Navy and Yale–Harvard. With an atmosphere enhanced by bands and cheering sections, football is not only the most popular collegiate sport of the fall season but also a big business.

Revenues from football often finance other sports at a college, and some games are played before crowds of 100,000 people in university-owned stadiums. Despite the strict amateur code of the National Collegiate Athletic Association and its member conferences, illegal subsidization of football players is a recurrent issue. Football also is extremely popular in U.S. high schools. Six-man football and touch football, both usually played for recreation, are other forms of the amateur game.

Professional Football

Although professional football was played as early as 1895 in Pennsylvania, it was not until 1920 that national organization began, with the formation of the American Professional Football Association at Canton, Ohio. Originally consisting of five teams, the association evolved and in 1922 was renamed the National Football League (NFL). The professional game received a tremendous boost when Red Grange, a star halfback at the Univ. of Illinois, signed a professional contract (1925) with the Chicago Bears. Other college stars soon followed, and the public began to show interest in NFL teams.

In the period immediately following World War II professional football's popularity grew tremendously. A new league, the All-America Conference (established 1944), competed with the NFL until the two groups merged (1949). The American Football League (AFL; formed 1959) competed with the NFL during the early 1960s; the first Super Bowl championship game was held in 1967 between the NFL and AFL champions.

Four years later the two leagues were merged into the present NFL, which now comprises two conferences (the National Football Conference, or NFC, and the American Football Conference, or AFC) totaling 32 teams. The NFL season includes 16 regular games, after which the winners of the three divisions in each conference, along with two "wild card" teams (the teams with the next-best record in each conference) play a four-round playoff culminating in the Super Bowl.


See Official National Football League Record & Fact Book (annual); NCAA, Football: The Official Football Records Book (annual); C. Carter and D. Sloan, The Sporting News Pro Football Guide (annual); B. Carroll et al., ed., Total Football II: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (1999); M. MacCambridge, America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation (2004).

Canadian Football

Canadian football is similar to the U.S. game, but the Canadian field and end zone are larger, measuring 110 yd by 65 yd (100 m by 59 m) and 25 yd by 65 yd (23 m by 59 m), respectively. Canadian teams have 12 players on the field rather than 11 and, among other variations in the rules, are allowed only three downs to advance the ball 10 yards. The present game developed from rules established (1891) by the Canadian Rugby Union. In 1959 the two professional leagues in the union broke away to form the Canadian Football League (CFL). From 1993 to 1995 the CFL had several U.S.-based teams; there are now nine teams divided between two divisions. A number of prominent U.S. players have made careers in the CFL. The league's annual championship game is known as the Grey Cup.

Gaelic Football

Gaelic football, played almost exclusively in Ireland, is perhaps the roughest of the football-type games. It is played by two teams of 15 men each on a field that measures 84 to 100 yd (76.81–91.44 m) in width and 140 to 160 yd (128.02–146.3 m) in length. The object of the game is to punch, dribble, or kick the ball into (3 points) or directly over (1 point) the rectangular goal-net. As with soccer and rugby, Gaelic football probably developed from the rough-and-tumble football games played in medieval England. Originally a sort of melee between as many as 200 representatives of rival parishes, the game was given a set of standard rules by Dan and Maurice Gavin, who founded (1884) the Gaelic Athletic Association after witnessing a particularly brutal game. The association sponsors the annual all-Ireland championship match, an elimination tournament for teams from Ireland's 32 counties.

Australian Football

The only major football-type sport that does not appear to have developed from the medieval game is Australian football. Probably an outgrowth of earlier aboriginal games, it is played on an oval field that is about 200 yd (183 m) long and 150 yd (137 m) wide across the middle. Each team, composed of 19 players, attempts to kick the egg-shaped ball past a set of goal posts. The ball may be advanced by punches, kicks, or dribbles. The game, played only in Australia, is especially popular in the southern and western parts of the continent. An International Cup competition was established in 2002.

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football (soccer). Medieval football was extremely violent, akin to modern hooliganism. Repeated attempts were made by the authorities to suppress it as dangerous, disruptive, and a diversion from archery practice. At Ashbourne (Derbys.) a variant of the old game is still played at Shrovetide.

Modern football developed with the growth of large industrial towns. In the early 19th cent. the game declined in popularity in the face of overcrowded and cramped streets and considerable official disapproval. It survived among public schoolboys and at Cambridge University where, in 1848, a first attempt was made to compile a common set of rules. Previous rules were local and much disputed, with disagreements about charging and hacking, the number of players, the size and shape of the ball, and the duration of the game. The Cambridge rules were adopted by a number of clubs and the game made some progress in the 1850s. A further attempt to produce standard rules, at the Freemasons' Tavern in London in 1863, led to the formation of a Football Association, from which some clubs soon seceded to follow a handling code.

At this stage football was an upper middle-class game and strictly amateur. The new Association launched a cup competition in 1872. Queen's Park, the Glasgow team, entered, but scratched on finding travel costs beyond them. Wanderers beat Royal Engineers 1–0 at the Oval before 2,000 spectators and the following year beat Oxford University 2–0. Gradually the strength of the game moved towards the midlands and the north, where clubs were beginning to pay expenses and retaining fees. A watershed was the 1883 Cup Final, when Blackburn Olympics beat Old Etonians 2–1. In 1885, after protests, professionalism was accepted. Attendances began to edge up. The Cup Final at Manchester in 1893 between Wolves and Everton was watched by 45,000 people, and the attendance at Crystal Palace in 1901 to see Tottenham and Sheffield Wednesday was 111,000. With professional teams dominating the cup competition, an Amateur Cup was instituted in 1893, changed in 1974 to the Challenge Vase.

In 1888 twelve clubs from the midlands and north, including Preston North End, Accrington Stanley, and Blackburn Rovers, formed the Football League. The first two seasons were won by Preston. Over the next four years, sixteen more clubs joined, including Nottingham Forest, Sunderland, and Everton, and a second division was added in 1892. There was considerable competition from the Southern League, but by 1914 the Football League had extended south to bring in Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Fulham, and Bristol City. The Scottish League began in 1890 and an Irish League the same year. Many clubs developed from works teams or from church or chapel. Stoke City and Manchester United both originated with railway workers, Aston Villa was an offshoot of a Wesleyan group. In most large towns in Britain, the Saturday afternoon match became part of the leisure pattern of working men.

After the First World War, a third division was added to the Football League, divided into north and south. Attendances remained high. When Wembley stadium was opened in 1923, well over 126,000 people crammed in to watch Bolton Wanderers beat West Ham 2–0.

During the Second World War, league competitions were suspended, though exhibition matches, with guest players, remained popular. In the 1948/9 season, more than 40 million people paid to watch football in England. Recognition of the game was accorded by knighthoods to Stanley Matthews, the Stoke and Blackpool winger, to Alf Ramsay, manager of the World Cup victors of 1966, and to Matt Busby, manager of Manchester United. But by the 1980s attendances were falling in the face of rival leisure activities, greater social mobility, and a growing distaste for the coarseness and hooliganism of the terraces. Many of the old grounds seemed vast iron hulks, echoing to depleted crowds, relics of a bygone age. From this parlous state, the game was rescued, largely by television. Fresh interest was injected into the third division by the introduction of promotion and relegation from the (Vauxhall) Conference League, which has produced cliff-hanging finales to several seasons.

The first international football match took place at Partick in 1872 between England and Scotland, ending in a 0–0 draw. One of the earliest international games between non-British teams was at Vienna in 1902, when Austria beat Hungary 5–0. FIFA was founded in 1904 but international competition did not make much headway until after the First World War, when the World Cup competition was started in 1930. England did not take part until after the Second World War, and was able to retain a comfortable sense of superiority. This was shattered in 1950 by a 1–0 defeat from the USA, followed three years later by a 6–3 defeat at Wembley from the Hungarians, and was not totally restored by victory in the World Cup at Wembley in 1966. In European competitions, British clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool, often with a good stiffening of foreign players, have done remarkably well, but apart from its triumph in 1966, the English national team has tested the patience of its supporters.

The modern professional game has been dogged by a number of disasters. In 1902, 25 people were killed at Ibrox, home of Glasgow Rangers, when a stand collapsed; 33 were killed at Burnden Park, Bolton Wanderers' ground, when crush barriers gave way in 1946; the young and gifted Manchester United team was almost wiped out in an air crash at Munich in 1958. More recently, fire swept through Bradford City stand in 1985 killing 52 people; the Heysel stadium disaster in Belgium the same year claimed 38 lives; and the death of 93 spectators at Hillsborough in 1989 led to the Taylor inquiry, which made urgent recommendations for improved safety. Recent developments towards premier leagues and super leagues have made life difficult for small and unfashionable clubs and a number of them have fallen by the wayside. At times the professional game seems in danger of being overwhelmed by television and press coverage, with as much attention given to managers as to football, and by heavy administration. Inflated wages, following the Bosman ruling (1995), plunged many clubs into debt. But underpinning the 90 or so professional clubs in the English league are the semi-professional leagues, and the vast number of amateurs, of all shapes, sizes, and talents, who play on windswept recreation grounds in Saturday or Sunday leagues, where attendances are measured in single figures, and it is not unknown for teams to turn up with nine men. See also Wembley stadium.

Nicholas J. Bryars/ and Professor J. A. Cannon

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Although the game of football as we know it today supposedly dates back to the nineteenth century, there is some evidence to support that the ancient Greeks played a version of football they called harpaston. This game apparently took place on a rectangular field with goal lines on both ends. Two teams of equal number, but varying player size, were divided by a center line. The game began by throwing the harpaston or handball into the air. The object of the game was to pass, kick, or run the ball past the opposing team's goal line.

The game next took to the streets. Participants from neighboring towns would meet at a designated point. Still without official rules or methods of keeping score, the bladder or ball would be kicked through the streets. This took place until protests from local shopkeepers forced players to confine their game to a vacant area.

It is here that the rules of the game first took shape. A field much like that used to play soccer was marked with boundaries. The team that kicked the ball over the opponent' s goal line was awarded one point. It also was at this time that the game took on the name of futballe.

The game remained strictly a kicking game until American collegians blended soccer with rugby. In 1874, McGill University (Montreal, Canada) engaged Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts) in two sports games. One game was played with Canadian rugby rules, which allowed players to run with the ball, as well as throw it. The other game followed U.S. soccer rules, which restricted players to only kicking the ball.

It seemed that Harvard preferred elements of both games and introduced them to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Two years later, representatives from Harvard and Yale met in Massachusetts to create guidelines for this new game of football. Another new twist to the game was that it was played with an oval-shaped ball.

Spaulding Sports Worldwide, based in Chicopee, Massachusetts, takes credit for having produced the first American-made football in 1892.

Raw Materials

In the early stages of the game of football, a pig's bladder was inflated and used as the ball. By comparison, today's football is an inflated rubber bladder enclosed in a pebble-grained leather cover or cowhide. This material is used because it is both durable and easily tanned.


The football's uneven shape makes it difficult to catch and hold and also causes unpredictable bounces. White laces sewn on the ball's surface help the players to grip it. There have been many attempts to alter the football's design; for example, dimples on footballs have been tried, but there was a tendency for dirt and mud to get caught in them.

The Manufacturing

  1. After special tanning processes, the cowhide selected to be used for the football is cut into a bend, which is the best and strongest part of the hide.
  2. The bend is then die-cut into panels. Using a hydraulically-driven clicking machine, an operator cuts four panels into the precise shape required at the same time.
  3. Next, each panel goes through a skiving machine in order to reduce it to a predetermined thickness and weight.
  4. A synthetic lining is sewn to each panel. The lining, which is composed of three layers of cross-laid fabric firmly cemented together, prevents the panel from stretching or growing out of shape during use. The lining and panel are sewn together using an industrial size and strength version of a home sewing machine.
  5. A facing is then applied to those areas that will carry the lacing holes as well as the hole for the inflating needle. The holes are then punched.
  6. The four panels are sewn together by a hot-wax lock stitch machine to ensure that the seams are especially durable. Then, the ball is turned right side out.
  7. Next, a two-ply butyl rubber bladder is inserted, the ball is laced, and then it is inflated with a pressure of not less than 12.5 lb (6 kg) but no more than 13.5 lb (6.1 kg). After inflation, the ball is checked to ensure it conforms to all size and weight regulations.
  8. The ball is ready for branding with the manufacturer's name and number.
  9. After final inspections, the balls are boxed and shipped to designated schools and ball clubs.

Quality Control

Since 1941, Wilson Sporting Goods Company, currently based in Chicago, Illinois, has been the official ballmaker for the National Football League (NFL). For all NFL games, the only sanctioned ball is a Wilson brand ball. The ball must measure 20.75-21.25 in (52.7-54 cm) around its middle (also called the girth, short axis, or belly); 27.75-28.5 in (70.5-72.4 cm) around its ends (the circumference, long axis); and 11-11.25 in (28-29 cm) from tip to tip (the length of the long axis). It also must weigh between 14-15 oz (397-425.25 g).

All balls designed for professional use are stamped with "NFL" on them for the National Football League and they also bear the signature of the League commissioner. A box containing 24 new balls is opened before each game; 12 balls are put into play during each half. After the game, the balls are used for practices.

Those balls that are used in the Super Bowl game also have the names of the participating teams along with the date and location of the game.

The Future

Future changes to the football are more likely to occur in the area of materials rather than design. The goal is to "create a better feel right out of the box."

Spaulding Sports Worldwide currently is working on a proprietary material to create a composite-covered football. Two of the benefits of a composite cover compared with a leather cover are that it does not retain as much water; and that it is not as susceptible to becoming hard due to cold weather.

Where to Learn More


Foehr, Donna Poole. Football for Women and Men Who Want To Learn The Game. National Press, Inc., 1988, pp. 94, 100, 101, 102, 127.

Ominsky, Dave and P.J. Harari. Football Made Simple: A Spectator's Guide. First Base Sports, Inc., 1994, pp. 1, 9.


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foot·ball / ˈfoŏtˌbôl/ • n. 1. a form of team game played in North America with an oval ball on a field marked out as a gridiron. ∎  play in such a game, esp. when stylish and entertaining: his team played some impressive football. ∎ British term for soccer. 2. an oval ball used in such a game, made of leather and filled with compressed air. ∎ fig. a topical issue or problem that is the subject of continued argument or controversy: the use of education as a political football. ∎ Brit. a soccer ball. DERIVATIVES: foot·ball·er n. foot·ball·ing adj.

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footballall, appal (US appall), awl, Bacall, ball, bawl, befall, Bengal, brawl, call, caul, crawl, Donegal, drawl, drywall, enthral (US enthrall), fall, forestall, gall, Galle, Gaul, hall, haul, maul, miaul, miscall, Montreal, Naipaul, Nepal, orle, pall, Paul, pawl, Saul, schorl, scrawl, seawall, Senegal, shawl, small, sprawl, squall, stall, stonewall, tall, thrall, trawl, wall, waul, wherewithal, withal, yawl •carryall • blackball • handball •patball • hardball • netball • baseball •paintball • speedball • heelball •meatball • stickball • pinball • spitball •racquetball • basketball • volleyball •eyeball, highball •oddball • softball • mothball •korfball • cornball •lowball, no-ball, snowball •goalball •cueball, screwball •goofball • stoolball • football •puffball • punchball • fireball •rollerball • cannonball • butterball •catchall • bradawl • holdall • Goodall

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