Football (Soccer)

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association football in the united kingdom
on the continent

Various forms of "football" were being codified throughout the Anglo-Saxon world starting in the 1860s, a reflection of the advanced economies of these countries and two general desires: first, young middle-class men wanted to create a game that they could continue to play at university by agreeing on a common set of rules from those they had played at school; and second, young professional men wanted to make a more civilized game out of the various school football games, which tended to feature rough-and-tumble violence.

association football in the united kingdom

First among these was the creation of the rules of the Football Association (FA), drawn up at Free-masons' Tavern, London, in October 1863. From this came association football, known as "soccer" from about the turn of the century in those Anglo-Saxon countries outside of the United Kingdom where other codes of football were played. Of these codes, Rugby Football Union (RFU), a running game in contrast to a dribbling game, was founded in 1871, ironically by a group who had objected to the banning of hacking (kicking an opponent's shins) in 1863, claiming that it robbed the game of its manliness; the RFU's rules of 1871 also banned hacking. In Australia in 1866 and in the United States starting in 1869, distinctive codes of football were developed. Rugby League came from a split with the RFU in 1895, and Gaelic football was codified in Ireland in 1885. Of these the association game, under the auspices of the Football Association, would go on to conquer the world as the "people's game," by far the most popular sport in nearly every country in the world with the notable exceptions of the former British colonies.

Football originally referred to ball games played on foot as distinct from the more aristocratic equestrian sports: as such it has always had a plebeian appeal and reputation. Forms of football have been played in most societies since records were first kept, but by the time of the French Revolution in Europe village games were played regularly according to custom, the seasons, and special "holy" days. These were violent affairs, often village against village with virtually no rules, and in England in particular, often served as a front for political purposes, to tear down enclosures and other modernizing innovations that interfered with the rights of the commoners. Football was played in the prisons during the Terror of the French Revolution, as indicated in a painting by Hubert Robert, showing a game with about half a dozen on each side and a couple of hundred watching. Oliver Cromwell is said to have been a ferocious exponent of the game, and Sir Walter Scott famously claimed that he would sooner his son carry the colors of his team in the "match at Carterhaugh" (in the Scottish border country) than attain the highest honors in the "first university in Europe."

It is often stated that football in Great Britain was dying out in the first part of the nineteenth century, when the dark, satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution spread out into the countryside. This indicates more a lack of research than a reality and is reflected in the speed with which the ordinary folks adapted to the game codified by their "betters" and made it their own. Moreover, before 1863, and not just in the public schools, rules had been drawn up to govern local competitions, most notably in Sheffield, a close rival to London for what became the dribbling and non-handling game.

The first teams often formed around cricket clubs, public houses, the workplace, and church organizations: many of these are still in existence in the early twenty-first century. By the 1880s football in Britain was being taken up by workers in the various industries in the north of England and central Scotland, helped by the gradual adoption of the Saturday afternoon holiday. The social changes in the game were dramatically demonstrated in 1883, when Blackburn Olympic beat Old Etonians in the final of the FA Cup, and the balance of power swung to the north of England and stayed there for the next few decades. Suspicions held by the southern amateurs that the "mechanics and artisans" who made up the teams from the north were being paid to ply their wares on the football field were well justified.

The men of the FA, for the most part tied to the old school ethos, were faced with the reality that spectators prepared to pay to watch their local heroes were also pleased to see these players rewarded for the pleasure they gave. These spectators, like the men playing the game, came largely from the working class. The owners of the teams often represented the new wealth of the cotton and other industries, and soon tired of the hypocrisy of "under-the-table" payments to players. This difference in attitude was said, with some truth and a great deal of snobbery, to be a clash between the morality of the "public schools" and that of the "public houses." But the men of the south—unlike the rugby people—wisely bowed before reality, and in 1885 the FA recognized professionalism, albeit with various caveats, most of which were soon overlooked.

Three years later the Birmingham-based Scottish businessman William McGregor introduced the Football League, to keep the professionals active when there were no cup competitions or "friendlies" to be played. Openly claimed to be a "league of the selfish," it controlled the professional game, but left all other aspects of the game to the amateurs of the FA. The Football League was not called the English League because it was hoped the Scottish clubs would join, but amateurism prevailed north of the border until 1893, three years after the institution of the Scottish League, deliberately created to pave the way for professionalism. The game may have been becoming increasingly commercialized, but it was not run on capitalist lines: indeed the players who signed professional contracts found themselves bound to a form of "wage slavery" that would last until the 1960s when the maximum wage and the "retain and transfer" system were abolished.

The game had become a veritable passion throughout industrial Scotland in the 1880s, and its best players were tempted to move south ostensibly for work but just as often to receive illegal payments for playing football. These Scottish professors adopted a style of play that they would take with them wherever they went, which was just about everywhere, as Scots contributed out of all proportion in the spread of the British Empire and capitalism around the world: as engineers, workers, professional men, and clerks, as well as in the service of God or the military.

The progress of the game was assisted in the last decade of the nineteenth century by technological advances in transport and communications, above all in the electric-powered trams crisscrossing the expanding cities, which aided the growth of "local derbies," and the telephone, which allowed

rapid reporting of matches that were then transferred to the newspaper where readers could digest in the evening reports of games played that afternoon. Some men of the cloth were not always sure about the "progress" of the game, and expressed their horror at the swearing, drinking, gambling, and violence that they believed the game encouraged. Others saw the benefits of the game, not just as a "muscular" means of spreading Christianity, but as a source of joy that kept the young out of the devil's reach in their otherwise "idle" time.

By the turn of the century the organization of association football in the United Kingdom was far in advance of any other sports organization anywhere in the world. Central to this success was the FA Challenge Cup, founded by Charles William Alcock in 1871, a knockout competition open to every team that was a member of the FA. Scotland followed when the Scottish Football Association, founded in 1873, set up its own competition in that year. In addition to these were various local and county cup competitions. The game's popularity was further advanced with the league system adopted in England and Scotland, especially when second, third, and other divisions were introduced to accommodate the increasing number of teams and when promotion and relegation added to the excitement of the competition. The other competition that established the popularity of association football was the regular Home International Championship inaugurated in 1883. The Welsh Football Association was founded in 1876, the Irish Football Association four years later, and in 1882 the International Football Association Board was created to agree on the rules and enable regular annual competitions between the four "nations" of the United Kingdom. The Welsh, and to a lesser extent the Irish, would find in rugby a more rewarding source of national pride, but the Scotland versus England internationals, first played officially in 1872, became the longest-standing annual international competition in sport, ending only in 1988.

Shortly after the turn of the century crowds of over one hundred thousand were recorded at some Cup finals in England; in Scotland the annual international against England attracted fifty thousand in 1896, while matches between the Rangers (founded 1872) and Celtic (founded 1887) in Scotland, increasingly based on the sectarian antagonisms of the Irish-Catholic Celtic and the Protestant (and increasingly anti-Catholic) Rangers, were regularly sold out. The Old Firm of Rangers and Celtic supplanted the supremacy of Queen's Park (founded in 1867), a club that has achieved the remarkable feat of remaining in regular competition in the professional Scottish leagues through the early twenty-first century. Even more remarkable, in 1903 Queen's Park constructed Hampden Park, a stadium that was the largest in the world and would remain such until the construction of the Maracana in Brazil in 1950.

In addition to the professional game, association football in Great Britain boasted an immense network of amateur competitions with their own league and cup competitions: church organizations, schoolboy and other youth groups, as well as competitions for adults. These were based at the municipal, county, and ultimately the national level. The English Schools Football Association introduced a national cup competition in 1904. A separate Amateur Football Association (AFA) was founded as a split from the FA in 1907, but the FA itself adequately catered to the amateurs, and the AFA returned to the fold just before the outbreak of war in 1914.

on the continent

It is not surprising, then, that the progress of soccer on the continent of Europe was largely ignored in Britain. The progress being made in Europe, too, was very much under the guidance or example of Britons abroad, whether on business or pleasure or by expatriates: as elsewhere in the world where British commercial and industrial expertise was transported, football was said (according to an official FA history) to be Britain's "most enduring export." It was, however, an unintended consequence, as the rulers of the game in Great Britain showed a sovereign indifference to its spread beyond their own islands.

The game in continental Europe followed the path of those countries that had close business, moral, or educational ties to Britain. Before the 1880s references to "football" did not necessarily mean the association game, so Switzerland's claim to have played it in the 1860s is somewhat stretched, although the "little England" colonies no doubt helped establish the game. Belgium and the Netherlands were soon active participants in the British game, and Denmark placed second to Great Britain in the Olympic Games of 1908 and 1912. Other Scandinavian countries soon adopted the FA rules, especially through the seaports—as well as in the embassies. In Germany the followers of "British games" faced stern opposition from the more nationalistic German gymnastics (Turnen), and although this intensified as war threats grew, there were enough British coaches and players interned in Germany in 1914 to constitute a successful football competition in the years of captivity at the Ruhleben internment camp in Berlin—competitions that are said to have won over their captors to the game. In France, rugby at first held its own before soccer took over about 1905, while in Italy, the foremost football nation of the 1930s, the talents of Vittorio Pozzo had to wait for the Fascist regime before his methods bore fruit. So too in Spain it was not until after World War I that football began to rival bullfighting as the national passion. In the Balkans, as in Russia and the Ottoman Empire, football was seen as a potentially revolutionary force, especially when played by ethnic minorities, and was often banned. It was in central Europe that soccer blossomed most fully in the prewar period and in the years just after: competition in and between teams from the capital cities of Vienna, Prague, and Budapest were the talk of the coffeehouses that represented a way of life brutally interrupted in 1914.

In all of these countries there was usually a British connection, often with businessmen or educationalists who had spent some time in Britain: in Switzerland, Swiss pupils in British schools; in the Netherlands, Lancashire spinners in the new factories; and in Sweden, Scottish riveters in Göteborg and then sailors in the other Swedish ports. Famously in Austria, the Baron Rothschild's Scottish gardeners set up the First Vienna Football Club. Pozzo learned all about football while a language teacher in England. The "father" of German football was Walter Bensemann, an Anglophile and English teacher who founded Kicker magazine in 1920. With Ivo Schricker, Bensemann helped finance visits by many British clubs starting in the 1880s. The first president of the German Football Association (Deutscher Fussballbund) in 1900 was Ferdinand Hueppe, who had championed the English "games" at the Moravian Boys' School in Neuwied on the Rhine. In Russia soccer was said to have been played by British sailors at the Black Sea port of Odessa in the 1860s, but the organized beginnings of the game there are inevitably associated with Harry Charnock, the British manager of a mill outside Moscow, who hoped that healthy sport would provide an alternative to vodka to occupy the minds of his workers.

Before 1914, and for some time to come after that, the most eagerly anticipated games on the Continent were those involving a team from England or Scotland, usually on an end-of-season trip, and often treated by them as a holiday. An even bigger attraction was when two touring British clubs agreed to play each other, as in Budapest in 1914, when twenty thousand are said to have turned up to watch Celtic play Burnley. In addition to the professionals came crusading amateur teams such as the Middlesex Wanderers and Corinthians. At first these teams expected to have easy victories, and they blamed the occasional defeat on lighter balls, bumpy playing fields, and incompetent refereeing. This changed as the competition from leading clubs in Prague and Vienna in particular showed they could hold their own with the British tourists. On the eve of conflict in 1914 this was already apparent, and in the years immediately after the war crowds would multiply and the visitors from Britain would find that their former pupils now had a few lessons to give their one-time masters.

In Paris in 1904 came the founding of the body that would—albeit much later—take over from the London FA as the ultimate arbiter in the control and administration of association football: the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, always known by its acronym, FIFA. Even before the turn of the century the idea of an international body to regulate games between national teams had been raised by the Belgians in the 1890s and then by the Dutch banker C. A. W. Hirsch-man. But as so often in international sport, it was a Frenchman, Robert Guérin, an engineer and journalist, who organized the meetings that led to the formation of FIFA.

International football on the Continent before 1914 was more often a game between the major cities, and many of the nations of the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries did not exist before the breakup of the Prussian, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires after World War I. Claims to national status, in soccer as in the Olympic Games, by Bohemia or Finland, for example, could be seen as a political as much as a sporting claim in the days of the old world empires. The first "international," however, between Austria and Hungary in 1902, became a regular annual event. Another problem was that in some countries, most notably France, there was more than one sporting body claiming to represent football. Despite such setbacks, the meeting of the delegates representing seven countries took place in Paris in May 1904 to found an organization that a century later would be compared to the United Nations in regard to its international significance.

Present at that meeting were representatives from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Switzerland, while Sweden and Spain were represented by proxy. Germany sent its support by telegram. These European nations were represented in a body that did not add a geographical qualifier, despite the absence of representatives from the South American countries, Argentina, Uruguay, and to a lesser extent Chile, that were already passionate followers of the game. Absent but fervently wanted, were the British associations. The English FA consented to join in 1905, and Daniel Burley Woolfall was made president the following year on the resignation of Guérin. The Scottish and Welsh associations followed in 1910 and Ireland in 1911, in violation of the FIFA rule that there be only one national team for each sovereign nation. This anomaly has remained into the twenty-first century, and for most of its existence before 1946 when it had few English-speaking members, English was the ultimate language for cases in dispute, while the British International Football Association Board, with only token non-British membership, was the ultimate appeal in regard to the rules. The first non-European country to join FIFA was South Africa in 1910, followed by Argentina, Chile, and the United States. By 1914 there were twenty European members.

In 1914 soccer in Europe outside of Great Britain was largely a middle-class game played by amateur players, with top crowds attracting no more than about fifteen thousand spectators. This would change dramatically in the years after the war, which itself contributed to the success of the game, but even before then it was apparent that Europe had caught the football bug and would never lose it.

See alsoBody; Education; Gender; Leisure; Popular and Elite Culture; Sports.


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Lanfranchi, Pierre, Christiane Eisenberg, Tony Mason, and Alfred Wahl. 100 Years of Football: The FIFA Centennial Book. London, 2004.

Mason, Tony. Association Football and English Society, 1863–1915. Sussex, U.K., 1980.

Murray, Bill. Football: A History of the World Game. Alder-shot, U.K., 1994.

——. The World's Game: A History of Soccer. Urbana, Ill., 1996.

Bill Murray