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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Look up Football in
Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Football is the name given to a number of different, but related, team sports. The most popular of these world-wide is association football (also known as soccer). The English word "football" is also applied to American football, Australian rules football, Canadian football, Gaelic football, rugby football (rugby union and rugby league), and related games. All of these codes (specific sets of rules) are referred to as "football" by their followers.

Some of the many different codes of football.
Some of the many different codes of football.

These games involve:

  • a spherical or prolate spheroid ball, which is itself called a football.
  • a team scoring goals and/or points, by moving the ball to an opposing team's end of the field and either into a goal area, or over a line.
  • the winning team being the one that has the most points or goals, when a specified length of time has elapsed.
  • the goal and/or line being defended by the opposing team.
  • the ball being moved mostly by kicking, carrying and/or passing by hand, depending on the code.
  • supervision by officials known as referees or umpires.
  • goals and/or points resulting from players putting the ball between two goalposts.
  • offside rules, in most codes, restricting the movement of players.
  • in some codes, points being mostly scored by players carrying the ball across the goal line.
  • players scoring a goal, in most codes, being required to put the ball either under or over a crossbar between the goalposts.
  • players in some codes receiving a free kick after they take a mark/make a fair catch.
  • players being required to use their feet (and possibly other specific parts of their bodies) to move the ball and/or score, depending on the code.

Many of the modern games have their origins in England, but many peoples around the world have played games which involved kicking and/or carrying a ball since ancient times.


Main article: Football (word)

While it is widely believed that the word "football" (or "foot ball") originated in reference to the action of a foot kicking a ball, there is a rival explanation, which has it that football originally referred to a variety of games in medieval Europe, which were played on foot.[1] These games were usually played by peasants, as opposed to the horse-riding sports often played by aristocrats. While there is no conclusive evidence for this explanation, the word football has always implied a variety of games played on foot, not just those that involved kicking a ball. In some cases, the word football has even been applied to games which have specifically outlawed kicking the ball.


Early history

Throughout the history of mankind, the urge to kick at stones and other such objects is thought to have led to many early activities involving kicking and/or running with a ball. Football-like games predate recorded history in all parts of the world, and thus the earliest forms of football are not known.

Ancient games

Documented evidence of what is possibly the oldest activity resembling football can be found in a Chinese military manual written during the Han Dynasty in about the 2nd century BC. It describes a practice known as cuju, which involved kicking a leather ball through a hole in a piece of silk cloth strung between two 30 foot poles.

Kemari being played at the Tanzan Shrine, Sakurai, Japan.
Kemari being played at the Tanzan Shrine, Sakurai, Japan.

Another Asian ball-kicking game, which may have been influenced by cuju, is kemari. This is known to have been played within the Japanese imperial court in Kyoto from about 600 AD. In kemari several people stand in a circle and kick a ball to each other, trying not to let the ball drop to the ground (much like keepie uppie). The game appears to have died out sometime before the mid-19th century. (It was revived in 1903, and it can now be seen played for the benefit of tourists at a number of festivals.)

Mesoamerican ballgames played with rubber balls are also well-documented as existing since before this time, but these had more similarities to basketball or volleyball, and since their influence on modern football games is minimal, most do not class them as football.

The Ancient Greeks and Romans are known to have played many ball games some of which involved the use of the feet. The Roman writer Cicero describes the case of a man who was killed whilst having a shave when a ball was kicked into a barber's shop. The Roman game harpastum is believed to have been adapted from a team game known as "επισκυρος" (episkyros) or pheninda that is mentioned by Greek playwright, Antiphanes (388-311BC) and later referred to by Clement of Alexandria. These games appears to have resembled rugby.

There are a number of references to traditional, ancient, and/or prehistoric ball games, played by indigenous peoples in many different parts of the world. For example, in 1586, men from a ship commanded by an English explorer named John Davis, went ashore to play a form of football with Inuit (Eskimo) people in Greenland.[2] There are later accounts of an Inuit game played on ice, called Aqsaqtuk. Each match began with two teams facing each other in parallel lines, before attempting to kick the ball through each other team's line and then at a goal. In 1610, William Strachey of the Jamestown settlement, Virginia recorded a game played by Native Americans, called Pahsaheman. In Victoria, Australia, indigenous people played a game called Marn Grook ("ball game"). An 1878 book by Robert Brough-Smyth, The Aborigines of Victoria, quotes a man called Richard Thomas as saying, in about 1841, that he had witnessed Aboriginal people playing the game: "Mr Thomas describes how the foremost player will drop kick a ball made from the skin of a possum and how other players leap into the air in order to catch it." It is widely believed that Marn Grook had an influence on the development of Australian rules football (see below).

These games and others may well go far back into antiquity and may have influenced later football games. However, the main sources of modern football codes appear to lie in western Europe, especially England.

Mediæval and early modern Europe

Further information: Mediæval football

The Middle Ages saw a huge rise in popularity of annual Shrovetide football matches throughout Europe, particularly in England. The game played in England at this time may have arrived with the Roman occupation, but there is little evidence to indicate this. Reports of a game played in Brittany, Normandy, and Picardy, known as La Soule or Choule, suggest that some of these football games could have arrived in England as a result of the Norman Conquest.

An illustration of mob football.
An illustration of mob football.

These archaic forms of football, typically classified as "mob football", would be played between neighbouring towns and villages, involving an unlimited number of players on opposing teams, who would clash in a heaving mass of people struggling to drag an inflated pig's bladder by any means possible to markers at each end of a town (sometimes instead of markers, the teams would attempt to kick the bladder into the balcony of the opponents' church). There is no evidence to support the legend that these games in England evolved from a more ancient and bloody ritual of kicking the "Dane's head". Shrovetide games have survived into the modern era in a number of English towns (see below).

The first detailed description of football in England was given by William FitzStephen in about 1174-1183. He described the activities of London youths during the annual festival of Shrove Tuesday:

After lunch all the youth of the city go out into the fields to take part in a ball game. The students of each school have their own ball; the workers from each city craft are also carrying their balls. Older citizens, fathers, and wealthy citizens come on horseback to watch their juniors competing, and to relive their own youth vicariously: you can see their inner passions aroused as they watch the action and get caught up in the fun being had by the carefree adolescents.[3]

Most of the very early references to the game speak simply of "ball play" or "playing at ball". This reinforces the idea that the games played at the time did not necessarily involve a ball being kicked.

In 1314 , Nicholas de Farndone, Lord Mayor of London issued a decree banning football (in the French used by the English upper classes at the time. A translation reads: "[f]orasmuch as there is great noise in the city caused by hustling over large foot balls [rageries de grosses pelotes de pee] in the fields of the public from which many evils might arise which God forbid: we command and forbid on behalf of the king, on pain of imprisonment, such game to be used in the city in the future." This is the earliest reference to football.

The earliest mention of a ball game that involves kicking was in 1321, in Shouldham, Norfolk: "[d]uring the game at ball as he kicked the ball, a lay friend of his... ran against him and wounded himself".[4].

In 1363, King Edward III of England issued a proclamation banning "...handball, football, or hockey; coursing and cock-fighting, or other such idle games", showing that "football" — whatever its exact form in this case — was being differentiated from games involving other parts of the body, such as handball.

King Henry IV of England was the first to use the English word "football", in 1409, when he issued a proclamation forbidding the levying of money for "foteball".[5]

There is also an account in Latin from the end of the 15th century of football being played at Cawston, Nottinghamshire. This is the first description of a "kicking game" and the first description of dribbling: "[t]he game at which they had met for common recreation is called by some the foot-ball game. It is one in which young men, in country sport, propel a huge ball not by throwing it into the air but by striking it and rolling it along the ground, and that not with their hands but with their feet... kicking in opposite directions" The chronicler gives the earliest reference to a football field, stating that: "[t]he boundaries have been marked and the game had started.[6]

Other firsts in the mediæval and early modern eras:

  • "a football", in the sense of a ball rather than a game, was first mentioned in 1486.[7] This reference is in Dame Juliana Berners' Book of St Albans. It states: "a certain rounde instrument to play with is an instrument for the foote and then it is calde in Latyn 'pila pedalis', a fotebal." [8]
  • a pair of football boots was ordered by King Henry VIII of England in 1526. [9]
  • women playing a form of football was in 1580, when Sir Philip Sidney described it in one of his poems: "[a] tyme there is for all, my mother often sayes, When she, with skirts tuckt very hy, with girles at football playes."[10]
  • the first references to goals are in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. In 1584 and 1602 respectively, John Norden and Richard Carew referred to "goals" in Cornish hurling. Carew described how goals were made: "they pitch two bushes in the ground, some eight or ten foote asunder; and directly against them, ten or twelue [twelve] score off, other twayne in like distance, which they terme their Goales".[11]
  • the first direct reference to scoring a goal is in John Day's play The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green (performed circa 1600; published 1659): "I'll play a gole at camp-ball" (an extremely violent variety of football, which was popular in East Anglia).[12]. Similarly in a poem in 1613, Michael Drayton refers to "when the Ball to throw, And drive it to the Gole, in squadrons forth they goe".

Calcio Fiorentino

An illustration of the Calcio Fiorentino field and starting positions, from a 1688 book by Pietro di Lorenzo Bini.
An illustration of the Calcio Fiorentino field and starting positions, from a 1688 book by Pietro di Lorenzo Bini.
Main article: Calcio Fiorentino

In the 16th century, the city of Florence celebrated the period between Epiphany and Lent by playing a game which today is known as "calcio storico" ("historic kickball") in the Piazza della Novere or the Piazza Santa Croce. The young aristocrats of the city would dress up in fine silk costumes and embroil themselves in a violent form of football. For example, calcio players could punch, shoulder charge, and kick opponents. Blows below the belt were allowed. The game is said to have originated as a military training exercise. In 1580, Count Giovanni de' Bardi di Vernio wrote Discorso sopra 'l giuoco del Calcio Fiorentino. This is sometimes said to be the earliest code of rules for any football game. The game was not played after January 1739 (until it was revived in May 1930).

Official disapproval and attempts to ban football

Main article: Attempts to ban football games

Numerous attempts have been made to ban football games, particularly the most rowdy and disruptive forms. This was especially the case in England and in other parts of Europe, during the Middle Ages and early modern period. Between 1324 and 1667, football was banned in England alone by more than 30 royal and local laws. The need to repeatedly proclaim such laws demonstrated the difficulty in enforcing bans on popular games.

King Edward II was so troubled by the unruliness of football in London that on April 13, 1314 he issued a proclamation banning it: "Forasmuch as there is great noise in the city caused by hustling over large balls from which many evils may arise which God forbid; we command and forbid, on behalf of the King, on pain of imprisonment, such game to be used in the city in the future."

The reasons for the ban by Edward III, on June 12, 1349, were explicit: football and other recreations distracted the populace from practicing archery, which was necessary for war.

By 1608, the local authorities in Manchester were complaining that: "With the ffotebale...[there] hath beene greate disorder in our towne of Manchester we are told, and glasse windowes broken yearlye and spoyled by a companie of lewd and disordered persons ..."[13] That same year, the word "football" was used disapprovingly by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare's play King Lear contains the line: "Nor tripped neither, you base football player" (Act I, Scene 4). Shakespeare also mentions the game in A Comedy of Errors (Act II, Scene 1):

Am I so round with you as you with me,
That like a football you do spurn me thus?
You spurn me hence, and he will spurn me hither:
If I last in this service, you must case me in leather.

"Spurn" literally means to kick away, thus implying that the game involved kicking a ball between players.

King James I of England's Book of Sports (1618) however, instructs Christians to play at football every Sunday afternoon after worship.[14] The book's appears to be an attempt to offset the strictness of the Puritans, regarding the keeping of the Sabbath.[15]

Establishment of modern codes of football

British public schools

Main article: British public school football games

While football continued to be played in various forms throughout Britain, its public schools (known as private schools in other countries) are widely credited with four key achievements in the creation of modern football codes. First of all, the evidence suggests that they were important in taking football away from its "mob" form and turning it into an organised team sport. Second, many early descriptions of football and references to it were recorded by people who had studied at these schools. Third, it was teachers, students and former students from these schools who first codified football games, to enable matches to be played between schools. Finally, it was at British public schools that the division between "kicking" and "running" (or "carrying") games first became clear.

Match at Winchester College around 1840.
Match at Winchester College around 1840.

The earliest evidence that games resembling football were being played at English public schools — mainly attended by boys from the upper, upper-middle and professional classes — comes from the Vulgaria by William Horman in 1519. Horman had been headmaster at Eton and Winchester colleges and his Latin textbook includes a translation exercise with the phrase "We wyll playe with a ball full of wynde".

Richard Mulcaster, a student at Eton College in the early 16th century and later headmaster at other schools, has been described as “the greatest sixteenth Century advocate of football”.[16] Among his contributions are the earliest evidence of organised team football. Mulcaster's writings refer to teams ("sides" and "parties"), positions ("standings"), a referee ("judge over the parties") and a coach "(trayning maister)". Mulcaster's "footeball" had evolved from the disordered and violent forms of traditional football:

[s]ome smaller number with such overlooking, sorted into sides and standings, not meeting with their bodies so boisterously to trie their strength: nor shouldring or shuffing one an other so barbarously ... may use footeball for as much good to the body, by the chiefe use of the legges.

In 1633, David Wedderburn, a teacher from Aberdeen, mentioned elements of modern football games in a short Latin textbook called "Vocabula". Wedderburn is the first to refer to things which, in modern English, translate as "keeping goal" and "passing a ball". There is a reference to "get hold of the ball", suggesting that some handling was allowed. It is clear that the tackles allowed included the charging and holding of opposing players ("keep him out").

A more detailed description of football is given in Francis Willughby's Book of Sports, written in about 1660.[17] Willughby, who had studied at Sutton Coldfield School, is the first to describe goals and a distinct playing field: "a close that has a gate at either end. The gates are called Goals". His book includes a diagram illustrating a football field. He also mentions tactics ("leaving some of their best players to guard the goal"); scoring ("they that can strike the ball through their opponents' goal first win") and; the way teams were selected ("the players being equally divided according to their strength and nimbleness"). He is the first to describe a "law" of football: "they must not strike [an opponent's leg] higher than the ball".

English public schools also devised the first offside rules, during the late 18th century.[18] In the earliest manifestations of these rules, players were "off their side" if they simply stood between the ball and the goal which was their objective. Players were not allowed to pass the ball forward, either by foot or by hand. They could only dribble with their feet, or advance the ball in a scrum or similar formation. However, offside laws began to diverge and develop differently at the each school, as is shown by the rules of football from Winchester, Rugby, Harrow and Cheltenham, during in the period of 1810-1850.[19]

By the early 19th century, (before the Factory Act of 1850), most working class people in Britain had to work six days a week, often for over twelve hours a day. They had neither the time nor the inclination to engage in sport for recreation and, at the time, many children were part of the labour force. Feast day football played on the streets was in decline. Public school boys, who enjoyed some freedom from work, became the inventors of organised football games with formal codes of rules.

Football was adopted by a number of public schools as a way of encouraging competitiveness and keeping youths fit. Each school drafted its own rules, which varied widely between different schools and were changed over time with each new intake of pupils. Two schools of thought developed regarding rules. Some schools favoured a game in which the ball could be carried (as at Rugby, Marlborough and Cheltenham), while others preferred a game where kicking and dribbling the ball was promoted (as at Eton, Harrow, Westminster and Charterhouse). The division into these two camps was partly the result of circumstances in which the games were played. For example, Charterhouse and Westminster at the time had restricted playing areas; the boys were confined to playing their ball game within the school cloisters, making it difficult for them to adopt rough and tumble running games.

Rugby School
Rugby School

William Webb Ellis, a pupil at Rugby School, is said to have "showed a fine disregard for the rules of football, as played in his time" by picking up the ball and running to the opponents' goal in 1823. This act is usually said to be the beginning of Rugby football, but there is little evidence that it occurred, and most sports historians believe the story to be apocryphal. Nevertheless, by 1841 (some sources say 1842), running with the ball had become acceptable at Rugby, as long as a player gathered the ball on the full or from a bounce, he was not offside and he did not pass the ball.

During this period, the Rugby school rules appear to have spread at least as far, perhaps further, than the other schools' codes. For example, two clubs which claim to be the world's first and/or oldest football club, in the sense of a club which is not part of a school or university, are strongholds of rugby football: the Barnes Club, said to have been founded in 1839, and Guy's Hospital Football Club (1843). Neither date nor the variety of football played is well-documented, but such claims nevertheless allude to the popularity of rugby before other modern codes emerged.

The boom in rail transport in Britain during the 1840s meant that people were able to travel further and with less inconvenience than they ever had before. Inter-school sporting competitions became possible. However, it was difficult for schools to play each other at football, as each school played by its own rules.

In 1845, three boys at Rugby school were tasked with codifying the rules then being used at the school. These were the first set of written rules (or code) for any form of football.[20] This further assisted the spread of the Rugby game.

Apart from Rugby football, the public school codes have barely been played beyound the confines of each school's playing fields. However, many of them are are still played at the schools which created them (see Surviving public school games below).

Cambridge Rules

Main article: The Cambridge Rules

In 1848 at Cambridge University, Mr. H. de Winton and Mr. J.C. Thring, who were both formerly at Shrewsbury School, called a meeting at Trinity College, Cambridge with 12 other representatives from Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester and Shrewsbury. An eight-hour meeting produced what amounted to the first set of modern rules, known as the Cambridge Rules. No copy of these rules now exists, but a revised version from circa 1856 is held in the library of Shrewsbury School. The rules clearly favour the kicking game. Handling was only allowed for a player to take a clean catch entitling them to a free kick and there was a primitive offside rule, disallowing players from "loitering" around the opponents' goal. The Cambridge Rules were not widely adopted outside English public schools and universities but did influence the Football Association committee members responsible for formulating the rules of soccer as it is played today .

Other developments in the 1850s

The interest in football in various countries during the 1850s, was shown by developments in ball manufacturing and the formation of the oldest documented football clubs.

Richard Lindon (seen in 1880) is believed to have invented the first footballs with rubber bladders.
Richard Lindon (seen in 1880) is believed to have invented the first footballs with rubber bladders.

In Europe, early footballs were made out of animal bladders, more specifically pig's bladders, which were inflated. Later leather coverings were introduced to allow the ball to keep their shape. [21] However, in 1851, Richard Lindon and William Gilbert, both shoemakers from the town of Rugby (near the school), exhibited both round and oval-shaped balls at the Great Exhibition in London. Richard Lindon's wife is said to have died due to lung disease caused by blowing up pig's bladders.[22] Lindon also won medals for the invention of the "Rubber inflatable Bladder" and the "Brass Hand Pump".

Dublin University Football Club — founded at Trinity College, Dublin in 1854 and later famous as a bastion of the Rugby School game — claims to be the world's oldest football club in any code.

In 1855, the U.S. inventor Charles Goodyear — who had patented vulcanized rubber — exhibited a spherical football, with an exterior of vulcanized rubber panels, at the Paris Exhibition Universelle. The ball was to prove popular in early forms of football in the U.S.A. [23]

By the late 1850s, many football clubs had been formed throughout the English-speaking world, to play various codes of football. (For more details see: Oldest football clubs.)

Sheffield Football Club, founded in 1857 in the English city of Sheffield, by former Harrow School pupils Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest, was later recognised as the world's oldest club playing football (soccer). However, the club initially played its own code of football: the Sheffield Rules. There were some similarities to the Cambridge Rules, but players were allowed to push or hit the ball with their hands, and there was no offside rule at all, so that players known as kick throughs could be permanently positioned near the opponents' goal. The code spread to a number of clubs in the area and was popular until the 1870s.

Australian rules football

An Australian rules football match at the Richmond Paddock, Melbourne, in 1866. (A wood engraving by Robert Bruce.)
An Australian rules football match at the Richmond Paddock, Melbourne, in 1866. (A wood engraving by Robert Bruce.)
Main article: Australian rules football

Tom Wills began to develop Australian football in Melbourne during 1858. Wills had been educated in England, at Rugby School and had played cricket for Cambridge University. The extent to which Wills was directly influenced by British and Irish football games is unknown, but there were similarities between some of them and his game. There were pronounced similarities between Wills's game and Gaelic football (as it would be codified in 1887). It appears that Australian football also has some similarities to the indigenous Australian game of Marn Grook (see above).

Melbourne Football Club was also founded in 1858 and is the oldest surviving Australian football club, but the rules it used during its first season are unknown. The club's rules of 1859 are the oldest surviving set of laws for Australian rules. They were drawn up at the Parade Hotel, East Melbourne on 17 May, by Wills, W.J. Hammersley, J.B. Thompson and Thomas Smith (some sources include H.C.A. Harrison). These men had similar backgrounds to Wills and their code also had pronounced similarities to the Sheffield rules, most notably in the absence of an offside rule. A free kick was awarded for a mark (clean catch). However, running while holding the ball was allowed and although it was not specified in the rules, a rugby ball was used. The club shared many members with the Melbourne Cricket Club, which was based at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and cricket ovals — which vary in size and are much larger than the fields used in other forms of football — became the standard playing field for Australian rules. The 1859 rules did not include some elements which would soon become important to the game, such as the requirement to bounce the ball while running.

Australian rules is sometimes said to be the first form of football to be codified but — as was the case in all kinds of football at the time, there was no official body supporting the rules — and play varied from one club to another. By 1866, however, several other clubs in the Colony of Victoria had agreed to play an updated version of the Melbourne F.C. rules, which were later known as "Victorian Rules" and/or "Australasian Rules". The formal name of the code later became Australian rules football (and, more recently, Australian football). By the end of the 19th century the code had spread to the other Australian colonies (although rugby football would remain more popular in New South Wales and Queensland) and other parts of the world.

The Football Association

The first football international, Scotland versus England. Once kept by the Rugby Football Union as an early example of rugby football.
The first football international, Scotland versus England. Once kept by the Rugby Football Union as an early example of rugby football.
Main article: History of The Football Association

During the early 1860s, there were increasing attempts in England to unify and reconcile the various public school games. In 1862, J. C. Thring, who had been one of the driving forces behind the original Cambridge Rules, was a master at Uppingham School and he issued his own rules of what he called "The Simplest Game" (these are also known as the Uppingham Rules). In early October 1863 another new revised version of the Cambridge Rules was drawn up by a seven member committee representing former pupils from Harrow, Shrewsbury, Eton, Rugby, Marlborough and Westminster.

At the Freemason's Tavern, Great Queen Street, London on the evening of October 26, 1863, representatives of several football clubs in the London Metropolitan area met for the inaugural meeting of The Football Association (FA). The aim of the Association was to establish a single unifying code and regulate the playing of the game among its members. Following the first meeting, the public schools were invited were sent to to join the association. All of them declined, except Charterhouse and Uppingham. In total, six meetings of the FA were held between October and December 1863. After the third meeting, a draft set of rules were published. However, at the beginning of the fourth meeting, attention was drawn to the recently-published Cambridge Rules of 1863. The Cambridge rules differed from the draft FA rules in two significant areas; namely running with (carrying) the ball and hacking (kicking opposing players in the shins). The two contentious FA rules were as follows:

IX. A player shall be entitled to run with the ball towards his adversaries' goal if he makes a fair catch, or catches the ball on the first bound; but in case of a fair catch, if he makes his mark [to take a free kick] he shall not run.
X. If any player shall run with the ball towards his adversaries' goal, any player on the opposite side shall be at liberty to charge, hold, trip or hack him, or to wrest the ball from him, but no player shall be held and hacked at the same time.

At the fifth meeting it was proposed that these two rules be removed. Most of the delegates supported this, but F. W. Campbell, the representative from Blackheath and the first FA treasurer, objected. He said: "hacking is the true football". However, the motion to ban hacking was carried and Blackheath withdrew from the FA. After the final meeting on 8 December, the FA published the "Laws of Football", the first comprehensive set of rules for the game later known as football (later known in some countries as soccer).

The first FA rules still contained elements that are no longer part of football, but which are still recognisable in other games: for instance, a player could make a fair catch and claim a mark, which entitled him to a free kick, and; if a player touched the ball behind the opponents' goal line, his side was entitled to a free kick at goal, from 15 yards in front of the goal line.

Rugby football

Main article: History of rugby union
1871 engraving of the game
1871 engraving of the game

In Britain, by 1870, there were about 75 clubs playing variations of the Rugby school game. There were also "rugby" clubs in Ireland, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. However, there was no generally accepted set of rules for rugby until 1871, when 21 clubs from London came together to form the Rugby Football Union (RFU). (Ironically, Blackheath now lobbied to ban hacking.) The first official RFU rules were adopted in June 1871. These rules allowed passing the ball. They also included the try, where touching the ball over the line allowed an attempt at goal, though drop-goals from marks and general play, and penalty conversions were still the main form of contest.

North American football

Main articles: Canadian football#History and History of American football

As was the case in Britain, by the early 19th century, North American schools and universities played their own local games, between sides made up of students.

The first game of rugby in Canada is generally said to have taken place in Montreal, in 1865, when British Army officers played local civilians. The game gradually gained a following, and the Montreal Football Club was formed in 1868, the first recorded football club in Canada.

In 1869, the first game played in the United States under rules based on the English FA (soccer) code occurred, between Princeton and Rutgers. This is also often considered to be the first US game of college football, in the sense of a game between colleges (although the eventual form of American football would come from rugby, not soccer).

Rutgers College Football Team, 1882
Rutgers College Football Team, 1882
The Tigers of Hamilton, Ontario circa 1906. Founded 1869 as the Hamilton Foot Ball Club, they eventually merged with the Hamilton Flying Wildcats to form the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, a team still active in the Canadian Football League.
The Tigers of Hamilton, Ontario circa 1906. Founded 1869 as the Hamilton Foot Ball Club, they eventually merged with the Hamilton Flying Wildcats to form the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, a team still active in the Canadian Football League.[24]

Modern American football grew out of a match between McGill University of Montreal, and Harvard University in 1874. At the time, Harvard students are reported to have played the Boston Game — a running code — rather than the FA-based kicking games favored by US universities. This made it easy for Harvard to adapt to the rugby-based game played by McGill and the two teams alternated between their respective sets of rules. Within a few years, however, Harvard had both adopted McGill's rugby rules and had persuaded other US university teams to do the same. In 1876, at the Massasoit Convention, it was agreed by these universities to adopt most of the Rugby Football Union rules. However, a touch-down only counted toward the score if neither side kicked a field goal. The convention decided that, in the US game, four touchdowns would be worth one goal; in the event of a tied score, a goal converted from a touchdown would take precedence over four touch-downs.

Princeton, Rutgers and others continued to compete using soccer-based rules for a few years before switching to the rugby-based rules of Harvard and its competitors. US colleges did not generally return to soccer until the early twentieth century.

In 1880, Yale coach Walter Camp, devised a number of major changes to the American game, beginning with the reduction of teams from 15 to 11 players, followed by reduction of the field area by almost half, and; the introduction of the scrimmage, in which a player heeled the ball backwards, to begin a game. These were complemented in 1882 by another of Camp's innovations: a team had to surrender possession if they did not gain five yards after three downs (i.e. successful tackles).

Over the years Canadian football absorbed some developments in American football, but also retained many unique characteristics. One of these was that Canadian football, for many years, did not officially distinguish itself from rugby. For example, the Canadian Rugby Football Union, founded in 1884 was the forerunner of the Canadian Football League, rather than a rugby union body. (The Canadian Rugby Union was not formed until 1965.) American football was also frequently described as "rugby" in the 1880s.

Gaelic football

Main article: Gaelic football#History

In the mid-19th century, various traditional football games, referred to collectively as caid, remained popular in Ireland, especially in County Kerry. One observer, Father W. Ferris, described two main forms of caid during this period: the "field game" in which the object was to put the ball through arch-like goals, formed from the boughs of two trees, and; the epic "cross-country game" which took up most of the daylight hours of a Sunday on which it was played, and was won by one team taking the ball across a parish boundary. "Wrestling", "holding" opposing players, and carrying the ball were all allowed.

By the 1870s, Rugby and football had started to become popular in Ireland. Trinity College, Dublin was an early stronghold of Rugby (see the Developments in the 1850s section, above). The rules of the English FA were being distributed widely. Traditional forms of caid had begun to give way to a "rough-and-tumble game" which allowed tripping.

There was no serious attempt to unify and codify Irish varieties of football, until the establishment of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in 1884. The GAA sought to promote traditional Irish sports, such as hurling and to reject imported games like Rugby and Football. The first Gaelic football rules were drawn up by Maurice Davin and published in the United Ireland magazine on February 7, 1887. Davin's rules showed the influence of games such as hurling and a desire to formalise a distinctly Irish code of football. The prime example of this differentiation was the lack of an offside rule (an attribute which, for many years, was shared only by other Irish games like hurling, and by Australian rules football).

The split in Rugby football

An English cartoon from the 1890s lampooning the divide in rugby football which led to the formation of rugby league. The caricatures are of Rev. Frank Marshall, an arch-opponent of player payments, and James Miller, a long-time opponent of Marshall. The caption reads: Marshall: "Oh, fie, go away naughty boy, I don't play with boys who can’t afford to take a holiday for football any day they like!" Miller: "Yes, that’s just you to a T; you’d make it so that no lad whose father wasn’t a millionaire could play at all in a really good team. For my part I see no reason why the men who make the money shouldn’t have a share in the spending of it."
An English cartoon from the 1890s lampooning the divide in rugby football which led to the formation of rugby league. The caricatures are of Rev. Frank Marshall, an arch-opponent of player payments, and James Miller, a long-time opponent of Marshall. The caption reads:
Marshall: "Oh, fie, go away naughty boy, I don't play with boys who can’t afford to take a holiday for football any day they like!" Miller: "Yes, that’s just you to a T; you’d make it so that no lad whose father wasn’t a millionaire could play at all in a really good team. For my part I see no reason why the men who make the money shouldn’t have a share in the spending of it."
Further information: History of rugby league

The International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) was founded in 1886, but rifts were beginning to emerge in the code. Professionalism was beginning to creep into the various codes of football.

In Britain, by the 1890s, a long-standing Rugby Football Union ban on professional players was causing regional tensions within rugby football, as many players in northern England were working class and could not afford to take time off to train, travel, play and recover from injuries. This was not very different from what had occurred ten years earlier in soccer in Northern England but the authorities reacted very differently in the RFU, attempting to alienate the working class support in Northern England. In 1895, following a dispute about a player being paid broken time payments, which replaced wages lost as a result of playing rugby, representatives of the northern clubs met in Huddersfield to form the Northern Rugby Football Union (NRFU). The new body initially permitted only various types of player wage replacements. However, within two years, NRFU players could be paid, but they were required to have a job outside sport.

The demands of a professional league dictated that rugby had to become a better "spectator" sport. Within a few years the NRFU rules had started to diverge from the RFU, most notably with the abolition of the line-out. This was followed by the replacement of the ruck with the "play-the-ball ruck", which allowed a two-player ruck contest between the tackler at marker and the player tackled. Mauls were stopped once the ball carrier was held, being replaced by a play-the ball-ruck. The separate Lancashire and Yorkshire competitions of the NRFU merged in 1901, forming the Northern Rugby League, the first time the name rugby league was used officially in England.

Over time, the RFU form of rugby, played by clubs which remained members of national federations affiliated to the IRFB, became known as rugby union.

The globalisation of Football (soccer)

Main article: History of FIFA

The need for a single body to oversee Football had become apparent by the beginning of the 20th century, with the increasing popularity of international fixtures. The English Football Association had chaired many discussions on setting up an international body, but was perceived as making no progress. It fell to associations from seven other European countries: France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, to form an international association. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was founded in Paris on May 21, 1904. Its first president was Robert Guérin. The French name and acronym has remained, even outside French-speaking countries.

The reform of American football

Both forms of rugby and American football were noted at the time for serious injuries, as well as the deaths of a significant number of players. By the early 20th century in the USA, this had resulted in national controversy and American football was banned by a number of colleges. Consequently, a series of meetings was held by 19 colleges in 1905–06. This occurred reputedly at the behest of President Theodore Roosevelt. He was considered a fancier of the game, but he threatened to ban it unless the rules were modified to reduce the numbers of deaths and disabilities. The meetings are now considered to be the origin of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

One proposed change was a widening of the playing field. However, Harvard University had just built a concrete stadium and therefore objected to widening, instead proposing legalisation of the forward pass. The report of the meetings introduced many restrictions on tackling and two more divergences from rugby: the forward pass and the banning of mass formation plays. The changes did not immediately have the desired effect, and 33 American football players were killed during 1908 alone. However, the number of deaths and injuries did gradually decline.

Further divergence of the two rugby codes

Rugby league rules diverged significantly from rugby union in 1906, with the reduction of the team from 15 to 13 players. In 1907, a New Zealand professional rugby team toured Australia and Britain, receiving an enthusiastic response, and professional rugby leagues were launched in Australia the following year. However, the rules of professional rugby varied from one country to another, and negotiations between various national bodies were required to fix the exact rules for each international match. This situation endured until 1948, when at the instigation of the French league, the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) was formed at a meeting in Bordeaux.

During the second half of 20th century, the rules changed further. In 1966, rugby league officials borrowed the American football concept of downs: a team could retain possession of the ball for no more than four tackles. The maximum number of tackles was later increased to six (in 1971), and in rugby league this became known as the six tackle rule.

With the advent of full-time professionals in the early 1990s, and the consequent speeding up of the game, the five metre off-side distance between the two teams became 10 metres, and the replacement rule was superseded by various interchange rules, among other changes.

The rules of rugby union also changed significantly and became very complex and technical during the 20th century. In addition, rucks and mauls became homogenised, and in line-outs players began to be lifted by their teammates to contest their opponents.

In 1995, rugby union became an "open" game, that is one which allowed professional players. Although the original dispute between the two codes has now disappeared — and despite the fact that officials from both forms of rugby football have sometimes mentioned the possibility of re-unification — the rules of both codes and their culture have diverged to such an extent that such a event is unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Football today

Use of the word "football" in English-speaking countries

Further information: Football (word)

The word "football", when used in reference to a specific game can mean any one of those described above. Because of this, much friendly controversy has occurred over the term football, primarily because it is used in different ways in different parts of the English-speaking world. Most often, the word "football" is used to refer to the code of football that is considered dominant within a particular region.

In most English-speaking countries, the word "football" usually refers to association football, also known as "soccer" (the name was originally a slang abbreviation of association). Note, however, that most native English speakers live in countries in which "football" refers not to association football, but to one of the other many variants. (See English Language for a distribution of native English speakers by country.) Of the 45 national FIFA affiliates in which English is an official or primary language, only three (Canada, Samoa and the United States) use "soccer" in their organizations' official names, while the rest use football (although the Samoan Federation actually uses both). However, in some countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, use of the word "football" by soccer bodies is a recent change (or a reversion to a long-abandoned name) and has been controversial.

The different codes are listed below and are described more fully in their own articles.

Present day codes and "families" of football

Football (soccer) and games descended from it

An indoor soccer game at an open air venue in Mexico. The referee has just awarded the red team a free kick.
An indoor soccer game at an open air venue in Mexico. The referee has just awarded the red team a free kick.
  • Football, also known as football, soccer, footy and footie.
  • Indoor/basketball court varieties of Football:
    • Five-a-side football – played throughout the world under various rules including:
      • Futsal – the FIFA-approved five-a-side indoor game.
      • Minivoetbal – the five-a-side indoor game played in East and West Flanders where it is hugely popular.
      • Papi fut — the five-a-side game played in outdoor basketball courts (built with goals) in Central America.
    • Indoor soccer – the six-a-side indoor game as played in North America. Known in Latin America, where it is often played in open air venues, as fútbol rápido ("fast soccer").
  • Paralympic football – modified Football for athletes with a disability. Includes:
    • Football 5-a-side - for visually impaired athletes
    • Football 7-a-side - for athletes with cerebral palsy
    • Electric wheelchair soccer
  • Beach soccer – football played on sand, also known as sand soccer.
  • Footvolley – football & beach volleyball combination played on sand, played by many famous footballers (Brazilian greats) around the world
  • Street football – encompasses a number of informal varieties of football.
  • Bossaball — mixes football with volleyball and gymnastics on inflatables and trampolines.
  • Rush goalie – is a variation of football in which the role of the goalkeeper is more flexible than normal.
  • Headers and volleys – where the aim is to score goals against a goalkeeper using only headers and volleys.
  • Fouling football – all tackles except the use of weapons and (usually) kicks to the groin are allowed, teams can be of sizes upwards of 5 but usually less than 15, injuries are par for the course.[citation needed]

Rugby school football and games descended from it

Rugby sevens: a seven-a-side version of rugby union.  England and France in a scrum at the 2006 London Sevens.
Rugby sevens: a seven-a-side version of rugby union. England and France in a scrum at the 2006 London Sevens.
  • Rugby football
    • Rugby league – usually known simply as "football" or "footy" in the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland, and by some followers of the game in England. Also often referred to simply as "league".
      • Rugby league nines (or sevens)
      • Touch football (rugby league) – a non-contact version of rugby league. In South Africa it is known as six down.
      • Oz Tag - a non-contact version of rugby league, in which a velcro tag is removed to indicate a tackle.
    • Rugby union
      • Rugby sevens
      • Tag rugby – a form of rugby union using the velcro tag
    • Beach rugby - rugby played on sand
    • Touch rugby – generic name for forms of rugby football which does not feature tackles.
  • American football – called "football" in the United States and Canada, and "gridiron" in Australia and New Zealand. Sometimes called "tackle football" to distinguish it from the touch versions.
    • Arena football – an indoor version of American football.
    • Eight-man football - a version of tackle football, played primarily by smaller high schools that lack enough players to field full 11-man teams.
    • Touch football (American) – non-tackle American football.
      • Flag football – non-tackle American football, like touch football, in which a flag that is held by velcro on a belt tied around the waist is pulled by defenders to indicate a tackle.
  • Canadian football – called simply "football" in Canada; "football" in Canada can mean either Canadian or American football depending on context.
    • Canadian flag football – non-tackle Canadian football.

Irish and Australian varieties of football

International rules football test match in 2005 between Australia and Ireland at Telstra Dome, Melbourne, Australia.
International rules football test match in 2005 between Australia and Ireland at Telstra Dome, Melbourne, Australia.

These codes are all united by the absence of an offside rule, the requirement to bounce or solo (toe-kick) the ball while running, handpassing by punching the ball rather than throwing it, and other traditions.

  • Australian rules football – officially known as "Australian football", and informally as "Aussie rules" or "footy". In some areas (erroneously) referred to as "AFL", which is the name of the main organising body and competition.
    • Auskick – a version of Australian rules designed by the AFL for young children.
    • Metro footy (or Metro rules footy) – a modified version invented by the USAFL, for use on gridiron fields in North American cities (which often lack grounds large enough for conventional Australian rules matches).
    • 9-a-side footy – a more open, running variety of Australian rules, requiring 18 players in total and a proportionally smaller playing area. (Includes contact and non-contact varieties.)
    • Rec footy – "Recreational Football", a modified non-contact touch variation of Australian rules, created by the AFL, which replaces tackles with tags.
    • Touch Aussie Rules - a non-contact variation of Australian Rules played only in the United Kingdom
    • Samoa rules – localised version adapted to Samoan conditions, such as the use of rugby football fields.
    • Masters Australian football (a.k.a. Superules) – reduced contact version introduced for competitions limited to players over 30 years of age.
    • Women's Australian rules football – played with a smaller ball and (sometimes) reduced contact version introduced for women's competition.
  • Gaelic football – Played predominantly in Ireland. Sometimes referred to as "football" or "gaah" (from the acronym for Gaelic Athletic Association).
    • Ladies Gaelic football
  • International rules football – a compromise code used for games between Gaelic and Australian Rules players.

Surviving Mediæval ball games

The ball is hit into the air at the 2006 Royal Shrovetide Football match. (Photographer:  Gary Austin.)
The ball is hit into the air at the 2006 Royal Shrovetide Football match. (Photographer: Gary Austin.)

British Shrove Tuesday games
    • Alnwick in Northumberland
    • Ashbourne in Derbyshire (known as Royal Shrovetide Football)
    • Atherstone in Warwickshire
    • Corfe Castle in Dorset – The Shrove Tuesday Football Ceremony of the Purbeck Marblers.
    • Haxey in Lincolnshire (the Haxey Hood, actually played on Epiphany)
    • Hurling the Silver Ball takes place at St Columb Major in Cornwall
    • Sedgefield in County Durham
    • In Scotland the Ba game ("Ball Game") is still popular around Christmas and Hogmanay at:
      • Duns, Berwickshire
      • Scone, Perthshire
      • Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands

Outside the UK
  • Calcio Fiorentino – a modern revival of Renaissance football from 16th century Florence.

Surviving public school games

Harrow football players after a game at Harrow School.
Harrow football players after a game at Harrow School.
  • Eton field game
  • Eton wall game
  • Harrow football
  • Winchester College football

Modern inventions and hybrid games

  • Based on Mediæval football:
    • Murder Ball
  • Based on FA rules:
    • Cubbies
    • Three sided football
    • Triskelion
  • Keepie uppie – is the art of juggling with a football using feet, knees, chest, shoulders, and head.
    • Footbag – is a small bean bag or sand bag used as a ball in a number of keepie uppie variations, including hacky sack (which is a trade mark).
  • Freestyle football – a modern take on keepie uppie where freestylers are graded for their entertainment value and expression of skill.
  • Based on Rugby:
    • Scuffleball
    • Force ’em backs
  • Hybrid games
    • Speedball (American) – a combination of American football, soccer, and basketball, devised by Elmer D. Mitchell at the University of Michigan in 1912.
    • Volata - a game resembling a hybrid of Football and European handball, based supposedly on the Roman harpastum. Devised by an Italian fascist leader, Augusto Turati, in the late 1920s.
    • Universal football – A hybrid of Australian rules and rugby league, trialled in Sydney in 1933.[25]
    • Austus – a compromise between Australian rules and American football, invented in Melbourne during World War II.
    • Wheelchair Rugby – previously known as Murderball. Invented in Canada in 1977 and initially derived from ice hockey and basketball rather than rugby football.
      • Wheelchair power tag rugby
      • Wheelchair rugby league

Tabletop games and other recreations

  • Based on Football (soccer):
    • Subbuteo
    • Blow football
    • Table football – also known as foosball, table soccer, babyfoot, bar football or gettone)
    • Fantasy football (soccer)
    • Button football – also known as Futebol de Mesa, Jogo de Botões
  • Based on rugby:
    • Paper football
  • Based on American football:
    • Blood Bowl
    • Fantasy football (American)
    • Madden NFL
    • NFL
  • Based on Australian football:
    • List of Australian rules football computer games
      • AFL Premiership 2005
    • AFL Dream Team


  1. ^ Professional Football Researchers Association Origins of Football
  2. ^ Richard Hakluyt, Voyages in Search of The North-West Passage, University of Adelaide, December 29, 2003
  3. ^ Stephen Alsford, FitzStephen's Description of London, Florilegium Urbanum, April 5, 2006
  4. ^ [Magoun, Francis Peabody (1929) "Football in Medieval England and Middle-English literature}. The American Historical Review, v. 35, No. 1.]
  5. ^ [Magoun, Francis Peabody (1929) Football in Medieval England and middle-English literature. The American Historical Review, vol 35, No. 1; "football"
  6. ^ [Magoun, ibid.]
  7. ^ "football" at
  8. ^ [Magoun, ibid.]
  9. ^ Vivek Chaudhary, Who's the fat bloke in the number eight shirt?, The Guardian, February 18, 2004
  10. ^ Anniina Jokinen, Sir Philip Sidney. "A Dialogue Between Two Shepherds",, July 2006
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ 7th International Post Graduate Seminar on Olympic Studies at Undersecretariat of State for Sports
  14. ^ John Lord Campbell, The Lives of the Lords Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of England, vol. II, 1851, p. 412 at Google Books
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ Francis Willughby's Book of Games at Google Books
  18. ^ Julian Carosi, 2006, "The History of Offside"
  19. ^ Carosi, Ibid.
  20. ^ Rugby chronology. Museum of Rugby. Retrieved on April 24, 2006.
  21. ^ Soccer Ball World - Early History (Accessed June 9, 2006)
  22. ^ The exact name of Mr Lindon is in dispute, as well as the exact timing of the creation of the inflatable bladder. It is known that he created this for both association and rugby footballs. However sites devoted to football indicate he was known as HJ Lindon, who was actually Richards Lindon's son, and created the ball in 1862 (ref: Soccer Ball World), whereas rugby sites refer to him as Richard Lindon creating the ball in 1870 (ref: Guardian article). Both agree that his wife died when inflating pig's bladders. This information originated from web sites which may be unreliable, and the answer may only be found in researching books in central libraries.
  23. ^, (no date) "Charles Goodyear's Soccer Ball" Downloaded 30/11/06.
  24. ^ Canadian Football Timelines (1860 – present). Football Canada. Retrieved on 2006-12-23.
  25. ^ Sean Fagan, Breaking The Codes,, 2006


  • Mandelbaum, Michael (2004); The Meaning of Sports; Public Affairs, ISBN 1-58648-252-1
  • Green, Geoffrey (1953); The History of the Football Association; Naldrett Press, London
  • Williams, Graham (1994); The Code War; Yore Publications, ISBN 1-874427-65-8

See also

  • Players who have converted from one football code to another
  • Kick-to-kick

External links

  • Wilfried Gerhardt, "The colourful history of a fascinating game" (from the FIFA website)


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