The History of England

from Celts through 20th century


Category: Sport

No one seems quite sure how football in Britain began. Certainly it was well established in the late Middle Ages, although the game in those days might almost have been classified as a blood sport. There were no holds barred, and the ball — usually a pig’s bladder — was kicked through the streets by mobs of cheering, battling townsfolk. A relic of those boisterous times has survived to this day in the form of the traditional Shrovetide* football matches played each year at Ashbourne in Derbyshire, with unlimited players and goals three miles apart.

But soccer in its present form can be said to date from 1863 — the age of hansom cabs and mutton-chop whiskers* -—when eleven clubs got together in a London pub to form the Football Association. In the next twenty years many of England’s greatest clubs were born, many in humbler circumstances. Leicester City was founded in 1884 by former pupils of Wyggestone School who each subscribed one shilling and six pence to buy goalposts and a ball. Arsenal, the famous London club, was started in 1886 by workers at the Woolwich Arsenal. Their first grandstand consisted of two military wagons! West Bromwich Albion (founded 1879) was originally a boys’ club known as West Bromwich Strollers, to which members paid the princely sum of Id. per week.

Other clubs had even stranger beginnings. Blackburn Rovers (founded 1874) usedto play on apitch with a pondin the middle which had tobe covered over by planks, while the inaugural meeting of Middlesbrough Football Club took place ata tripe supper in 1876.

Since then the growth of the game has been phenomenal. Today the Football Association (the F. A.) is the controlling body of soccer in England, with more than 350 clubs registered as members, and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have similar controlling bodies.

The first F. A. Cup Final was played in 1871 at Kennington Oval in South London (now the headquarters of the Surrey County Cricket Club) and it was won by a team called simply The Wanderers, who beat the Royal Engineers by one goal to nil. Since then the F. A. Cup has become the most coveted football trophy in England (its northern counterpart is the Scottish F. A. Cup), and each season scores of clubs, great and small, set out on the long hard trail that culminates with the Cup Final in May, played before a roaring, singing crowd of 120,000 at Wembley Stadium, a few miles from the centre of London.

A similar scene, though on a smaller scale, takes place practically in every town and city throughout Britain, with great crowds cheering, some sporting silk rosettes, coloured scarves and paper hats, and waving wooden rattles.

But notwithstanding . this carnival atmosphere soccer is treated very seriously by the majority of the people, who have a profound knowledge of it, for soccer in Britain is a national winter game.

Apart from _ the professionals, there are 1,500,000 people who play football in Britain with amateur status. In spite of its dimensions it is a highly organised, carefully integrated world, almost exclusively run by working people in their own time.

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