The Football Association


Like the source of the Amazon, the actual point at which the game became more obviously recognisable as the game we play today is shrouded in mystery. However, one very good candidate for the title father of Association Football is Ebeneezer Cobb Morley, a lawyer born in Hull in 1831.

A keen sportsman, it is entirely possible that Morley had been instrumental in the 1862 formation of the Barnes Football Club, a forerunner of the modern day Barnes Rugby Football Club. What is indisputable is the fact that Morley was instrumental in the formation of the Football Association and the codification of its first set of laws.

Unassuming Beginnings

Deciding that football, like cricket, should have a set of agreed rules, Morley wrote to Bell's Life making such a suggestion. Eventually, on 26 October 1863 he called to order a meeting at the Freemasons Tavern, in Great Queen Street, Holborn. Joining Morley (who represented Barnes) were representatives of 11 other clubs in the London area:

Civil Service (aka the War Office)
Forest of Leytonstone (later to become Wanderers)
N.N. (No Names) Club (Kilburn)
the original Crystal Palace
Kensington School
Perceval House (Blackheath)
Blackheath Proprietary School

Of the twelve, only Charterhouse was a public school, and after the meeting ended they were the only party present that didn't sign up to become a founder member of the Football Association.

Despite Morley's initial aim for it, this meeting did not discuss the laws of the game. Nor did the second, which decided on the rules of the Association (subscription to be one guinea per year with an annual meeting every September). No, it was the third meeting at which the FA finally got down to the discussion of the laws of the game.

The Laws of the Game - First Draft of Many

At the time, there was no intention to outlaw handling of the ball and there was general agreement on how handling should be regulated. A fair catch followed by a mark with the heel would result in a free-kick to the catcher's team. The Cambridge Rules, upon which the FA's Laws were loosely based, made no allowance for clutching and running with the ball and neither did the Sheffield Rules.

The main bone of contention between the clubs was over the practice of hacking or kicking an opponent on the leg. Already there were two camps in the Association; those who considered hacking an essential part of the game, and those who deemed it brutal. These came out into the open at the fourth meeting and at the fifth meeting the Blackheath representative, arguing against a ban on hacking, stated that those who favoured such a ban 'liked their pipes and grog or schnapps more than the manly game of football...'

By the sixth meeting, the battle lines were drawn between the hackers and the non-hackers and Blackheath withdrew. It is strange but although it was the issue of hacking which had caused this split, it is considered that this is the point at which the dribblers and the handlers went their separate ways. Even stranger is the fact that Blackheath, who were also to be founder members of the Rugby Football Union (January 1871) made no such move (over the banning of hacking) when the RFU outlawed the practice in their first set of laws (June 1871) - Law 57 of 59!

The 13 Original Laws of the Game

The Football Association Laws of 1863 as approved on 5 December 1863:

  1. The maximum length of the ground shall be 200 yards (180 m), the maximum breadth shall be 100 yards (91 m), the length and breadth shall be marked off with flags; and the goal shall be defined by two upright posts, eight yards (7 m) apart, without any tape or bar across them.
  2. A toss for goals shall take place, and the game shall be commenced by a place kick from the centre of the ground by the side losing the toss for goals; the other side shall not approach within 10 yards (9.1 m) of the ball until it is kicked off.
  3. After a goal is won, the losing side shall be entitled to kick off, and the two sides shall change goals after each goal is won.
  4. A goal shall be won when the ball passes between the goal-posts or over the space between the goal-posts (at whatever height), not being thrown, knocked on, or carried.
  5. When the ball is in touch, the first player who touches it shall throw it from the point on the boundary line where it left the ground in a direction at right angles with the boundary line, and the ball shall not be in play until it has touched the ground.
  6. When a player has kicked the ball, any one of the same side who is nearer to the opponent's goal line is out of play, and may not touch the ball himself, nor in any way whatever prevent any other player from doing so, until he is in play; but no player is out of play when the ball is kicked off from behind the goal line.
  7. In case the ball goes behind the goal line, if a player on the side to whom the goal belongs first touches the ball, one of his side shall be entitled to a free kick from the goal line at the point opposite the place where the ball shall be touched. If a player of the opposite side first touches the ball, one of his side shall be entitled to a free kick at the goal only from a point 15 yards (14 m) outside the goal line, opposite the place where the ball is touched, the opposing side standing within their goal line until he has had his kick.
  8. If a player makes a fair catch, he shall be entitled to a free kick, providing he claims it by making a mark with his heel at once; and in order to take such kick he may go back as far as he pleases, and no player on the opposite side shall advance beyond his mark until he has kicked.
  9. No player shall run with the ball.
  10. Neither tripping nor hacking shall be allowed, and no player shall use his hands to hold or push his adversary.
  11. A player shall not be allowed to throw the ball or pass it to another with his hands.
  12. No player shall be allowed to take the ball from the ground with his hands under any pretence whatever while it is in play.
  13. No player shall be allowed to wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta-percha on the soles or heels of his boots.

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