Little Bits of History

Football – No, Soccer

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 3, 2013
Ebenezer Cobb Morley

Ebenezer Cobb Morley

March 3, 1891: The idea for a Penalty Spot Kick is conceived and the lobbying process to have it included in the rules begins. Association football, known as soccer in the US, had some of its first laws drawn up in London in 1863. The men who gathered at the Freemasons’ Tavern founded the Football Association and wrote up one of the first sets of codified rules. The game was being played routinely at Cambridge in the late 1840s but the ball could still be caught during play.

In fact, the game had a long history of often violent village games. In 1863, the codifying process was overseen by Ebenezer Cobb Morley. A list of 14 rules was produced and defined the game. It was far more similar to rugby than the game of soccer as played today. The first set of rules included as many as eight forwards and moving the ball was via dribbling or scrimmaging as in rugby. There was to be no “hacking” or kicking below the knee – which made one man leave in a huff and return to the rugby fields.

The rules were not immediately accepted by everyone who played the game. Sheffield clubs had written their own rules in 1857. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) was created and met for the first time on June 2, 1865. They united the different factions and codified the rules for all to abide by – needing ¾ majority to pass any changes, as still is the process today.

Over the years the game evolved into what we would recognize as football (soccer) today. Goal-kicks made the rule list in 1869 and corner-kicks were added in 1872. Referees were given whistles in 1878, but still relegated to the sidelines. Penalties were a later addition because it was assumed that a gentleman would never intentionally commit a foul. When competitiveness trumped gentlemanly manners and sportsmanship was in disarray, “the kick of death” was added to the rule book. With the need to watch more closely for fouls, the referee was finally permitted on the field of play.

“The rules of soccer are very simple, basically it is this: if it moves, kick it. If it doesn’t move, kick it until it does.” – Phil Woosnam

“I loathed the game, and since I could see no pleasure or usefulness in it, it was very difficult for me to show courage at it. Football, it seemed to me, is not really played for the pleasure of kicking a ball about, but is a species of fighting.” – George Orwell

“Soccer is a game in which everyone does a lot of running around. Twenty-one guys stand around and one guy does a tap dance with the ball.” – Jim Murray

“The rest of the world loves soccer. Surely we must be missing something. Uh, isn’t that what the Russians told us about communism? There’s a good reason why you don’t care about soccer – it’s because you are an American and hating soccer is more American than mom’s apple pie, driving a pick-up and spending Saturday afternoon channel-surfing with the remote control.” – Tom Weir

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Ebenezer Cobb Morley was an avid sportsman, born in 1831. He lived in Hull until age 22 when he moved to Barnes. While there, he founded the Barnes Club, today called Barnes Rugby Football Club. It claims to be the oldest club to have any code for football. Morley served as the first secretary and the second president of The Football Association (FA). He was also a player and scored in the first representative match between Sheffield and London. He was an oarsman and also founded the Barnes and Mortlake Regatta. He was a solicitor by profession and severed on Surrey County Council and was a Justice of the Peace.

Also on this day: Vincent van Gogh – In 1853, Vincent van Gogh was born.
Comstock Law – In 1873, The Comstock Law was enacted in the US.
Panic – In 1943, 173 people were killed at Bethnal Green during a bombing raid over London.


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  1. Bobby Dias said, on March 3, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    Violent now? You should have seen them before soccer or football or whatever. That is why I led the money raising to build 4 full soccer stadiums in Mexico plus the facilities for the 1968 Summer Olympics plus 18 soccer/general athletic complexes plus building up old bullfight arenas for general use(bullfighting was dead at the time in Mexico). Shouting and an occasional very small riot is much less violent than the continual wars between regions that had been the norm back to before Aztec days- I learned the difference in England from before to after from Queen Elizabeth’s mother. A few times she got a bit upset about writers going on and on about the so-called evils of British rulers without even mentioning their starting and promoting many sports-rugby and soccer and golf and tennis being a few. Churchill once said to me: ” A person ignoring true history will never have peace”- it is nice to think of the accomplishments of man,not remember only the low spots of history. It is easy for me to say-with the receipients of 6 Nobel Peace Prizes saying to me that I deserved their prize not them at all.

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