Football, commonly known as association football or soccer, is a sport in which two teams of 11 players attempt to manoeuvre the ball into the opposing team’s goal using any part of their bodies save their hands and arms. Only the goalkeeper is allowed to touch the ball, and only within the penalty area that surrounds the goal. The squad that scores the most goals is the winner. Football is the most popular sport in the world in terms of both participation and spectators. The sport can be played practically everywhere, from official football playing fields (pitches) to gymnasiums, streets, school playgrounds, parks, or beaches, thanks to its basic rules and equipment. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), football’s governing body, estimated that there were approximately 250 million football players and over 1.3 billion people “interested” in football at the turn of the century; in 2010, a combined television audience of more than 26 billion watched football’s premier tournament, the quadrennial month-long World Cup finals.

The beginnings

Football as we know it now began in the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century. “Folk football” games have been played in towns and villages since before the Middle Ages, following local customs and with few rules. From the early nineteenth century onwards, industrialization and urbanisation, which reduced the amount of leisure time and space available to the working class, combined with a history of legal prohibitions against particularly violent and destructive forms of folk football, to undermine the game’s status. Football, on the other hand, became popular as a winter sport at public (independent) institutions such as Winchester, Charterhouse, and Eton. Each school has its own set of rules; some allowed very limited ball handling while others did not. Because of the differences in rules, it was difficult for public schoolboys entering university to continue playing with anyone other than their previous classmates. The University of Cambridge attempted to standardise and codify the rules of play as early as 1843, and by 1848, most public schools had adopted these “Cambridge regulations,” which were then propagated by Cambridge graduates who created football clubs. The printed regulations of football, which barred the carrying of the ball, were produced in 1863 after a series of meetings with clubs from metropolitan London and adjacent counties. As a result, rugby’s “handling” game remained outside the newly constituted Football Association (FA). By 1870, the FA had made it illegal for anybody other than the goalkeeper to touch the ball.


However, the new rules were not universally accepted in the United Kingdom, and many teams, particularly in and around Sheffield, continued to follow their own set of rules. Although this northern English city was home to the FA’s first provincial club, the Sheffield Football Association, the progenitor of succeeding county organisations, was founded in 1867. In 1866, two matches were played between Sheffield and London clubs, and a year later, a match between a Middlesex club against a Kent and Surrey club was played under the amended regulations. In 1871, the FA invited 15 clubs to participate in a cup competition and contribute to the purchase of a trophy. By 1877, the British associations had agreed on a standard code, 43 clubs were competing, and the London clubs’ initial supremacy had waned.