The various codes of football share some elements in common. They are: two teams of usually between 11 and 18 players; a clearly defined area in which to play the game; scoring goals 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; goals or points resulting from players putting the ball between two goalposts; the goal or line being defended by the opposing team; players being required to move the ball depending on the code by kicking, carrying, or hand-passing the ball; and players using only their body to move the ball.
In most codes, there are rules restricting the movement of players offside, and players scoring a goal must put the ball either under or over a crossbar between the goalposts. Other features common to several football codes include: points being mostly scored by players carrying the ball across the goal line; and players receiving a free kick after they take a mark or make a fair catch.
Since ancient times, games which involved kicking or carrying a ball have been played around the world. However, most of the modern codes of football have their origins in England. While it is widely assumed that the word ‘football’ refers to the action of the foot kicking a ball, there is a historical explanation, which is that football originally referred to a variety of games in medieval Europe, which were played on foot, as opposed to the horse-riding sports such as polo.
Sports clubs dedicated to playing football began in the eighteenth century. The first documented club to bear the title “football club” is one in Edinburgh, Scotland, during the period 1824-41. The club forbade tripping but allowed pushing and holding and the picking up of the ball. Two clubs which claim to be the world’s oldest existing 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, in 1843.
The Cordner-Eggleston Cup, contested between Melbourne Grammar School and Scotch College, Melbourne every year since 1858 is one of the longest running football fixture. It is also believed to be the first match of Australian Rules football, although it was played under experimental rules in its first year. The Caledonian Challenge Cup, donated by the Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne, and played in 1861 under the Melbourne Rules, was the first football trophy tournament. The oldest surviving soccer trophy is the Youdan Cup (1867) and the oldest national soccer competition is the English FA Cup (1871).
The first ever international football match took place between sides representing England and Scotland on March 5, 1870 at the Oval under the authority of the FA. The first Rugby international took place in 1871. The oldest football league is a rugby football competition, the United Hospitals Challenge Cup contested since 1874, while the oldest rugby trophy is the Yorkshire Cup, contested since 1878. The Football League (1888) is recognised as the longest running association football league.
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. However, in 1851, Richard Lindon and William Gilbert, both shoemakers from the town of Rugby, exhibited both round and oval-shaped balls at the Great Exhibition in London.
In 1855, the U.S. inventor Charles Goodyear exhibited a spherical football, with an exterior of vulcanized rubber panels, at the Paris Exhibition Universally. The ball proved popular in early forms of football in the U.S.A.
‘Scientific’ football is first recorded in 1839 from Lancashire and in the modern game in Rugby football from 1862 and from Sheffield FC as early as 1865. The first side to play a passing combination game was the Royal Engineers AFC in 1869-70. The first side to have perfected the modern formation was Cambridge University AFC and introduced the 2-3-5 “pyramid” formation.
During the early 1860s, there were increasing attempts in England to unify and reconcile the various public school games. At the Freemasons’ 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. After the third meeting, a draft set of rules were published.
With the increasing popularity of international fixtures, the need for a single body to oversee association football had become apparent by the beginning of the 20th century. As the English Football Association failed to make much progress on setting up an international body, it fell to associations from seven other European countries to form an international association.
France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland founded the Federation International de Football Association (FIFA) in Paris on May 21, 1904. Its first president was Robert Guerin. The French name and acronym has remained, even outside French-speaking countries.
The rules of football have been ever changing. With the advent of full-time professionals in the early 1990s, and the consequent speeding up of the game, the five meter off-side distance between the two teams became 10 meters, and the replacement rule was superseded by various interchange rules, among other changes.
Today, the word ‘football’ is used in different ways in different parts of the English-speaking world. Most often, the word is used to refer to the code of football that is considered dominant within a particular region.