Although people may have been doing so since time immemorial, the earliest verifiable record of a sport involving kicking a ball through a goal is from China’s Han Dynasty, about 2,300 years ago. The leather balls were stuffed with hair and feathers, using hands was prohibited, and the goal was only about 40 cm wide. It was part of military training, so defenders could play rough.
The Birth of the FA
Although people had played various forms of football in England since as early as the eighth century, the modern form of the world’s most-played game began in 1863, when the FA came to be. In the middle part of the nineteenth century England’s various public schools each had their own football codes, which had evolved since the sixteenth century from violent and uncontrolled mob clashes into organised sports. A meeting of several schools’ representatives in 1848 resulted in an agreed code, but not all schools and clubs accepted it. Efforts to harmonise the various codes led to the founding of the FA, with a single set of rules that permitted taking marks by catching the ball in the air and goals without crossbars, similar to what was developing at the time into Australian Rules.
Growth in the Home Nations
In 1872 English teams began competing for the FA Cup and an England versus Scotland match that year was the first between national teams. In 1886 the FA and the Irish, Scottish, and Welsh FAs formed the IFAB, which currently decides on the game’s rules. The first organised league came into being in England in 1888.
The spread of the game’s popularity into continental Europe led to the founding of FIFA in 1904. England joined FIFA in 1905, and the IFAB began admitting representatives from FIFA in 1913. Although the four home nations absented themselves from FIFA between the world wars, it held the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930, and by the time they rejoined it in 1946 football had become the world’s most popular sport at all levels, from juniors to professionals, a popularity that has only grown since.
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