Over the last few centuries, the beautiful game of soccer has developed into the world’s biggest sport. Historians can trace the origins of soccer back to Japanese dynasties and Spartan warriors, but when did the sport truly begin to resemble the game we love to play and watch, today? Unsurprisingly, soccer began to morph into its modern day iteration, in England in the late 19th century.
The Game Develops Through English Schools:
In 1863, the Football Association (FA) was formed and became the governing body for association football throughout England. At the time, there were few rules and regulations that were consistently enforced throughout the country, yet alone on an international level. That all changed as the FA began to discuss development of the game’s rules in a concrete fashion that would allow for a completely unprecedented level of consistency.
Prior to the formation of the FA, football was played primarily among competing academic institutions. Football had become an integral part of school activities in England, as the ruling-class believed that playing team sports would help develop character, mix various economic classes, and develop a level of toughness among the English youth. The youth that grew up on the game of football, took the game to the next level; either at their universities (Oxford and Cambridge were some of the first universities to sanction competitive football), or into the armed forces. By the late 1850’s, the game had developed at an entirely unpredicted rate, throughout the country. Inevitably, fans of the game began to see that football was transitioning from the pitches of private schools, to the amatuer, and later, the professional level.
The Birth of the FA Cup:
While the Football Association (FA) was formed in 1863, its most substantial contribution to the game of football wouldn’t arrive until 1871, when the FA announced its first challenge cup for all clubs residing within the association. In all, around fifty clubs were eligible to take part in the first cup, yet only fifteen clubs made the decision to join the list. From London to Scotland, clubs like Crystal Palace and Queen’s Park became part of one of the most influential competitions in global football history. Despite the low number of participants, the inaugural FA Cup was a wild success. Approximately two thousand English football fans attended the final game, as Morton Betts of the London based Wanderers Football Club scored the game winning goal, to earn the victory. The Wanderers would go on to win an additional four cup titles, before the end of the decade.
Why the FA Cup Matters Today:
The FA Cup represented a change in the viewership and fandom of football, but more than anything forced the Football Association to develop a standard set of rules and regulations for the game. After a decade of playing on various sized pitches, with differing goal dimensions, and an inconsistent set of rules, the governing body of the largest football tournament in England, decided it was time for a change. In 1882, the FA Cup witnessed the implementation of a standard crossbar for each goal used in the tournament. That same year, consistent field dimensions were marked as pitch boundaries, a half-field line was established, and goalkeeper boxes were implemented. Over the next few years, various rules began to shape the game we know today. In 1887, the penalty area was officially established, awarding those fouled in the box a valuable penalty kick. By 1891, a three-person refereeing system had been established that officially signified the birth of modern day soccer. The regulations developed by the FA had a lasting impact on English football, and permeated into leagues around the world.
Modern Day English Football:
Today, football is thriving in England. With the English Premier League standing as a pinnacle of European football, the country is home to some of the greatest players and teams in the world. While an English based team has not taken home the European Championship trophy since the 2012 season, when Chelsea Football Club brought the championship banner home to London, English teams are constantly in the upper echelons of European competition.
On the international level, a new generation of English football has fans throughout the country ecstatic about their prospects at the 2022 World Cup Championship, in Qatar. The development of the Football Association (FA) Cup, led to an internationally recognized standard of rules, that now regulates much of global football. The cup itself has grown into an international phenomenon, as millions of fans around the world watched Chelsea beat Manchester United in Wembley Stadium, to claim the 2018 FA Cup championship.
With growing leagues and ever-increasing international fan bases, it is fair to say that soccer is overwhelmingly the most popular sport in the world. For many, it is easy to see the modern game and forget the way it was once played from the hills of Japan to the muddy fields of English academies. Regardless, of how soccer began in any one country, the game and its story is one of global significance. It truly is the stuff of Legend.