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.


In Victorian Britain, the emergence of modern football was directly linked to movements of industry and urbanisation. The majority of the new working-class residents of Britain’s industrial towns and cities increasingly abandoned old bucolic pastimes like badger-baiting in favour of new forms of communal recreation. From the 1850s onwards, more and more industrial employees had Saturday afternoons free, and many of them flocked to the new sport of football to watch or play. Working-class boys and men were organised into recreational football teams by key urban institutions such as churches, labour unions, and schools. Rising adult literacy boosted coverage of organised sports in the press, while transportation infrastructure like railways and urban trams made it possible for players and fans to get to football games. In England, average attendance grew from 4,600 in 1888 to 7,900 in 1895, 13,200 in 1905, and 23,100 at the onset of World War I. The dominance of football has decreased public interest in other sports, particularly cricket.

Leading clubs, particularly those in Lancashire, began charging admission to spectators as early as the 1870s, allowing them to pay illegal wages to lure highly skilled working-class players, many of whom were from Scotland, despite the FA’s amateurism rule. Working-class players and northern English clubs yearned for a professional structure that would compensate them in part for their “broken time” (time away from other jobs) and the risk of injury. In maintaining an amateurism policy that maintained upper and upper-middle class control over the game, the FA remained resolutely elitist.

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