The modern game of football was born in the Freemason’s Tavern in 19th century London. Ebenezer Morley, a solicitor and local sportsman, met with representatives of a dozen London and suburban clubs on Monday 26 October 1863. Morley proposed that football should have one standardised set of rules and, at that meeting, The Football Association was formed.
The first match played under the new rules was on Saturday 19 December 1863, with Barnes and Richmond playing out a 0-0 draw. The early days of the FA were not without their difficulties, there was plenty of bickering between clubs and the initial membership was small, but the FA began to slowly grow in stature.
The Football Association Challenge Cup, more commonly referred to as the FA Cup, was announced in The Sportsman newspaper on 20 July 1871, with “all clubs belonging to the Association … invited to compete”. 15 clubs signed up, with Wanderers winning the first final 1-0.
Over the next 15 years, professionalism was legalised and County and District Associations began to form a framework for hundreds of new teams. 12 clubs, including Aston Villa and Everton, formed the Football League in 1888. The FA was still the ultimate authority, but the League would exist as a self-contained body within it.
FIFA formed, England late to the party
England were not one of the original members of FIFA, founded in Paris in 1904, but within two years The FA had ‘formally approved’ the existence of the new body and sent a delegation to a FIFA conference in Berne. Daniel Woolfall, from Lancashire, was elected FIFA president.
At the onset of the First World War, The FA allowed the 1914-15 FA Cup competition to run its course, with the government agreeing that the continuation of football would boost morale.
The construction of Wembley Stadium was completed just four days before the 1923 FA Cup Final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United. The official capacity was 127,000, but the crowd that descended on the match was much larger. The game got underway 45 minutes late and it was decided that all future Cup Finals would be admittance by ticket only.
The FA withdrew from FIFA, and did not enter a team into the first three editions of the FIFA World Cup™. However, a link with FIFA was retained – that of the International FA Board (IFAB). The IFAB accepted Stanely Rous’ re-written 17 laws of football in 1938, the most significant overhaul of the laws since 1863.
In the years leading up to World War II, England beat Italy (the World Cup holders) 3-2 and Germany 6-3. After hostilities began, the FA helped get the country’s young men into combat shape, with nearly 200 football grounds used as ‘Fitness for Service’ centres to prepare more than 40,000 men for war.
Post-war FA look to future
As well as rejoining FIFA after the war, The FA offered help with funding to clubs and associations at all levels to improve standards across the country. They also appointed Walter Winterbottom as ‘Director of Coaching’ and ‘England Team Manager’. He went on to build a national coaching scheme which would become the envy of the footballing world.
The FA passed its 100th birthday, and plans were underway to host the 1966 FIFA World Cup. It was the first tournament to receive major television coverage, with the global audience for the finals estimated at two billion. England won an eventful Final 4-2 against West Germany after extra time.
Sir Alf Ramsey’s team went to Mexico in 1970 with a realistic chance of retaining the trophy, but were defeated by West Germany 3-2 at the quarter-final stage. After failing to qualify for World Cup 1974, Ramsey was dismissed and, after an unhappy spell with Don Revie at the helm, they also failed to qualify for Argentina in 1978.
Lilleshall begins Bobby Robson renaissance
Ron Greenwood was preferred to Brian Clough as the new permanent manager, and he led the team to an unbeaten 1982 World Cup, with the side exiting in the Second Round. Bobby Robson succeeded him and under his tutelage, The FA set up a centre of excellence at Lilleshall in 1984. England lost a quarter-final to an Argentinian ‘Hand of God’ and goal of brilliance at Mexico in 1986 and went on to their best performance in a World Cup on foreign soil at Italy in 1990, exiting on penalties at the semi-final stage to their old foe, West Germany.
Due to the horrors of Bradford, Heysel and Hillsborough in the late 1980s, Justice Peter Taylor’s report saw a plan for the radical modernisation of football stadia, with the arrival of ‘all-seater’ grounds. Following this in 1991, the FA Council agreed to set up an ‘FA Premier League’ to start in the 1992-93 season with a long term goal of reducing the number of games for top players to help the England team.
Though England failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1994, ‘Football came home’ as the country hosted UEFA EURO 1996. Terry Venables’ side reached the semi-finals of a feel-good tournament. The FA bought Wembley Stadium three years later and a renovation was completed in 2007. The 126th FA Cup Final, between Chelsea and Manchester United, was the first final to be played there. England met Brazil in the first international at the new stadium two weeks later.
New Wembley heralds new era
In the meantime, England hired their first foreign coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, and failed to get beyond the quarter-finals of the World Cup. In a progressive move, the ‘FA Women’s Super League’ began in 2011, replacing the FA Women’s Premier League as the highest level of women’s football.
Following the closure of the centre of excellence at Lilleshall in 1999, St George’s Park was opened in 2012. It is a state of the art facility, a centre for coaching education and a leading centre of sports medicine and science. It provides a training home for all of England’s 24 representative sides and it includes an elite training pitch graded to exactly match the current surface at Wembley Stadium.
The FA hope St George’s Park will act as a springboard to return the glory days of 1966, and establish a successful production line to stand alongside those of European rivals Spain and Germany. Current manager Roy Hodgson, who was appointed last year following Fabio Capello’s departure, has led the full England team to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.