Almost 150 years ago, Ebenezer Morley sat with representatives of a dozen London and suburban football clubs in the Freemason’s Tavern in England’s capital. At that meeting they began to establish a definite code of rules for the game and it was the beginnings of what is now known as the Football Association (FA).
Some of those rules have changed over the course of the sport’s history, but the FA has remained and it celebrates its 150th birthday this year. The organisation turned to giants of the game to launch their anniversary celebrations and to kick off a 2013 of unforgettable events.
FA Chairman David Bernstein welcomed the 400 guests to the event and opened the proceedings: “Internationally, we have always and will continue to play our part in influencing the development of world football through UEFA and FIFA. Even after 150 years, there remains a simple beauty to the universality of football. Through hope, ambition and a love of the game it links us all – every player, coach, official and fan.”
A continuing theme throughout the dazzling presentations was the focus on football development in all forms of the game.
“I am particularly passionate about the strong progress in our disability programme," Bernstein continued. "Over 115,000 participants take part in some form of disability football every week. It is also appropriate that women's football, the third most popular team sport in England, will take a central position during 2013.”
The England ladies will hope to build on the excitement Great Britain created at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012. Their coach Hope Powell spoke about her 15 years at the reins.
“For me to be involved is a real honour," she said. "An ambition of mine as a young girl was to be part of an organisation where I could be part of something great. The game’s come a long way – it’s grown in every department, whether that’s the number of girls playing or the opportunities for females to work in the game.
“The number of female referees and coaches has increased, so everything has got better. It’s in a healthy position. Hopefully the future will be bright.”
Roy Hodgson will also be hoping for a bright 2013, with home and away fixtures against Brazil and more 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifiers to come.
“It’s a massive year for the team and for the nation, one I’m really looking forward to," he said. "Qualifying [for Brazil 2014] is vitally important. If we qualify we have to give a very good account of ourselves at the World Cup in Brazil, and who knows? When you’re there, you have a chance of winning.”
“There are a lot of very good young players coming into the game and playing well. They have the ability to shoulder the burden that the more experienced players have done in the past. Hopefully we’ll have a good blend of older and younger players.”
England will play the first of their fixtures against Brazil at Wembley on 6 February, with the return fixture set to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June. Captain Steven Gerrard believes they will be “really exciting games". He added: “It’s a huge honour to be involved playing for England and being captain of the country."
The FA were keen to stress that the universal and international appeal of the English game was not just limited to their South American opponents.
Best wishes pour in from around the world
Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and UEFA President Michel Platini all sent messages of support. FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter also sent his best wishes to the FA on its special birthday: “If you look back on that day, 26 October 1863 in the pre-mentioned tavern in Queen Street, they were the pioneers who started to organise the Football Association. It is now the FA because it is the number one in FIFA.
“When we speak about playing for England and wearing the Three Lions' shirt in front of a full house at Wembley, it’s the proudest moment an English person can have,” he said. “Stepping out not just as an England player, but stepping out as captain of your country, for me it’s the proudest moment that I have had in my career.”
His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, the President of the FA, spoke of his pride in those often unheralded heroes, the footballing volunteers.
“I would like it to highlight the incredible efforts of the 400,000 volunteers that deliver the game week in, week out, up and down the country,” he said. “The mums and dads, coaches, referees and administrators who give their time to make pitches ready, organise the fixtures and wash all those kits.”
The 150th anniversary is aiming to celebrate diversity across all forms of the game throughout 2013, and a packed schedule that includes the UEFA Champions League Final at Wembley (celebrating its 90th year), games against the Republic of Ireland and Scotland and a national football day dedicated to Sir Bobby Robson will all kick off with the FA England Awards at the organisation's new centre of excellence, St George’s Park, on 3 February. It is sure to be an incredible year-long birthday party and celebration of the beautiful game.