26 October 1863: the Football Association is founded

On this day in 1863, 12 London football clubs got together at the Freemasons’ Tavern in London to form the Football Association to govern the increasingly popular sport.

Freemason's Tavern, Great Queen Street, London © Bob Thomas/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images
Freemason's Tavern, where the Football Association was founded
(Image credit: © Bob Thomas/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

The rules of football are pretty straightforward, you'd think: kick the ball in the goal, and don't use your hands. Even the offside rule isn't particularly difficult to grasp if you make even the slightest effort.

But it took a surprisingly long time to settle on a standard form of play.

Ebenezer Morley was a Yorkshireman, a solicitor, and the founder of Barnes FC in southwest London. At the time, there were a lot of arguments about what the rules should be. So Morley invited representatives of 12 London clubs to form an association to govern the game. A meeting was set for Monday 26 October 1863 at the Freemasons' Tavern in Great Queen Street, and the Football Association was born.

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After six meetings, the FA came up with 13 rules, which were approved and written down in the FA Minute Book on 8 December. But they were a little different to the current rules.

For a start, the goal had no crossbar – a goal counted no matter how high it crossed the line between the posts. There was no goalkeeper. Teams changed ends after each goal scored. Players were allowed to make a “fair catch” – if they caught the ball cleanly, they were awarded a free kick (much like Australian Rules football today, perhaps). Throw-ins had to be at right angles to the touchline. And if the ball went behind the goal, things got complicated, and could end up with the attacking team being awarded an unopposed free kick in front of the goal. And the offside rule wasn't introduced until 1866.

By 1871, the FA counted 50 clubs who had paid the annual £1.1s membership fee. Charles Alcock decided it would be a good idea for a Challenge Cup to be established "for which all clubs belonging to the Association should be invited to compete". And so the FA Cup was born.

Alcock also came up with the idea of the first international match, and on 5 March 1870, England played Scotland at the Oval cricket ground, with the result a 1-1 draw. Oddly, because the Scottish players were based in London, Fifa doesn't recognise this as a proper international match. The first "official" international match took place between Scotland and England in Glasgow in 1872.

Ben Judge

Ben studied modern languages at London University's Queen Mary College. After dabbling unhappily in local government finance for a while, he went to work for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh. The launch of the paper's website, scotsman.com, in the early years of the dotcom craze, saw Ben move online to manage the Business and Motors channels before becoming deputy editor with responsibility for all aspects of online production for The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News websites, along with the papers' Edinburgh Festivals website.

Ben joined MoneyWeek as website editor in 2008, just as the Great Financial Crisis was brewing. He has written extensively for the website and magazine, with a particular emphasis on alternative finance and fintech, including blockchain and bitcoin. As an early adopter of bitcoin, Ben bought when the price was under $200, but went on to spend it all on foolish fripperies.