Kicking around a ball has been a popular entertainment from Medieval times, though the games were, to say the least, anarchic. There are even suggestions that the early balls were human heads of executed traitors thrown to the crowds for sport.
History of Football
Over the years, football has been variously promoted and banned, the latter because of the general disorder associated with playing it, but little could be done to dent its popularity. By the mid nineteenth century is was played at most English public schools, though each school has its own set of rules. Various attempts were made to develop unified rules; but it wasn’t until 1863 and the formation of the Football Association (FA) that the rules were generally adopted.
In 1862 a London solicitor called Ebenezer Morley formed the Barnes Football Club. Popular with players who had attended various public schools, there were frequent disputes about how the game should be played. Morley suggested that Football should have official rules in a similar to how the MCC had rules for cricket, and the eventual outcome was the formation of the FA in October 1863 at the Freemasons’ Tavern in Great Queen Street, London. The clubs involved included Barnes FC, Crystal Palace, Charterhouse, Forest, Blackheath, Surbiton and War Office (now Civil Service FC).
The rules agreed were somewhat different from those of today. Handling the ball was permitted, though there was a dispute regarding kicking an opponent on the leg which some wanted to allow.
In 1871, at the instigation of Charles Alcock, the FA launched the FA Challenge Cup competition, and a little later Alcock was also behind the first England Scotland International, which England won 1-0. In 1888 the Football League was launched. Consisting of 12 clubs, it did much to increase the popularity of the sport.
FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association is now the sport’s governing body. Founded in 1904 to oversee international matches, its first competition was for the 1908 London Olympic Games. The original members were France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Spain (Madrid Football Club), Sweden, and Switzerland; the English FA did not participate, though they subsequently joined in 1905.
Fast forwarding to the present era, Association Football is played in over 200 nations and the laws of the game are governed International Football Association Board (IFAB) which was established by FIFA in 1904. The game has countless fans and manages to evoke huge passions worldwide. The most popular football club in the world is Manchester United which is said to have 659 million fans. Other popular clubs include Barcelona with 260 million fans, Real Madrid with 180 million fans, and Chelsea with 140 million.
Major Association Football Competitions and Leagues
FIFA World Cup
The FIFA World Cup is without doubt the most important football competition in the world, and the World Cup Final is the second most watched sporting event in the world; the Super Bowl is the most watched.
The completion is held every four years, with the host being chosen by ballot following hotly contested bids from the various nations hoping to host the event. The first tournament was in 1939, and apart from interruptions in 1942 and 1946, it has been held every fourth year since then.
The competition includes qualifications which are held in six FIFA continental zones and which commence three years before the main event, with the final 32 national teams taking part in a month long final knock-out tournament. The current champion is Germany, and the last time it was won by England was in 1966 when England was also the host nation. The most successful nation is Brazil, who have won it five times.
UEFA European Championship
The UEFA European Championship. Mostly referred to as the Euros, is held every four years out of phase with the World Cup. Euro 2016 will be held in France between 10 June to 10 July and will we the first time that a full complement of 24 teams take part. While the host nation qualifies automatically, other teams compete in qualifying rounds for which all national teams that are UEFA members are eligible. This is played in a group format with the groups decided by a draw which includes seeded teams. The groups play in a league format including play-offs. For Euro 2016 there were 53 national sides which played in nine groups. The winners and runners-up of each group qualify along with the team in third place. The other teams finishing in third place compete in play-offs to select the other four qualifiers.
The finals will consist of six groups of four teams selected by a seeded ballot and the games will be played over 10 stadia with a total of 51 games being played. The groups are:
- Group A: France, Romania, Albania, Switzerland
- Group B: England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia
- Group C: Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Northern Ireland
- Group D: Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey, Croatia
- Group E: Belgium, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Sweden
- Group F: Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Hungary
The winner and runner up of each group play in the quarter finals in a knockout style tournament.
The current cup holder is Spain who won the previous two competitions. The best performance by England was in 1996 when they made it as far as the semi-final, with Alan Shearer winning the golden boot with 5 goals.
The FA Cup is one of the most famous football tournaments in the world. Played annually, to is a knockout football which was first held in 1871-72, which makes it the world’s oldest domestic football competition. Open to all 92 professional clubs in the English Football League and many non-league teams, the 2011-12 season saw a record 763 entrants. Winners receive the FA Cup and qualify to play in the UEFA Europa League and the FA Community Shield, a single match played against the previous season’s Premier League champion or runner up. Currently the champions are Arsenal, who now hold 12 titles.
UEFA Champions League
Organised by Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the Champions League is the most prestigious football competition in Europe. It was launched in 1992 as a replacement for the European Cup. The season runs from mid-July as a knockout format with the winners of this joining the pre-qualifiers to decide on the final 32 teams which go on to play in eight groups of 4 teams each followed by a knock out tournament. The most successful club is Real Madrid, a ten times winner. Liverpool is the most successful British club.
The Premier League
In England the Premier League is the highest league in the football league system. There are 20 clubs each of which plays 28 matches through the season. Currently sponsored by Barclays Bank, it is officially called the Barclays Premier League. Now the most watched football league in the world, its first season was in 1992 to 1993 and was won by Manchester United. Since then Manchester United has dominated the league, winning on 13 occasions. The only other winners have been Chelsea with 4 wins, Arsenal with three, Manchester City with two and Blackburn Rovers with one.
EFL Cup (League Cup)
Despite all the changes that the EFL Cup / League Cup has experienced over the years, the format has remained pretty much consistent with that of a straightforward, knockout cup competition: an open draw with single matches per round (no replays), with extra time and penalty shootouts deciding the winner where required.
The Championship is the second top division in English football. Its inaugural season was 2004 and it consists of 24 teams. Each season the two top teams along with the winner of the play-offs are promoted to the Premiership. Being promoted is a huge deal, both status wise and financially.
Association Football is without doubt the most important sport in the world. One reason is that it works at all levels from the elite footballers who play in the world’s leading clubs through to amateur players who play in their local teams.