FOOTBALL HISTORY (1): Football precursors and its first rules
Can you imagine football without offsides, at least just as we know them today? Or without referees enforcing the laws over the field of play? And if we tell you that long time ago penalties did not exist?
Probably a lot of people, especially the youngest, will not comprehend football getting rid of aspects like the aforementioned. However, the complexity that has achieve nowadays has come thanks to an evolution that, although has been accelerated during the last years, goes back to past centuries.
That’s why at LabHipermedia we want to share with you the history of the sport that has inspired the technological innovation that our company leads. And, based on our years of experience in referees’ formation, we have thought that the best way would be to narrate it through the primary tool of referees: the Laws of the Game.
For this reason, in the next weeks we will publish a series of posts in which we will go over how football has developed through its rules, with a ton of curiosities that will delight football lovers. In the first part, we are going to start talking about the ancestral origins of football until its official birth.
Football started to gain the relevance that has nowadays at the 20st century, but its origins goes back to lots of centuries before. Evidences of sports with similar characteristics exist in ancient civilizations so far away between them as Mayan or Roman, although the first text in which a similar sport is described is dated in the III century BC: the cuju code, played in the Ancient China during more than 1500 years. It consisted in passing a ball with the feet until placing it in a net. Does it seem familiar to football?
FIFA itself recognises this sport as the oldest football precursor for which there is evidence, although we have to admit that cuju was not created with the intention of becoming a sport. Its beginnings were linked to the military field, serving as a training for the troops, and later it was introduced in the Chinese society’s upper-class lives. Finally, cuju was expanded as a mass sport in the whole country.
However, all football predecessors have almost disappeared. Probably, nowadays the only survivor is kemari, Japanese adaptation of the aforementioned cuju in which the objective is to pass a ball with the feet trying that it does not touch the floor.
This sport have the support of the Kemari Preservative Association in the Japanese country in the purpose of preventing its disappearance. Nonetheless, it will never leave the school playgrounds and the trainings of lots of teams, although in England it is called “keepy-uppy”.
Matches of this particular sport used to be disputed between neighbouring towns, with the goals placed in each of them. Maybe past arguments between the inhabitants were the reason why it was needed to legislate in order to avoid too much bloodshed during the matches…
More well-mannered variants of this kind of “It’s a Knockout” taken to the extreme of competitiveness began to develop at the dawn of the XIX century in schools and universities of England until the aforementioned date, when some of this schools made an appointment with the purpose of unifying a standard rule for the emerging sport: the known as Rules of Cambridge.
Although the original document was lost, a copy dated in 1856 exists, probably a development of the first Rules of Cambridge. Aspects like the start and the end of the matches, the goal kicks or the offside (similar to rugby, consisting in the prohibition of passing the ball ahead) were already considered in the code, although football was practised with the hands yet.
Under the protection of this rules, their creators arranged a match of this proto-football in Parker’s Piece, a spacious park located in Cambridge. They nailed the rules in the trees in order to those present could know the rules. A monument commemorates this date: “Here on Parker’s Piece, in the 1800s, students established a common set of simple football rules emphasising skill above force, which forbade catching the ball and ‘hacking’. These ‘Cambridge Rules’ became the defining influence on the 1863 Football Association rules”.
The birth of football
The plaque that remembers that ephemeris brings us to the next key date in football history: 1863, year marked by historians as the definitive birth of football. The 26th of October The Football Association was founded, which since them became the maximum organization of this sport in England and have the honor of being the oldest federation in the world, obviously.
Freemasons’ Tavern, placed in London, was home to the meeting that set up the Association and to five meetings more that took place during that year. At these meetings, between pints and arguments which confronted the supporters of playing with the hands or with the feet, the 13 original football rules were established based on the Rules of Cambridge.
However, there were lots of differences between both rules. The clearest example is the ban in using the hands: the new rules specified that the ball could not be catched from the floor with the upper limbs, let alone run, throw or pass the ball with them. There was only a case in which hands could be used: the “fair catch”, a play that exists in American football which consists in blocking an air pass catching it with the hands before the ball touches the floor.
The second and the third original rules can belong to the current eighth, called “The start and restart of play”. The start of the match was very similar to rugby: the team that lost the toss of a coin began the play with a kick towards the rival side of the field. Incidentally, it should be recalled that both teams exchanged their side of the field each time one of them scored a goal.