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”.
Rules of Cambridge
That ancestral football was developing during the Antiquity and the Middle Ages, but the key turning point happened in 1848 in the country that has always been considered as the football inventor: England.
There, a sport called Medieval football (also known as folk, mob or Shrovetide football) was practised, although it had almost no rules. Medieval football consisted in carrying a ball in the best manner possible until the opposite goal. And this is word-for-word: the only limit that was not permitted to cross was the murder of a rival, but only the fact that this extreme was taken into account clearly illustrates the aggressiveness of this primitive football which is still practised in some towns of the country like Ashbourne, as you can see in the next clip.
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.
But not all the assistants to these meetings agreed with the adopted agreements. The most belligerents were the Rugby School’s representatives, who did not endorse the agreements and left Freemasons’ because of insisting on playing with the hands. However, their ideas were the seed for the rules of another sport that is easy to guess taking into account the name of their town.
The original rules
Although nowadays the Laws of the Game has added up to 17, the original 13 are still the backbone in terms of structure.
The first rule was and still is “The field of play”. The length of the field currently measures between 100 and 130 yards and its width is between 50 and 100 yards. However, at the beginning the field was quite a bit bigger than nowadays: while it was specified than the maximun width neither could overpass 100 yards, its length must have been 200 yards.
The rule also mentioned that length and width must have been delimited with flags, which later became the corner flagposts, and how goals must have built: without crossbar, an element that nowadays seems essential. Nonetheless, the distance between goalposts have remained the same since them: 8 yards
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.
We have mentioned before that the goal did not count with crossbar. It should be asked when a goal was valid, especially in terms of height. The rule four answered that question: it does not matter how high the ball has crossed the goal.
The inventors of the Laws of the Game also legislated about how to restart the match when the ball was out of play by crossing the throw-in line. The rule 5 firstly mentioned that, once the ball was out of the field, the first player that touched the ball must have been the thrower. Maybe this aspect could be recovered in order to avoid a classic form of wasting time: when a player is going to make a throw-in and, at the last moment, drops the ball to a teammate.
Which is harder to imagine in modern football is the rest of the characteristics that defined the throw-in. First of all, the fact that the player must have thrown the ball in a right angle from the point were the ball has crossed the throw-in line (another rule that currently exists in rugby) and, secondly, the ball could not be played until the ball had touched the floor. Those throwers who are capable of placing the ball around the penalty mark without effort will have more difficulties to generate dangerous plays with these limitations.
At the sixth place we find one of the most emblematic football rules: offside, so unknown for the non-football lovers and so hard to explain to them. However, it was easier at the beginning: as we have mentioned before, an offside occurred if a teammate was towards the ball after kicking it and touched or impeded a rival from touching it. To sum up, we can say that the ball could not be passed ahead (another mention to rugby) and, therefore, subjective and controversial aspects such as offsides interfering with the line of vision of the goalkeeper had no place in the first offside version.
We have previously talked about how to restart the match with a throw-in. But what does it happen when the ball crossed the goal line? The fight for the ball continued because the first player that touched the ball outside the field of play gained the possession: if it was a defender, with a kind of goal kick over the line; if it was an attacker, with a free kick more than 14 yards away from the goal line and with the rivals over the line. Even though this was not a penalty kick, it seemed to it.
Rules 8, 9, 11 and 12 legislated the “fair catch” as the only form of touching the ball with the hands, explained before, so we are not going to go into further details. Therefore, the last rules that we have to explained to complete the 13 are the rule 10, which specified that tripping, hacking or using the hands to hold or push the adversary was not permitted, and the rule 13, which was referred to the materials prohibited on the soles of the boots.
In relation to the current 17 rules, the biggest omission lies in the lack of a specific rule for referees, basically because they did not exist at that moment. Nonetheless, these rules did not completely finish with the controversy (the split between The Football Association and Rugby is only an example), although we are going to deal with it in the next post about football history.