The Football Association of England will be one hundred and fifty years old this year. The actual date of the birth of the FA however is 26th October, 1863, which means the plethora of news stories and ‘interviews’ with Great Men of the game who are invited to offer the FA their grateful felicitations are a touch premature, to say the least.
The funniest of these forced ‘Happy Birthdays’ so far has emerged from an interview with the ‘Special One’ himself. In a commodious armchair, with arms and legs fully akimbo (Mourinho that is, not the armchair), the Great Man takes time out to offer his ‘congratulations to the English Football Association’.
Of course, a special person like Jose recognises a special organisation like the FA more easily than mere mortals, and he uses some curious phrases in praise of the latter. ‘A person in love with the game must be in love with the English FA’, he insisted. ‘It represents ‘the good smell of football’. Well, I kind of know what he means.
For my money, the greatest thing we have to thank the FA for is the Rules of the Game. The formation of the FA, at a meeting in a pub called ‘The Freemasons Tavern’ in late October, 1863, did not lead immediately to the production of the Rules. There was a huge argument amongst representatives of the dozen or so clubs attending about whether ‘hacking’ (attacking your opponent’s body with your booted feet) and ‘handling’ (controlling the ball with hands) was legitimate.
It turned into a vehement confrontation based on subtle distinctions of social class, between the ‘super posh’ and the ‘merely posh’. The former didn’t like to touch the ball with their hands, thank you very much (and kicked the ball under not over the bar, don’t you know); the latter wanted to be able to draw blood from the thighs of those they tackled (illustrating a player’s ‘pluck and courage’).
It took them a further six meetings over forty four days to sort it out, and the Rules of the Game of ‘Association Football’ as we know them were finally signed off on 8th December, 1863. Some of the ‘hackers & handlers’ were devastated at the result.
One complained that this namby-pamby version of the game, avoiding life threatening tackles and major wounding, would rebound on all Englishmen. It would mean that ‘a bunch of Frenchmen will come over and beat you, I’ll be bound’, as one of the hackers said at the time. A highly prophetic statement, as it turned out.
But thank the lord for the victory, I say. It is non-handling and severe limitation on outright physical attack (encouraged in rugby and all its bloody offspring) that eventually converts footie into both ‘the people’s game’ (ie physically democratic: almost any normal body can take part) and ‘the beautiful game’ (ie virtually impossible to play properly because control with feet is unsustainable outside of the ‘magic’ of a Messi).
The truth is that, at any one time, only a few dozen people on earth can actually ‘play’ football, which is wonderful when you think about it, but agony to watch every week.
THIS WEEK’S ARTICLES:
KEIR RADNEDGE: FOOTBALL IS THE PEOPLE’S SPORT…AND THE OLYMPIC GAMES PROVES IT
PROZONE: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES – EVALUATING STARTEGIES FOR MID-SEASON RECRUITMENT
ROGAN TAYLOR: NEW YEAR REVOLUTIONS
DELROY ALEXANDER: TIME FOR GOVERNMENT TO INTERVENE
Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool. He is also a writer and broadcaster, with five football books and numerous radio and TV contributions. He has acted as a special adviser to The FA, The Premier League and Premier League Clubs.
The views of our regular columnists are independent, and as such do not represent those of Leaders in Football.