The Early History of Soccer

Story by Jessica Satherley for The Daily Mail, October 18, 2011:

It has been the nation’s favourite game for centuries.

And now historians have discovered evidence that suggests football is actually 350 years older than first thought.

Experts believed the modern version of the game was established in the 19th century, with earlier matches involving barbaric scraps between dozens of players on pitches two miles long.

However, documents suggest that British royals hosted less chaotic games in their courtyards in the late 15th century.

Historic game: The world's oldest football, found in Mary Queen of Scots' bed chamber from the mid-16th century, is backed up by the new findingsHistoric game: The world’s oldest football, found in Mary Queen of Scots’ bed chamber from the mid-16th century, is backed up by the new findings

Scottish Football Museum curator Richard McBrearty, who discovered a manuscript of accounts from King James IV of Scotland that showed he paid two shillings for a bag of ‘fut ballis’ as early as 11 April, 1497, said: ‘We now have accounts of small football matches taking place in the grounds of castles, which suggests the game in its current form is much older than officially documented.’

Mr McBrearty also came across several diaries at the National Library of Scotland describing the games played for royals, which featured smaller pitches and teams of ten.

Players were only allowed to use their feet and were commended for their ‘skilful’ touches on the ball, a leather-bound pig’s bladder.

Richard said today: ‘Historians have always assumed the civilised game of football with rules, similar to the game played today, wasn’t developed until much later because there was no record of it.

‘We always knew about the ‘mob football’ games, which were illegal, because there was so much trouble that people would be arrested and charged with violent offences.

Etchings from the first ever international football game Etchings from the first ever international football game (England V Scotland) played at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground published in December 1872 from The Graphic, a London based illustrated weekly paper

 Modern game: Arsenal’s Theo Walcott (left) takes on Sunderland’s Kieran Richardson during their Premier League match on Sunday


1848: The Cambridge Rules were written at Trinity College, Cambridge, at a meeting attended by representatives from Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester and Shrewsbury schools. They were not universally adopted

1850s: Many clubs are formed across the world, some coming up with their own distinct rules

1863: The football Association (FA) first meets on the morning of 26 October at the Freemasons’ Tavern in Great Queen Street, London. Further meetings eventually produced the first comprehensive set of rules

1870-1872: Five matches are played between England and a team of London-based Scottish players. They are not considered full internationals by FIFA.

1872: The first full international match in Glasgow between Scotland and England ends in a 0-0 draw

1872: The FA Cup is founded by founded by C. W. Alcock

1888: The first league is founded, with 12 clubs from the Midlands and the North competing

1904: FIFA, the international football body, was formed in Paris. It declared it would adhere to the FA’s Laws of the Game

1930: The first World Cup is held in – and won by – Uruguay

1950: England enters the World Cup for the first time, but suffer the indignity of losing 1-0 to the U.S.

1955/56: The first European Cup is won by Real Madrid

1966: England win the World Cup

1990: Gazza’s tears as England lose to Germany in the semi-final of Italia 90

1992: The Premier League is formed and the European Cup becomes the Champions League

2011: Wayne Rooney gets sent off against Montenegro and is banned for England’s Euro 2012 group games

‘But we now have accounts of small football matches taking place in the grounds of castles which suggests the game, in its current form, is much older than officially documented.

‘It appears football was more of an evolution than a 19th century revolution.’

Richard made his discovery as he re-catalogued old documents held at the National Library of Scotland.

He discovered evidence of Royal involvement in football thanks to the diary of nobleman Sir Francis Knollis, who was ordered by Queen Elizabeth I to hold Queen Mary of Scots under house arrest in Carlisle when she fled Scotland after being forced to abdicate amid civil rebellion.

The diary, which was sent to the English Privy Council reporting on Mary’s movements, shows an account of a game played for the Scottish monarch in 1568, where players kicked a ball using only their feet.

Played at Carlisle Castle and watched by Mary, the game had 20 players and lasted two hours – the same duration for the first official Association football match in Scotland between Queen’s Park and Thistle FC in 1868.

The ‘pitch’ was 50 metres long (half a modern football pitch) with trees planted at either end used as goal posts.

Richard has also found evidence of games being played with a proper pitch and a limited number of players at Edzell Castle, in Angus, Scotland, and at Stirling Castle, in Stirling.

The Edzell Castle games, thought to have taken place in the early 17th Century, were played within the castle’s walled garden, built around 1604.

Richard also found accounts of matches including a game in the early 1580s when a foul and ensuing quarrel between the Fifth Earl of Bothwell (Francis Stewart) and another man on the pitch ended with demands for a dual to the death.

The new claims suggest that football was being played around the same time John Cabot set sail for North America

The diary, written by English ambassador Robert Bowes, reads: ‘Some quarrel happened the other day between Bothwell and the Master of Marischal (George keith) upon a stroke given at football on Bothwell’s leg by the Master.

‘After that the master had before received a sore fall by Bothwell.’

The fight was only avoided when word spread to King James VI, who called off the dispute.

Accounts from the home of King James IV of Scotland dated 11 April, 1497, were also found.

They document an order in which two shillings were ‘given to Jame Dog (a servant) to by fut ballis to (for) the King’.

The first football clubs were formed until 1824 when Edinburgh University student John Hope compiled his own team, simply named ‘The Football Club’.

But the game as we know it, following the rules played today, wasn’t officially invented until 1848, when professors at Cambridge University first wrote down a set of rules for the school’s club.

Richard added: ‘It is quite clear there is quite a different style of game being played in courtyards.

‘We have now found there are enough examples to make a case for football being invented much earlier.

‘These documents show that the game as we know it didn’t just materialise.’

During excavation inside Stirling Castle in the mid-1970s, workers came upon a round object hidden behind the thick oak-panelled walls of the bedchamber used by Mary, Queen of Scots.

What they found was a leather ball, which has been determined to be the oldest football in the world – dating back to the mid-16th century and signifying the earliest known reference to the sport and royalty.


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