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The Origins And Codification Of Football (Part 2)

[Continuing from Part 1]

The Victorian ideal was of the gentlemen amateur, playing sport to develop good morals. However, working class men, mainly from the north of England, could not afford to take time off work to train and play. As such, they looked to be paid for playing. This led to disputes with rugby, with rugby league (which allowed players to be paid) splitting away from union (which adhered to the amateur ideal) in 1895. A similar dispute within association football in 1885 was resolved by allowing limited payments to players, thus averting a similar split.

Parallel efforts to codify the rules of “football” in Britain’s colonies or former colonies, to which “football” had spread from England, resulted in the following football codes being established in the 19th century:

Tom Wills, who had been educated in England, proposed the formation of a code of rules in Australia in 1858, which led to the creation of Australian rules football.

Between 1873 and 1880, a set of inter-collegiate rules were established in the United States, from which American football was developed.

Between the 1860s and the 1880s, the rules of rugby were modified in Canada, resulting in a form of football which is now very similar to American football.

Various forms of football played in Ireland in the 19th century were codified in 1884, giving rise to Gaelic football.

Each code of “football” is defined by the rules of the sport. The rules of “soccer” are now determined by the International Football Association Board, which was formed in 1882 by the football associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Since 1958, the IFAB has comprised of representatives of each of these football associations, and four representatives from FIFA. FIFA was founded in 1904.

According to FIFA, the “very earliest form of the game for which there is scientific evidence was an exercise of precisely this skilful technique dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries B.C. in China (the game of Cuju).” However, “football” as it is played today is derived from the codification of the rules of various forms of the game played in England since the middle ages.

While the American football’s National Football League and Australian rules football’s Australian Football League have the highest average attendances for any domestic professional sports league in the world, they have little following outside of their own countries.

Top average attendance figures at domestic professional sports leagues worldwide (from Wikipedia)


Sport (Country)




Total Average
1. NFL American football (USA) 2006 256 17,340,879 67,738
2. Australian Football League Australian rules football (Australia) 2007 185 7,050,945 38,113
3. Bundesliga Association football (Germany) 2006-07 306 11,518,923 37,644
4. Premier League Association football (England / Wales) 2006-07 380 13,094,307 34,459
5. Major League Baseball Baseball (USA / Canada) 2007 2,430 79,502,524 32,785
6. Canadian Football League Canadian Football (Canada) 2006 72 2,112,696 29,343
7. La Liga Association football (Spain) 2006-07 380 10,958,440 28,838
8. NPB Baseball (Japan) 2006 846 20,406,598 24,121
9. Ligue 1 Association football (France) 2006-07 380 8,290,346 21,817
10. Serie A Association football (Italy) 2006-07 380 7,019,740 18,473
11. J. League 1 Association football (Japan) 2006 306 5,597,408 18,292
12. Football League Championship Association football (England / Wales) 2006-07 552 10,057,992 18,221
13. Eredivisie Association football (Netherlands) 2006-07 306 5,523,957 18,052
14. Primera División Argentina Association football (Argentina) 2003-04 384 6,667,392 17,363
15. Bundesliga 2 Association football (Germany) 2006-07 306 5,145,311 16,815
16. National Rugby League Rugby league (Australia / New Zealand) 2007 201 3,332,638 16,580
17. Scottish Premier League Association football (Scotland) 2006-07 228 3,692,232 16,194
18. Major League Soccer Association football (USA / Canada) 2006 192 2,976,787 15,504
19. Turkish Premier Super League Association football (Turkey) 2006-07 306 4,301,748 14,058
20. A-League Association football (Australia / New Zealand) 2006-07 90 1,263,785 14,042

The fact that last weekend’s Australian Football League final saw Geelong Cats crush Port Adelaide by a record score of 163 to 44 in front of a crowd of 98,000, becoming the first Melbourne side to win the title since 2000 (despite the domination of the State of Victoria in the AFL) garnered little attention outside of Australia.

Despite the growth of Rugby Union outside of its traditional strongholds, the Rugby Union World Cup currently taking place in France does not attract as much attention as the English Premier League or the European Champions League even though the latter competitions are still at an early stage, while the quarterfinals of the Rugby Union World Cup are being played this weekend.

Apart from the greater global attention that the top levels of “soccer” attracts, very large numbers of people also play association football at an amateur level. According to a survey conducted by FIFA published in 2001, over 240 million people from more than 200 countries regularly play the game. Other forms of the game, such as 5-a-side futsal and beach soccer, are also gaining popularity.

The simple fact is that the simplicity of the rules of “soccer” lends itself to game being picked by boys and young men around the world, regardless of their social background or physical size.


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