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The History Of Professional Football

Two major milestones this year:

There can be no doubting the English origins of association football, in the second half of the 19th century.

However, 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).”

The fact is, there is no historical link between cuju and association football. There is however a clear evolutionary path from the mob game played in England in the middle ages to the modern game. (The mob element may have remained within English football until as late as the 1970s and 1980s, but that’s another story.)

In its early years, the ideal of amateur sport held by Victorian “gentlemen” (who were from upper and middle class backgrounds) was to be found within association football, as with many other sports developed or codified in 19th century England. Professionalism was first legalized within football in 1885, and even then, subject to a maximum wage (which remained in place until 1961).

Similar tensions in rugby led to the split between union and league in 1895.

The earlier split between football and rugby took place within the gentlemen classes.

The very impetus to codify the rules of the game stemmed from the gentlemen classes. “The idea was to ‘play up and play the game’ – play your best but play by the rules.”

However, the converging interests of private capital and enterprise (which sought to make a profit from the business of football), and players from working class backgrounds (who needed or wanted to be paid to pay), changed the face of football as early as 1885.

(Article first published on BBC 606)


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