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The Rise of Association Football

                The rise of Association football, or soccer, in Great Britain and the evolution of it into Britain’s national game is a long evolution process.  While many sports endure great amounts of change and reform in their paths to their peak interest and final basic existence, few endure the change in basic principles that Association football did.  Very few people would guess that soccer players were able to use their hands to catch the ball as recently as 1876.  There was a time where it looked like cricket or rugby may rise as the national sport of Britain.  However, in the 1790’s and early 19th century we begin to see the rise of football with the decrease of the “free-for-all” style, the urbanization of England, and perhaps most importantly, the minimal requirements and ease of access for playing. 

                Describing football’s origins can be a bit difficult due to the long road and many changes it has endured.  There was a time when the term football could be used to describe football, soccer, rugby, and many types of hybridized forms of all of them.  The art of a player using their feet as a means of control was early recognized as fascinating and difficult, and has been around for over a thousand years.  There are examples of games resembling soccer dating back to 3rd Century B.C.E. China, as well as the appearance in about the 3rd Century C.E. of the Japanese game of Kemari.  However, the origins of the football we know in its present form, which strongly emphasizes competition, lie in rural towns of sparsely populated areas where the sport was used as a means of free time entertainment.  However, with the rise of interest in the sport and the Industrialization and Urbanization of England, football begins to broaden its base and gain large amounts of interest.  With this, we begin to see public schools and universities begin to adopt football as a school sport and outlet of aggression, whilst instilling their own form of the game and preferred set of rules.  For example, Eton practiced two forms of the game, one as a wall game, and the other as a field game.  Winchester used long, narrow fields, and kicked and chased a ball without the use of goals.  While Westminster practiced a form of the game that would today be commonly viewed as “keep-away.”  Later on, Eton would become an important instrument in the evolution of modern soccer, as it emerged as the predominant school who played the version of football known as soccer, rivaling against the school of Rugby, who allowed catching and tackling, and did not play with goals.  In 1863, at a Freemason’s Tavern, representatives from 11 teams try to come up with a compromise regarding the rules.  Through this we see the establishment of the Football Association (FA), which practiced the soccer version, and the Rugby Association, which practiced the rugby form.  With the FA, football begins to resemble its modern form, and slowly adopts rules and codification while evolving into the game we see today. 

                Public schools, Muscular Christianity, and the demand of Imperial Britain all had prominent roles in shaping the sport of football.  As said earlier, public schools played a role in not only increasing the interest in the sport, but also to leading to established organizations, codified rules, and the emergence of football teams.  The students at public schools were often arrogant and exhibited senses of superiority to their school teachers, which led to the implementation of soccer as an outlet for some of these aggressive feelings.   The belief that moral and physical excellence is more important than intellectual and genital traits begins to quickly attract followers, and is known as Muscular Christianity.  This movement leads to many schools adopting physical education as a predominant and important aspect of their curriculum.  From this implementation arises the large amount of school teams and clubs that will help football become so popular.  The interests of Imperial Britain played a role in making soccer what it was today.  The rise of Methodism and its emphasis on emotional appeal and did not favor crude violence, as well as industrialists and businessmen who did not want anything “new”  to disrupt business helped lead to the evolution of football as a “people’s” sport. 

                The regulations and codification of football that helped evolve it into the sport we know it as today were numerous, as well as dispersed through time.  As early as 1846, Cambridge devised a set of codified football rules.  The establishment of the Football Association in 1863 was perhaps the most important date for the game of modern football.  It helped to firmly and clearly distinguish it from the sport of rugby.  In 1876, the ban on catching was codified.  In 1892, it was established that there would be a net on the goal, and the size of the ball was to be regulated at 27-29 inches.  The implementation of the offside rule was paramount in the separation of rule sets between rugby and football.  All of these important rules were paramount in establishing a set of codified rules and regulations that helped football become a sensation nationwide. 

                While rugby and cricket outright outlawed professionalization in their sports, soccer was quick to see that it would be wiser to accept it, and the FA began regulated profession.  The roots of this decision lie firmly in the workmen, middle to lower class identification with the sport of football.  The professionalization of football greatly upset the upper class that immediately lost control of the teams and players.  Broken time payments paid workers for hours that they were not working. Later, direct payments pay players simply for their play on the team, and the sport becomes their job.  The reluctance of members of the upper class to become professional athletes derives from the negative connotation that is a result of being paid to play a sport.  Amateurs are supposed to play because they are wealthy and have the privilege, not because they require or desire the money.   However, because football is so largely identified as a sport of the lower classes, this taboo is not associated with them.  This led to the minimized reluctance to accept professionalization in the sport of football. 

                 This association of the working class and football is due the stages of evolution of the sport.  At the very early stages of team organized football, rich university graduates would often play against skilled artisans.  The working class artisans begin to emphasize the workman like aspect of passing and cooperation, helping to directly revolutionize the sport.  The industrialization and urbanization that took place during the Industrial Revolution led to the migration of many workers from rural areas to more densely populated urban areas for jobs in factories and mills.  While this decision was monetarily motivated and beneficial, it often led to the workers abandoning the people that they knew.  Because of this, many workers joined clubs and organizations that played football, and they began to take interest in the sport.  Workers begin to demand more personal time, higher wages, and better treatment.  Through time, they are compensated with things such as shorter hours, and half Saturdays, which lead to the proliferation of workers playing football.  This identification with each other helps lead to football truly becoming a sport for the working man. 

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