The Football Association 1863-1883: A Source Book – Tony Brown


As the title suggests, the author of this book has consulted a variety of old sources to commit to paper the earliest history of the Football Association. That history does not, incidentally, start in 1863, the year the FA was established, but way earlier. Long before 1863 there were many sets of rules and regulations in use, resulting in different varieties of football, which made the call for a single, universal set of rules increasingly louder (and not just from within the footballing community). With so many variations in the rules across Britain, representatives of public schools and clubs from London and vicinity gathered at the Freemasons’ Tavern in Covent Garden, London, in October 1863, with the intention of formulating a uniform set of rules.

A first draft was drawn up at this first meeting, with four more lively and sometimes dramatic meetings to follow that year. The drama was provided by disagreement over a number of the suggested rules, with a number of clubs, led by Blackheath, withdrawing from the newly formed FA in favour of subsequently developing rugby football. Ultimately, on 8 December 1863, a set of 13 rules was adopted by the members. This book provides reports of all of these and later meetings taking place in the first 20 years of the FA’s existence, interspersed with newspaper articles, lists of newly joined clubs and reports of football matches, including the very first FA Cup final and the very first international match between an English team and a Scottish team. Many pages in this title are dedicated to the frequent changes to the rules in those formative years.

earliest minutes FA

A page from the earliest minutes book of the FA

Value for active referees

None whatsoever, but that was to be expected. This skinny book sets out the earliest days of the FA, and although it clearly explains when and why the referee first made its appearance on the field of play, refereeing is not at the core of this title. What the author does do is demonstrating that those first years were an uphill struggle for the FA at times, the association having been only a hair’s breadth away from disintegrating through internal strife. It wasn’t until the creating of the FA Challenge Cup, in 1871, and the unification of the FA and the rival football association in Sheffield, in 1877, that the FA’s footing became firmer, paving the way for the type of football as we know it today.

This book is not a page-turner. There is, truly, not a great deal of fun to be had in seeing the many law changes listed every few pages, accompanied by notes on how FA members could bicker about the precise wording of the throw-in rule. Likewise, the many lists of newly joined clubs give this book an air of constantly repeating itself. Lastly, the minutes of the meetings do not always make for fun reading. The best bits are the reports, taken from contemporary newspapers and magazines, of football matches. These provide a great overview of the style of play and the conduct of players on and off the field.


Final say

This is not a book you take to bed for a bit of light reading. Its target area is sport historians and as such it is a most valuable book. I know of no other book that sets out in such great detail how the Football Association in those first years of its existence had to conquer a place for itself in English society. By no means was that an easy task, this much is clear from the book.

Apart from its evident historical value, this title shines most of all through its publication of reports of football matches and readers’ letters. They are the cement, the glue holding the many rule changes and minutes together. Altogether it goes to clarify how football developed from a badly regulated type of mob game to a unified sport.

Title The Football Association 1863-1883: A Source Book
Author Tony Brown
Year 2011
Pages 110
Publisher Soccerdata
2.5 / 5     

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