Victorian era - Football History - 1840-63

Soldiers in the Victorian era were used, to stop people playing Football in Richmond and in 1846 a troop of cavalry were used after the Riot Act was read in Derby, to disperse Football Players.  Football mania hit many parts of Britain.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, in Australia, the historian and writer Robert Brough-Smythe, in his book 'The Aborigines of Victoria', quoted one Richard Thomas describing a game he saw played in 1841, named 'Marn Grook', where "the foremost player will drop kick a ball made from the skin of a Possum and how other players leap into the air in order to catch it".  The theory is that this was the origin of Australian Rules Football.

Finally, in 1848 a proper set of Rules for playing Football, were drawn up at Cambridge University.  This allowed all schools to play against one another.  Goalposts as we know them today were stipulated, as were rules concerning handling the ball (only by the Goalkeeper).  Goal kicks and throw-ins (one hand only) were introduced and a form of Football Team Strip was introduced, by virtue of different coloured caps.  And so, the Cambridge Rules of Football were introduced.  But no mention was made about Teams, Tournaments or Football Trophies at this time.

Public School matches against boys from their local towns often ended up in violence, but did help to spread the Cambridge Rules of Football.  Public school boys continued playing football when they went to Universities and some continued after they left, forming clubs like the Old Harrovians, Old Etonians and The Wanderers.

The first official English Football Club formed, was the Sheffield Football Club, based at Bramall Lane, in 1857.  They played games against teams from London and Nottingham.  Today, still playing at their grounds at the Coach and Horses Ground in Dronfield, Derbyshire, they are officially the oldest club.  The Bramhall Lane Ground has since been taken over by Sheffield United.  The first official British Football club was formed in 1824, in Edinburgh, enterprisingly named 'The Foot-Ball Club'.


The statue near Melbourne Cricket Ground, on the (approx) site of the 1858 "foot-ball" match Melbourne Grammar v Scotch College. Tom Wills is umpiring two young players, contesting the ball. The plaque reads: "Wills did more than any other person – as footballer and umpire, co-writer of the rules and promoter of the game – to develop Australian Football during its first decade."

In 1862, the first ever inter-club Football Game was recorded in a newspaper.  On December 29th, Sheffield played Hallam in a charity match.  The ‘Sheffield Independent’ report says “At one time it appeared that the match would be turned into a general fight. Major Creswick (of Sheffield) had got the ball away and was struggling against great odds with Mr Shaw and Mr Waterfall (of Hallam). Major Creswick was held by Waterfall and in the struggle Waterfall was accidentally hit by the Major. All parties agreed that the hit was accidental. Waterfall, however, ran at the Major in the most irritable manner, and struck him several times. He also threw off his waistcoat and began to show fight in earnest. Major Creswick, who preserved his temper admirably, did not return a single blow".

The following week, a letter appeared in The Sheffield Independent, defending the actions of William Waterfall: "The unfair report in your paper of the football match played on the Bramall Lane ground between the Sheffield and Hallam Football Clubs calls for a hearing from the other side. We have nothing to say about the result - there was no score - but to defend the character and behaviour of our respected player, Mr William Waterfall, by detailing the facts as they occurred between him and Major Creswick. In the early part of the game, Waterfall charged the Major, on which the Major threatened to strike him if he did so again. Later in the game, when all the players were waiting a decision of the umpires, the Major, very unfairly, took the ball from the hands of one of our players and commenced kicking it towards their goal. He was met by Waterfall who charged him and the Major struck Waterfall on the face, which Waterfall immediately returned".  No Football Trophies for sportsmanship!

The Cambridge Rules of Football were modified in 1862, specifying 11-a-side, an umpire from each side, a neutral referee and goals 12ft across & up to 20ft high!  Also, an offside rule was added. A man could play a ball passed to him from behind, providing there were three opponents between him and the goal. The length of the Football Game was to be 1 ¼ hours and the first game using the new 'Football Rules' took place between the Old Harrovians and the Old Etonians in November of the same year.

Some schools refused to accept the modified 'Cambridge Rules of Football' and, in 1862, John Charles Thring of Uppingham School, produced a new set of rules.  These new 'Simplest Game of Football' rules allowed for far less violence.



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