Friday, April 18, 2008

A history of the development of football codes from proto football (the Rugby and Soccer split)

An early Australian Rules Football game in 1879.

I find the history of football interesting, no less because Australia is poised for the great football wars. What many people do not realise is that the sport we call "footy" in most of Australia is actually older than soccer. It always helps to have an understanding of history before making judgements in these issues. Recently I read a blog about soccer by an American who claimed that Americans didn't like soccer because it is an "ethnic sport" (i.e Mexicans). There have been similar arguments about soccer in Australia in recent decades.

To understand the history of all football codes better, it helps to understand the concept of "proto-football." Much like an ancestral language such as Proto Indo-European, there was a proto form of football that no longer exists today, and is the ancestor of all modern football codes. In fact there were proto football games in many cultures around the world, just as there were proto versions of bat and ball games. However it is the English proto-football that all modern codes are descended from. No other versions were ever formalised in other countries.

Proto-football was a game with sometimes a round ball and sometimes an oval ball. The basic concept was to move the ball to one end of the field. Sometimes this was done with only feet and sometimes with hands too. There were not a lot more rules than this. Modern sports began to be formalised within the 19th century. There are perhaps many reasons for this, which I have not researched closely, but emancipation is probably a big one.

Rugby School, 1859.

Rugby Union is actually the oldest of the formalised codes. Perhaps its history could be traced to 1823, when during a game of proto-football William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it. This story has been disputed though. In 1839, the world's first formal football club of any kind was founded, the Barnes Club in London, it was a Rugby club. Then in 1845 the rules of Rugby were formalised. These rules were accepted by some football teams and not by others. Also in the 1820s, boys at the Eton school made a rule that the ball should not be touched with the hands, which could be seen as the embryonic development of soccer. At that stage there were still many varieties of football played and teams often had to agree on the rules before the game began.

I have mentioned in a previous post some of the story behind the development of Australian Rules Football. There are perhaps many factors involved in the birth of Australian football, but it was definitely a descendant of proto-football. There was even a proto-football game called Marn Grook played by Australian Aboriginal people with a possum skin, which was a foundational influence in the game. Considering that the Australian Aboriginal peoples are the most ancient peoples on earth, proto-football could possibly have existed for millenia.

Australian Football Rules were codified in 1859 by Tom Wills and the Melbourne Football Club. Geelong had their own rules which did not require the ball to be bounced, but by 1866 they accepted the Melbourne rules. The Melbourne Club was founded on May 14th 1859 and the Geelong Club shortly after on July 18th, 1859. Australia being so far from the rest of the world, and transport being what it was, Australian football began to develop on its own. The game was played a little in South Africa and Scotland circa 1900. In 1900 there were 100 clubs in New Zealand. New Zealand was a founding member of the Australasian Football Council. (See- Australian Rules - from Colonial past-time to World Footy.) The biggest reason why soccer did not take off in Australia is that it was only birthed as a sport long after Australia was formed. This is different from cricket, which was well established before Australia was ever settled by the English.

Soccer, or "Association Football" was not codified until 1863. There were many football clubs in England at the time who had to agree on the rules of the game before it started. Some played a game more similar to Rugby, some more similar to Soccer. An association of clubs came up with the rules for the game that is soccer or that much of the world call football. It is important to understand that even though this code is considered "the world game" it has no stronger claim on the name football than any of the other codes. It's birth came in the same time period as Rugby and Australian Rules Football (indeed a little later). Soccer is a derivative of the word association, from Football Association.

During the codification of rules for the Football Association there was a dispute at the final meeting on December 1st 1863. The initial treasurer for the FA withdrew the club of Blackheath over two important rules that had been withdrawn. These two rules were 1) being able to carry the ball in the hands or under the arm and 2) being allowed to kick, trip, tackle and knock a player down (hacking). These are the fundamental differences between Rugby and Soccer. F.W.Campbell the treasurer of Blackheath was recorded to say, "hacking is an essential element of the 'football' game that this club (Blackheath) wants to play. To eliminate hacking would "do away with all the courage and pluck from the game, and I will be bound over to bring over a lot of Frenchmen who would beat you with a week's practice". These differences began in the 1820s and were still being sorted out in the 1860s. The game of soccer as we know it today did not exist before 1863. This dispute lead other Rugby clubs to break from the Football Association and to form the Rubgy Union in 1871.

Australian Rules Football and Gaelic Football have an interesting relationship. There are arguments that each sport was influenced by the other. What ever the case, the Gaelic Athletic Association codified their game in 1887. Rugby and Soccer had been played in Ireland during the 1860s and 1870s and were both influential in the game of Gaelic Football. Hurling probably also has some influence on the game and controversially also Australian Football.

American Football diverged from Rugby and no other sport. Rugby was played in both America and Canada in the second half of the 1800s, but with the development of their own versions of Football, Rugby faded in both of those countries and is only beginning to increase in popularity now. American Football can trace its history back to the first recorded game in 1892. The American Professional Football Association was not formed until 1920.

Rugby League split from Rugby Union in 1895 over a dispute regarding payments. Northern Rugby teams in England were mostly made up of coal miners who could not afford to take time off work to play without compensation. The southern clubs believed that Rugby should remain an amateur sport and disagreed. This led to the formation of the Northern Rugby Union. The rules gradually changed over the next 12 years. In 1907 the rules were codified separately from Rugby Union and in 1922 the name of the NRFU was changed to the Rugby League.

Soccer may be the most popular version in the world, but it is not the oldest form of the game. Rugby has a stronger claim than soccer to being the older game. Soccer does not have an exclusive claim on the word football. It would in many ways be more accurate to use the word "football" as an umbrella term for the 7 codes of the game (Rugby Union, Australian Rules, Soccer, Gaelic Football, American Football, Rugby League and Canadian Football). Each of the seven codes have terms to refer to themselves. I resent the marketing approach of Soccer in Australia, that they claim to be the true version of Football, and that they have a greater claim on the name. This is historically, grossly inaccurate. Australian Rules Football or Footy is an older game than Soccer and Soccer did not even exist before 1863, when it split with the then dominant version of the game, Rugby.

Further evidence that Aussie Rules is the reconciliation code of football.

A history of Rugby, demonstrates that proto versions of football from around the world are common ancestors of both Soccer and Rugby. Soccer does not have an exclusive claim on this.

Australian Rules - from Colonial past-time to World Footy-

Wikipedia articles were consulted on the history of all football codes.

Appendix: Codification of major world sports:

1571: Tennis. The game was popular in both England and France and dates back to Norman times. Modern rules have diverged from this earlier game, which was clearly none the less Tennis. Historians now refer to the historic game as "Real Tennis." The first modern tennis club was formed in 1872 in England.
Golf- dates back to the 1100s, but the laws were codified in 1754 by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrew's in Scotland.

1716: Curling- popular in the 1500s. The first club, Kilsyth Curling Club in Scotland constituted the laws in 1716.

1728: Cricket- Articles of Agreement, 1728. Laws of cricket codified, 1744. Amendment of Laws (LBW and middle stump added), 1774. Cricket was popular from the 1600s onwards.

1845: Rugby

1845: Knickerbocker Baseball rules. The Knickerbocker club was founded on September 23, 1845. The 20 original rules were written down at the same time. Earlier claims to baseball games played are made before this date, such as a June 4, 1838 game in Beechville, Ontario, but this can not be deemed to have been played to the same rules. A game was played on September 11, 1845 in the New York area, and it is more possible that it was played to similar rules to the Knickerbocker club. The first official game after the Knickerbocker club was formed was on October 6, 1845. First professional club (Cincinatti Red Stockings), 1869. National Association, 1871. National League, 1876.

1848: Lawn Bowls- this would have been a lot earlier. It was already popular in the 1300s, but was banned by the King in the fear that it would detract from Archery practice, needed for battle. The law remained a long time after gunpowder.
Croquet- 1868 (also popular from the 1300s)

1849: Field Hockey- Blackheath, England.

1859: Australian Rules Football (AFL, Footy).

1863: Association Football (Soccer), England.

1871: Rugby Union.

1877: Ice Hockey- the origins of Ice Hockey are hotly disputed as it could have originated from many European versions of the game. In fact a Society for International Hockey Research has been founded to come up with a definitive historical answer to this question. It developed throughout the 1800s in Canada and the first official club was formed in 1877 at Mc Gill University in Montreal, Canada, they are credited with codifying the laws.

1884: Hurling- Modern Laws by the Gaelic Athletic Association in 1884. Evidence of the game dates back to 400 AD.

1887: Gaelic Football

1907: Rugby League- Yorkshire, England.

1920: American Football.

1946: Basketball- the game was deliberately invented in 1891. The Basketball Association of America was established in 1946. Significantly however, dribbling was only introduced in the 1950s, when the modern ball was introduced. Originally a soccer ball had been used.

1961: Canadian Football- first club University College, University of Toronto.

1984: International Rules Football. (A hybrid between Gaelic and Australian rules for the purpose of matches between Australia and Ireland.)


Anonymous said...

Interesting article but where did you get the idea that "the Australian Aboriginal peoples are the most ancient peoples on earth"?
Human beings evolved in Africa. It took a while to migrate all the way to Australia.

Anonymous said...

Also, "soccer" has been traced back to Vikings decapitating heads & wrapping them in pig skin to kick around - rules came a little later. But your research on soccer is VERY wrong.. just saying :)

Pasha said...

What, so I didn't provide enough sources?

It is very clear that soccer originated in England from boys schools that then developed into the Association of Football in 1863.

Many cultures may have some form of kicking or throwing a sphere, but the modern game of soccer is 100% from England as is the modern game of Rugby. These are historical FACTS verified over and over by MANY historians.

SJ said...

Great article, very well written and researched.

p_terg said...

A brave person makes comments under the name "anonymous". Wonder what *their* sources were?!

I, personally, enjoyed the post, and like the idea of references: which I will be using to research my own piece!

Thanks Pasha!

p_terg said...

Also, I love the comments made here in Sydney about the State of Origin being a Rugby League idea, where SoO was a big part of the VFL at one point!