Baseball could have become the dominant global gameby Matthew Taylor / June 19, 2014 / Leave a comment
Aston Villa football team in the late 19th century.
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On 26th October 1863, representatives of 12 clubs met at the Freemason’s Tavern in Great Queen Street, London, to discuss the creation of a common set of football rules. At the time, most teams played according to distinct rules, influenced by the games they had learnt at school and university. Some advocated a game where the ball could be carried and where “hacking” (kicking the shins) was permitted. Others preferred dribbling as the main method of propelling the ball.
A composite game based on elements of both looked likely. But at the fifth meeting of the new Football Association (FA) on 1st December, a number of supporters of a rugby-style game were absent and President Arthur Pember and Secretary Ebenezer Morley took advantage by removing hacking and running with the ball from the rules.
In response, advocates of the Rugby School game left the FA. They eventually formed the Rugby Football Union (RFU) in 1871 and rugby developed as a separate sport. Over the next half century, the game incorporated in the FA’s first rules, association football, flourished. It spread across the United Kingdom, continental Europe and the informal and formal empire. In many parts of South America, Africa and Asia it was embraced as the national sport and, with the introduction of the World Cup in 1930, became a global game.
But what if Pember and Morley had been absent from the 1st December meeting? How would the sporting world have been different if the advocates of running with the ball had triumphed, with the FA presiding over either a rugby-style game, or one containing elements of both codes?
A rugby-style game might have taken an early lead in the football “code war” that raged from the 1860s to the 1880s. A differently constituted FA might have been more active in convincing followers of dribbling-style games in places like Sheffield, Nottingham and Scotland to convert over to its code. The major cities of Lancashire and Yorkshire might have acted, alongside London, as the bases from which the FA’s rugby game colonised other “football” codes. Cup competitions and leagues might have emerged in rugby first, stoking civic pride and leading to further expansion.
An Association Football…