This year, as many readers may be aware, marks a significant anniversary in the world of football and in particular the Laws of the Game. It was 150 years ago that the Football Association was formed at a meeting in the Freemason’s Tavern in Lincoln Inn Fields. The meeting’s main purpose was to agree a standard set of rules so that the various clubs that had sprung up, could play competitive matches against one another. Football has of course been played in one form or another for over 2000 years but this was the first attempt to draw up universal rules. A year or two ago I was presented with a small book containing facsimiles of the hand written rules that were agreed. This was a tribute to this column, by a leading referee in the town, who said the articles had helped his refereeing career.
Only eleven clubs, represented mainly by ex-public school boys, attended that first meeting when they formed themselves into The Football Association. There were other football associations in other parts of the country, notably in Sheffield, but with the help of the FA Cup, they all became committed to the FA as the ruling footballing body in England. Another factor arose from a different type of competition, the start of matches between England and Scotland in 1870. These of course also needed an agreed set of rules. This was followed by games against Wales and then Ireland. In 1883 when the first international championship was played between the four nations, the International Football Association Board was formed and ever since then, the Board alone has had the power to alter or amend the rules or laws as they had become called.
But of course organised football didn’t remain confined to the UK; it spread world wide thanks in no small part to ex-public school boys and others from these shores, who took not only the game but also its laws. It was not surprising therefore that this led to other national football associations being formed. In 1900 the Football Associations sent teams to play in Europe, which was followed by European teams playing matches against one another. This also needed conformity to the laws, so they formed the Federation of International Football Associations. The FA was concerned that this could prove a threat to the authority of the International FA Board for the Laws, so in 1913 two members of FIFA joined the Board with full voting members. This meant that the same Laws would apply to all national associations affiliated to FIFA. This arrangement remains to this day except FIFA now have four members and as all proposals have to be agreed by at least six to two, they have effectively the control over any changes.
When you consider that some of the footballing giants such as Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Italy and Spain have only a voice on the International Board through FIFA, it may seem strange that minor footballing countries like Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have direct representation. Although England’s referees are still highly regarded and English instructors train referees around the world, its football team has not been a leading player for forty years, yet it still plays a major role on the International Board. This may all be about to change. Under the ‘Items for discussion and decisions’ at the Board’s meeting in Edinburgh this weekend, one item is the structure of the IFAB. It seems ironic that one hundred and fifty years after the FA, by agreeing standard rules for the game, started football as we know it today; their right to still hold a leading position may now be questioned.