English public schools

    While football continued to be played in various forms throughout Britain, its "public" schools (known as private schools in other countries) are widely credited with four key achievements in the creation of modern football codes. First of all, the evidence suggests that they were important in taking football away from its "mob" form and turning it into an organised team sport. Second, many early descriptions of football and references to it were recorded by people who had studied at these schools. Third, it was teachers, students and former students from these schools who first codified football games, to enable matches to be played between schools. Finally, it was at English public schools that the division between "kicking" and "running" (or "carrying") games first became clear.
The earliest evidence that games resembling football were being played at English public schools — mainly attended by boys from the upper, upper-middle and professional classes — comes from the Vulgaria by William Herman in 1519. Herman had been headmaster at Eton and Winchester colleges and his Latin textbook includes a translation exercise with the phrase "We wyll playe with a ball full of wynde".
Richard Mulcaster, a student at Eton College in the early 16th century and later headmaster at other English schools, has been described as "the greatest sixteenth Century advocate of football".Among his contributions are the earliest evidence of organised team football. Mulcaster's writings refer to teams ("sides" and "parties"), positions ("standings"), a referee ("judge over the parties") and a coach "(trayning maister)". Mulcaster's "footeball" had evolved from the disordered and violent forms of traditional football:
[s]ome smaller number with such overlooking, sorted into sides and standings, not meeting with their bodies so boisterously to trie their strength: nor shouldring or shuffing one an other so barbarously ... may use footeball for as much good to the body, by the chiefe use of the legges.In 1633, David Wedderburn, a teacher from Aberdeen, mentioned elements of modern football games in a short Latin textbook called Vocabula. Wedderburn refers to what has been translated into modern English as "keeping goal" and makes an allusion to passing the ball ("strike it here"). There is a reference to "get hold of the ball", suggesting that some handling was allowed. It is clear that the tackles allowed included the charging and holding of opposing players ("drive that man back").
A more detailed description of football is given in Francis Willughby's Book of Games, written in about 1660.Willughby, who had studied at Bishop Vesey's Grammar School, Sutton Coldfield, is the first to describe goals and a distinct playing field: "a close that has a gate at either end. The gates are called Goals." His book includes a diagram illustrating a football field. He also mentions tactics ("leaving some of their best players to guard the goal"); scoring ("they that can strike the ball through their opponents' goal first win") and the way teams were selected ("the players being equally divided according to their strength and nimbleness"). He is the first to describe a "law" of football: "they must not strike [an opponent's leg] higher than the ball".
English public schools were the first to codify football games. In particular, they devised the first offside rules, during the late 18th century.In the earliest manifestations of these rules, players were "off their side" if they simply stood between the ball and the goal which was their objective. Players were not allowed to pass the ball forward, either by foot or by hand. They could only dribble with their feet, or advance the ball in a scrum or similar formation. However, offside laws began to diverge and develop differently at the each school, as is shown by the rules of football from Winchester, Rugby, Harrow and Cheltenham, during between 1810 and 1850.The first known codes — in the sense of a set of rules — were those of Eton in 1815 and Aldenham in 1825.)
During the early 19th century, most working class people in Britain had to work six days a week, often for over twelve hours a day. They had neither the time nor the inclination to engage in sport for recreation and, at the time, many children were part of the labour force. Feast day football played on the streets was in decline. Public school boys, who enjoyed some freedom from work, became the inventors of organised football games with formal codes of rules.
Football was adopted by a number of public schools as a way of encouraging competitiveness and keeping youths fit. Each school drafted its own rules, which varied widely between different schools and were changed over time with each new intake of pupils. Two schools of thought developed regarding rules. Some schools favoured a game in which the ball could be carried (as at Rugby, Marlborough and Cheltenham), while others preferred a game where kicking and dribbling the ball was promoted (as at Eton, Harrow, Westminster and Charterhouse). The division into these two camps was partly the result of circumstances in which the games were played. For example, Charterhouse and Westminster at the time had restricted playing areas; the boys were confined to playing their ball game within the school cloisters, making it difficult for them to adopt rough and tumble running games.
    William Webb Ellis, a pupil at Rugby School, is said to have "with a fine disregard for the rules of football, as played in his time [emphasis added], first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus creating the distinctive feature of the rugby game." in 1823. This act is usually said to be the beginning of Rugby football, but there is little evidence that it occurred, and most sports historians believe the story to be apocryphal. The act of 'taking the ball in his arms' is often misinterpreted as 'picking the ball up' as it is widely believed that Webb Ellis' 'crime' was handling the ball, as in modern soccer, however handling the ball at the time was often permitted and in some cases compulsory, the rule for which Webb Ellis showed disregard was running forward with it as the rules of his time only allowed a player to retreat backwards or kick forwards.
The boom in rail transport in Britain during the 1840s meant that people were able to travel further and with less inconvenience than they ever had before. Inter-school sporting competitions became possible. However, it was difficult for schools to play each other at football, as each school played by its own rules. The solution to this problem was usually that the match be divided into two halves, one half played by the rules of the host "home" school, and the other half by the visiting "away" school.
The modern rules of many football codes were formulated during the mid- or late- 19th century. This also applies to other sports such as lawn bowls, lawn tennis, etc. The major impetus for this was the patenting of the world's first lawnmower in 1830. This allowed for the preparation of modern ovals, playing fields, pitches, grass courts, etc.
Apart from Rugby football, the public school codes have barely been played beyond the confines of each school's playing fields. However, many of them are still played at the schools which created them (see Surviving UK school games below).
Public schools' dominance of sports in the UK began to wane after the Factory Act of 1850, which significantly increased the recreation time available to working class children. Before 1850, many British children had to work six days a week, for more than twelve hours a day. From 1850, they could not work before 6 a.m. (7 a.m. in winter) or after 6 p.m. on weekdays (7 p.m. in winter); on Saturdays they had to cease work at 2 p.m. These changes mean that working class children had more time for games, including various forms of football.


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