1863 football rule book given 'rightful place' alongside Magna Carta in British Library

The handwritten book by Ebenezer Cobb Morley contains the 13 original laws of football
  • @MrNickClark

Football is played in over 200 countries involving hundreds of millions of players and fans, and is worth billions of pounds. Now the book that started it all off has been placed alongside the Magna Carta, though temporarily, in the British Library.

The 1863 Football Association Minute Book, a book that “changed the world,” is the centrepiece of the Library’s first display on football, on loan from the FA as part of its 150 anniversary celebrations.

Jude England, head of social sciences at the British Library who curated the display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery, said: “This is an iconic item. It’s where the rules of football started before they spread round the world.

“To have it properly in terms of its social and historical importance is why it should be alongside items like the Magna Carta and Jane Austen’s writing desk,” she added.

The book, handwritten by Ebenezer Cobb Morley, contained the 13 original laws of football and documented the meetings of the Football Association formed, in October of 1863 at the Freemasons’ Tavern in London.

Cultural commentator Melvyn Bragg included the book in his work Twelve Books that Changed the World, published in 2006.

Greg Dyke, chairman of the FA, said at the unveiling of the loan at the Library this morning: “This was the first time anyone had written down the rules of football. This is a really historic book. There are few things that changed the world, but as Melvyn said, this book changed the world.”

He added: “It’s a key part of our 150th anniversary. You can’t underestimate the importance of this. If you look at the importance of football worldwide, it all started here.”

England manager Roy Hodgson was also at the launch, his first official “higher arts” engagement in the role. He told The Independent that it was “long overdue” that the book was given such prominence.

“I think it’s good that it’ll go on display,” he said. “It should be a very popular exhibit given the popularity of the sport. I guess in 1863 they wouldn’t have been able to imagine the enormous power football now wields.”

The book, which also records the establishment of the FA Cup, is valued at £2.5m, which Mr Dyke pointed out “would be a lot of money in most worlds but wouldn’t buy you a decent full back in football.”

The display also includes fanzines and works including player John Goodall’s Association Football written in 1905 about how to play and the type of temperament needed. It said: “There is no game more calculated to arouse the evil passions, therefore a great deal of restraint and self-control is absolutely necessary.”

It added that “one great point in football that cannot be urged too strongly is the maintenance of a good temper”.

The curator Ms England said: “People don’t know we have this type of material. They associate with sacred and literary works but we have a massive sport collection. This is part of our drive to open the building up.”

The British Library has “shelves and shelves” of fanzine collections, Roy of the Rovers annuals and Sports Illustrated. Fanzines still come into the collection today.