Pub rows, Gazza's tears and a bad bid: The FA celebrates its 150th anniversary

Glenn Moore charts the chequered history of a governing body which grew from a founding meeting at a pub despite rule disputes and a heated 'hacking' debate


Football in various forms had been played in Britain for more than a millennium when in the mid-19th century attempts began, initially at Cambridge University, to establish a standard set of laws. By 1863 there was sufficient consensus for 14 men representing 11 London-based clubs, two schools and the War Office, to meet at the Freemason's Tavern in Lincoln's Inn Fields, London (now the Grand Connaught Rooms where the FA hosted tonight's gala dinner). They decided to create a "Football Association" comprising the clubs present, then determined a set of rules for the new body, and laws. The latter took five meetings as clubs debated with increasing bitterness whether to allow "hacking". The Blackheath representative argued: "If you do away with [hacking] you will do away with all the courage and pluck of the game ." But hacking was banned along with the less contentious, but ultimately far more significant, issue of whether players should be allowed to run with the ball in their hands. Blackheath withdrew to become a founder member of the Rugby Union eight years later.

The FA Cup

C W Alcock, a Sunderland-born Old Harrovian, became secretary of the fledgling FA in 1870 and proposed a cup competition modelled on the knockout house matches of his schooldays. Thus was born the FA Cup, beginning with 15 entries in 1871-72 mainly based in and around London with the exception of Queen's Park, Glasgow, and Donington School. Alcock himself captained the Wanderers to success in the first final.

The competition had huge consequences. Its popularity helped the FA to increase membership rapidly and influence but also hastened the advent of professionalism and league football. As the Cup became more prestigious, ambitious clubs, primarily from the North, began to lure players from Scotland with jobs and (until the FA reluctantly legalised the payment of players in 1885) "boot money". The rising outlay meant clubs required a more reliable income, prompting the formation of the Football League in 1888 by midland and northern clubs. Already the FA was losing control of the game it had codified.

The first international

Eight months after the inaugural FA Cup final England played Scotland in the first international match, a goalless draw at the West of Scotland Cricket Club in Glasgow. This was also at the suggestion of Alcock, who acted as an umpire (linesman), being unfit to play himself. Reports suggest England wore white, deployed a 1-1-8 formation and played as individuals, Scotland wore blue, played 2-2-6 and showed more teamwork. Both sides "freely indulged in manly charging" and the attendance was around 2,500.

Within a decade both countries were also playing internationals against Wales and Ireland and attracting large crowds, but it was another decade before international matches crossed to the Continent with Austria playing Hungary in 1902. The spread was rapid, hastened by the founding of Fifa in 1904, which the FA initially did not deign to join until 1906.

Wembley hosts the FA Cup final

For two decades the FA Cup final was usually played at Kennington Oval. When it outgrew that the final moved, via two years in Lancashire, to the Crystal Palace (the park, not Selhurst Park). That was requisitioned by the War Office during the First World War so the FA Cup went to Old Trafford, then, after hostilities ceased, Stamford Bridge. The intention was to move back to Crystal Palace, but then Wembley Stadium was built for the 1924 British Empire Exhibition and the FA took advantage, staging the 1923 "white horse" final between Bolton and West Ham there and England v Scotland a year later.

The FA has since become closely associated with Wembley but only staged finals and Scotland matches there until the 1950s and did not own the arena until the end of the century. The £757m cost of rebuilding forced the FA into economies, including delaying the National Football Centre, which finally opened last year

FA quits Fifa and misses World Cup

The FA withdrew from Fifa after a row about Olympic footballers receiving payment for time off work and thus missed the first World Cup in 1930, and those of 1934 and 1938. England would have been among the favourites but had, in 1929, lost their first match to foreign opposition, a weakened side being defeated by Spain in Madrid. While outside Fifa the FA continued to play foreign opposition, not always gloriously. A 6-3 defeat of Germany in 1938 was overshadowed when, on the British ambassador's advice, team members gave the Nazi salute in honour of their hosts.

England wake to world's progress

England rejoined Fifa in 1946 and entered the 1950 World Cup feeling confident. They had lost at Goodison Park in 1949 to the Republic of Ireland but remained unbeaten at home against Continental opposition and had defeated the reigning (albeit pre-war) World Cup holders Italy at home and away. However, in Brazil they crashed out after a shock defeat to the United States and subsequent loss to Spain.

Any sense that this was a fluke was dispelled in 1953 when Hungary came to Wembley and won 6-3, bewildering England in the process. Six months later Hungary won 7-1 in Budapest. Some soul-searching ensued, yet it was not until 1963, and after three further World Cup failures, that the FA appointed a manager with full powers of team selection.

World Cup winners

Alf Ramsey, later knighted, was the first England manager with real power. Ramsey promised to win the 1966 World Cup, and, blessed with world-class talent in Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton, and aided by playing every match at Wembley, he did.

It proved the high-water mark of English football. Ramsey's team lost in the 1968 European Nations' Cup semi-finals – Alan Mullery becoming the first player to be dismissed in an England shirt – and an epic 1970 World Cup quarter-final against West Germany, but the same opponents outclassed them at Wembley in the Nations Cup quarter-finals and they were spectators for the 1974 World Cup, knocked out after being held at Wembley by Poland. Ramsey was fired, but Don Revie was no better. England missed out again in 1976 and 1978.

English hooligans riot across Europe

If failing to qualify for international finals was humiliating, worse followed when England returned to the international stage. Their opening match in the 1980 European Championship, against Belgium in Turin, was held up after tear gas drifted across the pitch as Italian police sought to quell fighting on the terraces. Hooliganism continued to dog the game at home and abroad for the next two decades. In 1985 English clubs were banned from Europe after 39 mainly Italian spectators were killed at the European Cup final in Brussels' Heysel Stadium by a combination of crumbling architecture and Liverpool fans. The FA had already been summoned to Downing St after a riot at Luton that year where secretary Ted Croker told an incandescent Margaret Thatcher "we don't want your hooligans in our game".

The clubs gradually got hooliganism under control but the national team remained a focus for misbehaviour. By Euro 2000 the FA had to lobby hard to avoid England being thrown out of the competition. A combination of police intelligence, new laws and the changing demographic of supporters created such a change in mood the high-spending English fans are now often welcomed.

Gazza and Premier League's birth

English football began the long climb from the darkness of the Eighties at Italia '90 at which Bobby Robson's team went out on penalties to West Germany at the semi-final stage and Paul Gascoigne's exuberant brilliance sparked "Gazzamania". Euro '96, at which England reached the semi-finals, added momentum despite another penalty defeat to the Germans.

In 1992 the FA joined forces with leading clubs finally to outflank its ancient rival the Football League and create the FA Premier League, but there followed the biggest missed opportunity of the FA's long history. The FA failed to ensure safeguards were in place to maintain control over the new league, which swiftly abandoned plans to reduce to 18 clubs, which would have allowed more time for the England team to prepare, and, backed by satellite TV money, soon became the most powerful organisation in the game.

FA allows women to play football

Women's teams flourished in the wake of the emancipation that followed the First World War, so in 1921 the FA banned them from using affiliated stadiums. It was not until 1969 the women's FA was formed, coming under the wing of the FA in 1993. There has been significant investment in the national team, leading to a European Championship final appearance in 2009. Two years later the FA Women's Super League began with eight clubs and will expand to 16 in 2014.

FA Cup ditched for World Cup bid

Having lost control of the Premier League the FA sacrificed the FA Cup in 1999, first scrapping semi-final replays at the behest of clubs unhappy at fixture congestion, then asking holders Manchester United to pull out of their trophy defence to go to Brazil for a Fifa tournament in support of a doomed World Cup bid. A decade later the FA was humiliated anew after a £10m bid was blown away, despite the Prime Minister David Cameron, David Beckham and Prince William traipsing to Switzerland to pitch. The FA did regain some respect when it subsequently, if belatedly, denounced Fifa's corrupt administration and its international prestige will be seen in this year celebrations. Yet the FA faces huge challenges at home, where it does much good but remains structurally unwieldy and financially weak compared to the dominant, and domineering, club game.

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