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Football: Early history in brief

The history of football is not as clear as some would imagine. Variations of the game appear to have been played around the world for centuries, prior to England’s Football Association being formed in 1863.

There are accounts of some forms of the game having been played in China more than 1,000 years ago, although it would have looked like rather a different sport to that which we’re used to today. Early versions of the game were often somewhat violent and we know that, in London, to take one example, there were periods when the game was banned.

The game that we know today eventually emerged, it is widely agreed, from the British Isles. In reality, there were immense variations from one region to the next and we can see how multiple forms of the game emerged and persist to this day with the likes of Gaelic football, rugby union, rugby league and association football itself.

But there were even variations when it came to the rules of the game that we now know and love as being football. Even once the rules were finally agreed in 1863, there were still local differences. So, to take one example, the ball itself would have been of varying sizes and weights, depending upon where the match was to be played. Similarly, there was no agreed duration of a match until later.

In 1872, the first organised football cup competition was to take place. Known as the Football Association (FA) Cup, it remains in operation and is rightly cherished. The league championship commenced in 1888 and was, rather fittingly, first won by a Lancashire team: Preston North End. It’s not surprising that football remains such a key sport in this county.