11 Key Moments in Football History

The National Football Museum is putting together its Eleven Key Moments in Football History for their new location and is interested to hear yours. Here are mine:

  1. 1864-8: Quintin Hogg, assisted by right-hand man Lord Kinnaird (who’d go on to be President of the Football Association and create the tradition of a royal presence at FA Cup Finals) take boys from their Ragged School near the Strand out into the country to play football (and cricket) on day trips. It’s a very early instance of the use of football as an educational, life-shaping game for everyone. Churches, factories and mines up and down the UK will adopt the idea, and many of our most famous clubs will emerge as a consequence. Hogg goes on to pioneer football as part of the curriculum in secondary education at his Regent Street Polytechnic.
  2. 1883: Northern working class football overtakes the amateur game with Blackburn Olympic’s FA Cup win over Old Etonians (for whom an ageing Lord Kinnaird stars). In truth, northern teams had probably been better for a couple of years by then. But the sheer expense of travel, coupled with disadvantages in height and weight owing to diet, served to conceal the change.
  3. 1885: Professionalism gets the go-ahead from the FA, with especial support from Lord Kinnaird and Major Marindin. Within a decade, this will have the effect of all but closing off the international game (and the top of the domestic game)to amateur players of all backgrounds. A series of financial scandals between 1890 and 1914 will confirm the fears of professionalism’s opponents, but football avoids the splits endured by rugby and the bizarre master-and-servant compromises of cricket.
  4. 1892: Goodison Park becomes the world’s first really substantial football stadium. Nothing like the Old Lady had been built since the days of the Roman Empire. It triggers a stadium-building “arms race” which culminates in Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge. No club – with the sole and partial exception of Leeds United – that failed to get its stadium up and running before 1914 will ever win a Football League Championship, and the biggest pre-1914 clubs still dominate the club game.
  5. 1901: the introduction of the Maximum Wage stabilizes the Football League financially. But players, some of whom have already become amongst the most famous entertainers in the land, will no longer be able to parlay their talent and work into a middle class standard of living. In 1927, Dixie Dean (Everton, 60 goals) meets Babe Ruth (New York Yankees, 60 home runs) and puts a brave face on the millions amassed by his US rival.
  6. 1919: with the creation of Division 3 (North) one season after the Southern League is rolled up into Division 3 (South), the Football League assumes its current size. It was then, and is now, the biggest and most stable professional football league in the world. But the impoverished, poorly-supported clubs of Division 3 (North) never match the title-and-cup-winning achievements of the Division 3 (South) entrants and remain the Football League’s Cinderella clubs to this day.
  7. 1925: Herbert Chapman and Charlie Buchan respond to the change in the offside rule by inventing the WM formation. It’s the start of modern English football management as we know it. And WM is the last real British football innovation. After this, the British game will cherrypick European and South American ideas but remain an intensely conservative thing of itself.
  8. 1928: Uruguay retain the Olympic football title. The South Americans are the first national team from outside the UK with a good prime facie case for being the world’s best. The 1924 and 1928 Olympic football competitions are bigger than any of the pre-War World Cups – and Uruguay would win the first of those in 1930 anyway.
  9. 1956: Manchester United become the first English side to enter the European Cup, following Scotland’s Hibs who’d entered the year before. The European Cup will grow to become one of the most important tournaments in the world, outstripping the World Cup itself for money and weight of talent – if not, as yet, for glamour. It’ll be another eleven seasons before first Celtic, and then Busby’s final United side, lift the trophy, reflecting just how much the footballing initiative has gone beyond Britain. British clubs will achieve much success in Europe over time, without ever producing evidence that British football has truly caught up with the modern game.
  10. 1989: the publication of the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough Disaster begins a process that will transform the country’s obselete stadia into the greatest concentration of safe, attractive modern grounds in the world. With a bit of assistance along the way from Sky Television and Paul Gascoigne, the Taylor Report will change the game’s image in England forever.
  11. 1995: the Bosman ruling finishes the job that George Eastham and Jimmy Hill started. The unfair and archaic class-ridden restraints of trade that prevented footballers from gaining market value from their talent are gone. Although there is now near-consensus that things have swung too far in players’ favour, with pay demands destabilizing famous old football clubs, there is none about how to restore the balance.

Needless to say, I could have written 100 – but eleven is the key. Put yours in the comments, and also send them to @footballmuseum on Twitter.

21 Replies to “11 Key Moments in Football History”

  1. 1. 1848: the Cambridge rules are first drawn up at Cambridge University.
    2. 1860: foundation of the oldest club in continental Europe, Lausanne Football and Cricket Club.
    3. 1863: based on the Cambridge rules, the FA published the “Laws of Football”, the first comprehensive set of rules for the game later known as association football.
    4. 1872: the first FA Cup was a success and within a few years all of the clubs in England wanted to take part. To do so they had to accept the FA code, which led to the quick spread of a universal set of rules.
    5. 1872: the first international currently recognised as official by FIFA (us v you).
    6. 1885: the first non-European international (US v Canada).
    7. 1888: William McGregor a gentleman from Perthshire and a director of Aston Villa F.C was the main force between meetings held in London and Manchester involving 12 football clubs, with an eye to a league competition, later becoming the Football League’s 12 founder members.
    8. 1895: the first recorded women’s football match was held in England between a northern and southern team.
    9. 1921: women were banned from playing on FA league grounds, effectively destroying the game in England for the next 40 years.
    10. 1962: I got my only game for my school football XI, having swapped to rugby two years before. Talk about a selection emergency.
    11. 1964: after a dismal start to the rugby season in my university intramural league, I swapped back to football, scored a hat-trick in my first match, and instantly returned to rugby saying that football standards hadn’t half slipped in my absence from that game.

    You may guess which bits of the above didn’t come from Wikipedia.

  2. 11 SHOULD be in Wikipedia as a real-world example of the adage. Could 10 be the first selection emergency? I’m struggling to remember an earlier one, although that could be the insomnia. And you’re right about football, women and the 1921 injustice. WW1 did something odd to the FA Committee. At any time before 1914, that would have been a profoundly odd decision, as well as a profoundly unjust one. After 1918, rather a lot of FA stunts were of that kidney.

    I must correct an error in your list: forgive me. The 1872 first recognised international was between Scotland and England. The United States would, as you point out, soon join the fray. But Yugoslavia didn’t exist until c.1922.

    Didn’t know about Lausanne. Glad I do now. Some of the German sporting clubs were already in existence by 1860, of course, but thought football a game for hooligans and didn’t get around to it until the C20th.

  3. I will do my 11 key moments this evening.

    Yes, it is to do with that. Without Everton moving, football history changes. Liverpool would probably have had one top-flight team meaning that either (a) Everton would be the greatest club in terms of honours or (b) a western Newcastle.

    Either way, without Everton moving you don’t get a Mersey Derby; the Liverpool/Manchester United rivalry; Shankly reviving a flagging giant; Liverpool’s 18 league titles and 5 European Championships or incidents like Heysel or Hillsborough (although, I’d wager both were inevitable in their own way).

  4. @Rob Marrs – I’m guessing this is partly one for you as much as James, but if we take James’ point seriously about the European Cup – then how did the England of the late 70s achieve such success on the European stage without England catching up with the way football was played elsewhere?

    Obviously part of the answer is Brian Clough, but part of the answer is Merseyside based…

  5. Regarding Rob’s digression, you can make a similar case in London. If Fulham had agreed to play at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea wouldn’t have existed, Arsenal would have stayed in Woolwich, and Spurs and Fulham would have been able to carve up London between them.

    Football counterfactuals, have they been done before?

  6. @Peter Fulham at Stamford Bridge? So THAT’S why they went to so much trouble to pull a new club together in such a hurry – and then called it “Chelsea” when it was actually in Sands End. I’m guessing that the risk factor in building the stadium itself went up 4-fold when Fulham turned them down? and founding Chelsea was kind of last chance saloon?

    No, I’m not sure many proper football counterfactuals have been done. There was a Graun series which focussed on the unforseen consequences of THAT Czechoslovakia penalty in 1976. It’s a good idea. Worth a pitch, maybe?

  7. @Metatone The qn of WHY English clubs were so successful despite the failure of England to produce anything that could be recognized as world class football was, if I’m remembering this properly, a mystery debated at the time. Am I remembering it properly? A debate focussing on the importance of Scottish/Irish/Welsh players to English clubs, and the usual overpaid players/bad manager stuff?

    I’ve a host of factors swilling around in my mind all of a sudden – the rise of Holland; two mistakes by defenders against Poland; the wrong-place-wrong-time lives of Jimmy Hogan, Malcolm Allison and Ron Greenwood; the personalities of Alan Hudson, Stan Bowles, Frank Worthington, Rodney Marsh and co.; the sheer age of the football infrastructure compared with Germany/France/Holland/Brazil; the weight of expectation and history; the attitudes to teaching, coaching, education; the declining influence of working class people after the ’73 oil crisis..

  8. Yes, it probably is worth a pitch isn’t it? I really shouldn’t need such a prompt…

    Stamford Bridge already existed as an athletics ground, but the Mears’s decided to introduce football as it was the moneyspinner. Fulham, then owned by Henry Norris, turned down the move so Chelsea were hastily formed – they briefly considered naming them London FC.

    CFC were huge instantly, so Norris left Fulham for Arsenal and took them north, pissing off Spurs.

    Thus was formed the football map of London.

  9. Yes, and this is what’s unique about the period: football was still a moneyspinner – the last time you could launch a club (taking huge financial risks along the way) as a purely commercial proposition. I think you’ve just expanded a chapter of my book for me! I hadn’t made the Arsenal connection, and now that segues nicely into the stuff about man of many mysteries (including financial ones) Herbert Chapman. It all stops after the Great War. Presumably because of cinema. You can keep a cinema open all day, and on a much smaller, cheaper site so you can own several (it’s just occurred to me that whilst there were cinema chains and things like the Lyons teashop chain, there were no football chains – because of the way football clubs became so fiercely local and because they were just too big to make multiple ownership worth the effort. Or, World War I came along before anyone made enough money out of football to take on more than one club at once, and after WW1 a new club just wouldn’t be able to establish itself in the old way).

    It only lasted 30 years, in the end, football as a moneyspinner justifying investment on the Stamford Bridge scale. Presumably everywhere big enough to supply a paying audience had its club by about 1910, London being the last to settle down. And once the fans have picked which clubs will become the Rovers and the Citys, it’s over – no good, for instance, starting a new club in Manchester now (or at any time since about 1910) expecting it to pull a 50,000 crowd. Even FC United, which takes its draw and pull from MUFC, doesn’t aspire to that, looking instead to slow growth and eventual Football League membership maybe but mostly hoping to enjoy untainted football for its own sake.

    So one difference between 1910 and now is that new clubs these days will tend to be the preserve of dedicated volunteering purists, not profiteering brewers and developers. And they call them the good old days, because we prefer dedicated volunteering purists. Anyway, just thinking aloud now.

  10. Are you writing a book?

    My XI moments (to be expanded at Left Back In The Changing Room over the weekend)

    1. 1863 – Foundation of the FA
    2. 1883 – Northern Dominance begins
    3. 1892 – and is entrenched by Everton moving
    4. 1920s – Herbert Chapman and the change of the offside rule
    5. 1950-1953 – The End of Empire
    6. 1958 – Munich Air Disaster
    7. 1961 – The birth of modern football and the end of the maximum wage
    8. 1966 – The day English football shone
    9. 1978 – Ozzie Ardilles starts the flood of foreign players
    10. 1989-1992 – a series of events which turned football southwards (Hillsborough, 1990 World Cup and England getting Euro 1996)
    11. 1996 – The end of foreign player restrictions

    Depends what you mean by moments, of course…


    The Lifting of foreign-player restrictions

    The Premiership

  11. I feel obliged also to mention the founding of the SFA in 1873 (apologies if it’s been mentioned and I missed it). That moment set in stone the division (weakening?) of British football into separate entities. It also set the pattern for the flood of new associations and ultimately confederations as football went around the globe. Is it possible to imagine a different path where national sides never develop, and club, region, or city sides remain the norm? Or world football under the singular control of a London-based Association?

    Unlikely, perhaps, but it was the SFA’s founding that ruled it out.

  12. @Rob: agreed on Ardiles (and there’s some great counterfactuals to be had with foreign players). If this was Italian football we were talking about, I wonder if we’d be discussing the year when foreign players STOPPED dominating in c. 1941 or so? And the game moving southwards, esp. towards London – Arsene, too: this is actually a very major shift which I missed entirely.
    @Cal: You’re right about the SFA, and I’m wondering about the influence of communications on this – the FA and Football League, and football generally, were telephone-equipped relatively early for such small enterprises, and this probably helped the game NOT fragment into smaller pieces than it did. But even today, there is such a physical gap between England and Scotland, as anyone daft enough to have driven it knows.. and actual LEAGUES did remain regional for a long time – the Southern League was a real rival to the Football League in the Edwardian period and wasn’t subsumed until 1919, whilst Division 3 was regional until 1958. Scottish sport isn’t institutionally regional anymore, but certainly is physically – Shinty in the north (maybe the best organized league of any sport in the UK), rugby and cricket in the Edinburgh/Borders region, football in the central belt with a few important outliers.

    It must be possible to see a situation in which international football remains e.g. an Olympic event, with club-based invitationals beneath it. If the professionalism row between England and Denmark on the one hand, and everyone else on the other, had been resolved in time, that might well have happened. Summer tours with friendlies, of course, in the 1920s fashion, of course, but the Mitropa Cup (great name for a trophy) dominating.

  13. Was Ardiles the start of the flood? What about those two fine Dutch chaps that Robson took to Ipswich? Muhren(?) and ??.

  14. @James – All interesting factors in your mind… but I was thinking more about why English football as a whole had success (including club level) but didn’t seem to generate much in the way of technical innovations…

  15. According to wikipedia, James, Muhren moved to Ipswich in 1978, the same year that Ardiles joined the Spurs. I tell you this partly to let you know the Dutchman’s full name:
    Arnold Johannes Hyacinthus Mühren. Crackerjack, eh?

    I also learnt that Ipswich Town was formed by the merger of the preceding AFC and Rugby clubs. Did you ever?

  16. Couple of key monets not mentioned – 1857 – Sheffield FC, world’s oldest football club, founded. Another key moment would be the Youdan Cup of 1867, world’s first organised football tournament.

  17. @Karl – yes, London bias showing through in my 11 I think. Sheffield very nearly featured via the first use of floodlighting in 1878, a time when the city was as technologically cutting-edge as e.g. Shanghai is now.

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