Before Ebenezer Cobb Morley, soccer looked quite different — and much more brutal — than “The Beautiful Game” played around the world today. Association football, as the sport was then known, bore a closer resemblance to rugby, permitting a greater amount of tackling and ball-handling. It also suffered from chaotic disorganization, with multiple competing leagues, schools, and competitions lacking a formal managing structure, and many playing by different sets of rules.
Morley set the foundation for the Football Association (FA), the sport’s oldest official governing body, and laid down 13 rules to regulate the game, creating the first consistent definition of the sport. On what would have been Morley’s 187th birthday, Google celebrated the father of modern football with a Doodle. Here’s what to know about the man who codified the world’s most popular sport:
An early sports enthusiast
Morley was born on Aug. 16, 1831 in Yorkshire, northern England. A trained lawyer, Morley was also an avid fan of rowing, and founded the Barnes and Mortlake Regatta after moving to London at the age of 27.
But it was his mark on football for which Morley would be known. While in London, Morley also joined the Barnes Club. In 1863, as the captain of the club, Morley wrote to a newspaper called Bell’s Life with a now-famous proposal: an officiating body for the fast-growing sport.
Football Association founder
The scheme led to a meeting between other club representatives in London’s Freemasons’ Tavern in 1863, and resulted in the formation of the FA. A blue heritage plaque now adorns the site, proclaiming “the modern game of football was born on this day. 26 October 1863.”
Morley served as the FA’s first secretary until 1866 and its second president until 1874. But he wasn’t just an administrator: Morley also took the field as a player in the first FA-supervised match in 1863, and scored a goal in the first representative match in 1866.
— Vintage Sport Pics (@OldSportPics) April 24, 2013
Laws of the new game
With the other clubs’ input, Morley drafted a list of 13 rules to reduce violence and regulate gameplay, creating the more orderly, free flowing pace of soccer that we know today.
The Laws of the Game covered a range of the sport’s elements, from dimensions of the field and length of the game, to the number of players permitted per team, the type of fouls subject to penalties, and even the Offside Rule, which prohibits players from waiting near the opponent’s goal for an easy score. Key rules prevented players from picking up and throwing the ball to one another, distinguishing the sport from its rugby-like relatives.
Other rules, since changed, seem unfamiliar today: teams switched sides after every goal, while goalposts lacked a crossbar across the top, allowing goals to be scored “at whatever height.”
Morley was also a supporter of limited amounts of contact, notably arguing that players should be permitted to “hack the front leg,” or kick opponents in the shin. That rule was lost, but others have stood the test of time, and Morley’s Laws were upheld in 1904 when the sport’s international governing body, FIFA, was founded.
Thursday’s Doodle depicts Morley scribbling a letter to the newspaper while in the background are two scenes: to the left, a chaotic soccer match before his rules were instated, and to the right, a more orderly game.
Morley died on Nov. 20, 1924 in Richmond, London.