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We played by our own set of rules

The Football Association celebrates its 150th birthday this year and Shropshire FA is joining in the party.

We played by our own set of rules

In the first of a series of features to mark the anniversary, we take a look at the dawn of the organised game in Shropshire.

It was football, but not quite as we know it. There were only 11 rules written down, many of them familiar – kick-offs in the middle of the pitch, goals scored when the ball "is kicked through the flag-posts and under the string", and even a somewhat vaguely defined precursor to the offside law: "No player is allowed to loiter between the ball and the adversaries' goal."

But then we come to Rule 8: "When a player catches the ball directly from the foot, he may kick it as he can without running with it. In no other case may the ball be touched with the hands, except to stop it."

When E.L. Horne and H.M. Luckock of Shrewsbury School signed up to these rules for the University Foot Ball Club they were making a little bit of history.

It was a step towards making football a game played with a proverbial level playing field. By agreeing rules, rather than different schools playing their own different versions of the game, it meant teams could play each other.

Today the archives of Shrewsbury School have the only known surviving copy of those rules, to which the other signatories were representatives of Eton, Rugby, and Harrow public schools, and university – that is, Cambridge University.

Dated December 9, but with the year tantalisingly absent but believed to be 1856, they pre-date by seven years the rules agreed by the new Football Association which marked the foundation of the modern game.

This has led some researchers and academics to herald Shrewsbury School as the inventor of football, although it is not a claim the school itself makes. School archivist Mike Morrogh says: "Every school had their own separate form of football. Eventually the schools had to get together to form a universal code so that they could play each other.

"Shrewsbury School football was an internal matter, with the boys playing each other, and they couldn't play other schools because they played by different codes.

"Shrewsbury School played a type of football called 'douling'. It was a similar idea to football in that you played with a ball and had to score goals. One rule was that you could hold the ball on occasion, another was that there were no forward passes. You had to advance on your opponents. You could, apparently, kick people on the shins. The earliest rules published and written down we have are from the 1860s. Douling continued even after Association Football rules were started. The first game we played with another school under the new FA rules was in 1876 against Uppingham. The old system of douling continued for internal matches for about 10 years, and then eventually douling died a death and everybody played by Association Football rules.

"There's a document in the school when representatives of four schools, including Shrewsbury, got together at Cambridge with two university representatives and in effect wrote the first Football Association rules.

"They were printed and for some reason Shrewsbury School has the only surviving copy. There is no date – but from internal evidence it is 1856.

"It's said, erroneously, that Shrewsbury invented football. It's not true. But we do have the first published copy of what evolved into the Football Association rules, although they are not the same as the FA rules – you were allowed to stop the ball with your hand."

Stepping back a few years, Shrewsbury School representatives were central to the establishment of the "Cambridge Rules" at Cambridge University in 1848. This too involved public school and university representatives agreeing a code. No copy of the 1848 rules was kept. The 1856 rules were printed – and Shrewsbury School appears to have the only copy of this, hence the seeming discrepancy in dates," said Mr Morrogh.

It was with exactly the same purpose – to lay down the rules of the game – that representatives of various football clubs met at the Freemasons' Tavern in Great Queen Street, near to where Holborn tube station in London is now, on October 26, 1863.

At the first of a series of meetings, the Football Association was formed. The rules were formulated at the second.

These early rules still permitted some handling, but hacking – kicking opponents – was, after some debate, banned. The FA's early influence was limited and some clubs took a take-it-or-leave-it approach to the new rules.

But football was born.

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