Medieval football was extremely violent, akin to modern hooliganism. Repeated attempts were made by the authorities to suppress it as dangerous, disruptive, and a diversion from archery practice.
Modern football developed with the growth of large industrial towns. In the early 19th cent. the game declined in popularity, but it survived among public schoolboys and at Cambridge University where, in 1848, a first attempt was made to compile common rules. Previous rules were local, with disagreements about charging and hacking, the size and shape of the ball, and the duration of the game. A further attempt to produce standard rules in 1863 led to the formation of a Football Association, from which some clubs soon seceded to follow a handling code.
At this stage football was strictly amateur. The new Association launched a cup competition in 1872. Wanderers beat Royal Engineers 1–0 at the Oval before 2,000 spectators. Gradually the strength of the game moved towards the midlands and north, where clubs were beginning to pay expenses. A watershed was the 1883 Cup Final, when Blackburn Olympics beat Old Etonians 2–1. In 1885, after protests, professionalism was accepted. Attendances began to edge up. The Cup Final at Manchester in 1893 between Wolves and Everton was watched by 45,000 people. With professional teams dominating the cup competition, an Amateur Cup was instituted in 1893.
In 1888 twelve clubs from the midlands and north, including Preston North End, Accrington Stanley, and Blackburn Rovers, formed the Football League. Over the next four years, sixteen more clubs joined, including Nottingham Forest, Sunderland, and Everton, and a second division was added in 1892. By 1914 the Football League had extended south to bring in Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Fulham, and Bristol City. The Scottish League began in 1890 and an Irish League the same year.
After the Second World War, recognition of the game was accorded by knighthoods to Stanley Matthews, the Stoke and Blackpool winger, to Alf Ramsay, manager of the World Cup victors of 1966, and to Matt Busby, manager of Manchester United. But by the 1980s attendances were falling in the face of rival leisure activities and a growing distaste for the hooliganism of the terraces. From this parlous state, the game was rescued, largely by television.
The first international football match took place at Partick in 1872 between England and Scotland, ending in a 0–0 draw. FIFA was founded in 1904 but international competition did not make much headway until after the First World War, when the World Cup competition was started in 1930. England did not take part until after the Second World War, and was able to retain a comfortable sense of superiority. This was shattered in 1950 by a 1–0 defeat from the USA, followed three years later by a 6–3 defeat at Wembley from the Hungarians, and was not totally restored by victory in the World Cup at Wembley in 1966. In European competitions, British clubs, often with a good stiffening of foreign players, have done remarkably well, but apart from its triumph in 1966, the English national team has tested the patience of its supporters.