Games similar to football were played in China, Japan, Italy and lots of other places, but it was in England that the fixed rules and competitions of the modern game began. English schools began to agree on how the game should be played, and by about 1850 people were playing a game we would recognize as football.
Something else happened in 1850. A new law was passed giving everybody half Saturday off work (as well as Sunday). Time to watch a football match! Railways had just been built linking the industrial cities, which meant that teams and fans could travel by rail to and from matches on a Saturday. The modern game, organized into leagues and cup competitions, became possible.
The world’s first football club was Sheffield Football Club (1857), while the world’s first professional club was Notts County (1862). The FA Cup was started in 1871 and the Football League in 1888. In 1870 an international match was played – between England and Scotland. (England won 1-0.) The ball had started rolling!
The sport quickly became hugely popular. Clubs chose their colours and their strange names and many of them are still there today. But a lot of things have changed. The money in football today is massive. The top clubs are the richest, often with rich foreign owners. This means these clubs can afford the best players, so they stay top. Smaller clubs struggle along, always dreaming they might pull off a surprise win against one of the classy clubs in the FA Cup (and sometimes they do!).
The world of English football has changed in other ways, too. You used to stand to watch; now you sit. You see far more women at matches than you used to. All matches used to start at three o’clock on Saturdays, but now – because of television – some matches start in the evening and some are played on Sunday or even Monday. Tickets are expensive – too expensive for many people on low wages.
But the magic of your own team is still there – the hope that they will win promotion, or knock one of the big clubs out of the Cup. If you support a big club, you dream of winning the Premier League or the Cup. Saturday is special. Talk in the local pub is about the local team’s last match. Loyalty is the word: you support them through thick and thin. It’s the same whether your local team is called Plymouth Argyle, Norwich City or Manchester United.