The contemporary history of football spans almost 150 years. It all began in 1863 in England, when rugby football and association football branched off on their different courses and the world's first football association was founded - The Football Association in England. Both forms of football stemmed from a common root and both have a long and intricately branched ancestral tree. Their early history reveals at least half a dozen different games, varying to different degrees and to which the historical development of football is related and has actually been traced back. Whether this can be justified in some instances is disputable. Nevertheless, the fact remains that playing a ball with the feet has been going on for thousands of years and there is absolutely no reason to believe that it is an aberration of the more "natural" form of playing a ball with the hands.
The game that flourished in the British Isles from the 8th to the 19th shrovetide football, as it was called, belonged in the "mob football" category, where the number of players was unlimited and the rules were fairly vague (for example, according to an ancient handbook from Workington in England, any means could be employed to get the ball to its target with the exception of murder and manslaughter). Shrovetide football is still played today on Shrove Tuesday in some areas, for example, Ashbourne in Derbyshire. Needless to say, it is no longer so riotous as it used to be, nor are such extensive casualties suffered as was probably the case centuries ago.
There was scarcely any progress at all in the development of football for hundreds of years. But, although the game was persistently forbidden for 500 years, it was never completely suppressed. As a consequence, it remained essentially rough, violent and disorganised. A change did not come about until the beginning of the 19th century when school football became the custom, particularly in the famous public schools. This was the turning point. In this new environment, it was possible to make innovations and refinements to the game.
In 1863, developments reached a climax. At Cambridge University action was taken to sort out the utter confusion surrounding the rules. The decisive initiative, however, was taken after a series of meetings organised at the end of the same year (1863) in London. On 26 October 1863, eleven London clubs and schools sent their representatives to the Freemason's Tavern. These representatives were intent on clarifying the muddle by establishing a set of fundamental rules, acceptable to all parties, to govern the matches played amongst them. This meeting marked the birth of The Football Association. The eternal dispute concerning shin-kicking, tripping and carrying the ball was discussed thoroughly at this and consecutive meetings until eventually on 8 December the die-hard exponents of the Rugby style took their final leave. They were in the minority anyway. They wanted no part in a game that forbade tripping, shin-kicking and carrying the ball. A stage had been reached where the ideals were no longer compatible. On 8 December 1863, football and rugby finally split. Their separation became totally irreconcilable six years hence when a provision was included in the football rules forbidding any handling of the ball (not only carrying it).
Only eight years after its foundation, The Football Association already had 50 member clubs. The first football competition in the world was started in the same year - the FA Cup, which preceded the League Championship by 17 years.
The international football community grew steadily In 1912, 20 national associations were already affiliated to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). By 1925, the number had increased to 39, in 1930 - the year of the first World Cup - it was 46, in 1938, 52 and in 1950, after the interval caused by the Second World War, the number had reached 68. Today, FIFA comprises 204 member associations in the four corners of the globe. They comprise around 305,000 clubs - over 223,000 of which in Europe alone -, and more than 1,548,000 teams with around 246 million people who regularly play football.