Football The Freesmason's Arms in London where football's rules were born

Published on February 8th, 2013 | by Robert Bagshaw


FA 150 – The birth of football

The Freesmason's Arms in London where football's rules were born

The Freesmason’s Arms in London where football’s rules were born [Jon Durr]

In 1888 Ebenezer Morley had the idea to develop a nationally recognised set of rules to play football and what better place to give birth to the modern game, than a quintessentially English pub.

At that time, the rules differed from city to city and no one could quite agree on how the game should be played.

Morley wrote to the popular newspaper of the time, Bell’s Life, proposing that football should have its own set of rules just as cricket did and with that the letter lead to the first ever meeting to decide the rules of the beautiful game.

The meeting was held at the Freemason’s Arms near Covent Garden and football, as we know it, was born in a pub.


The first meeting took place on October 26 1863 and 12 London-based clubs were represented by their captains, secretaries or other representatives to establish the set of rules, which would regulate the game.

Six meetings took places over the next two months to establish the football association and come up with the rules. There were many heated debates as to which rules should be used, two of the rules in particular caused ruptures within the early foundations of the football association, and those rules were:

  • A player shall be entitled to run with the ball towards his adversaries’ goal if he makes a fair catch, or catches the ball on the first bound; but in case of a fair catch, if he makes his mark (to take a free kick) he shall not run.
  • If any player shall run with the ball towards his adversaries’ goal, any player on the opposite side shall be at liberty to charge, hold, trip or hack him, or to wrest the ball from him, but no player shall be held and hacked at the
    same time.

F.W. Campbell, who was representing Blackheath at the meeting, was the biggest advocate for hacking, stating that it was imperative in ‘developing masculine toughness’.

Campbell then went on to help form the  game of Rugby Union when the hacking rule was voted out, as was  being able to handle the ball.


On December 8 the laws of the game were approved and the first match under these rules was set up for December 19, between Barnes and Richmond, which ended 0-0.

The rules of football were at first mainly disregarded by teams that were not part of the meeting, especially in the North of England.

Due to the rules having such integrity over the years, they began to be more widely adopted especially after the F.A. Challenge Cup was set up which was very attractive for teams to play in from the start.

Football’s free flowing game would not be the same today if it were not for those meetings in the Freemasons Arms 150 years ago.

Without Ebenezer Morley and his contemporaries football would not be the beautiful game that we have today. So next time you’re enjoying a game, think of the men who made it all possible.

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