Martin Samuel: Old codgers at the FA Yes, but they're the men who changed the world
06:43 GMT, 23 October 2012
In a drawer in an old office at Lancaster Gate was a book. It made its home almost casually, cared for by David Barber, historian for the Football Association. The book was ancient and not much to look at, but its influence on sport is almost beyond compare.
Melvyn Bragg named it among his 12 books that changed the world, alongside Darwin's Origin of Species, Shakespeare's First Folio, Newton's Principia Mathematica and Magna Carta.
The book is by Ebenezer Morley and is entitled The Rules of Association Football. It is now in a museum. It should be on a plinth in Trafalgar Square.
In black and white: The first England versus Scotland game and the inaugural rule book
Type the word 'Ebenezer' into Google and, after the name itself, the following entries come up in order of popularity: Ebenezer Obey (Nigerian juju musician) Ebenezer Scrooge (Charles Dickens character) Ebeneezer Goode (novelty pop hit by The Shamen) Ebenezer Howard (founder of the Garden City movement) Ebenezer Chapel (holiday property in Derbyshire) Ebenezer Le Page (Guernsey fisherman from a 1981 novel) Ebenezer Gomme (furniture manufacture business, High Wycombe, established 1898) Ebenezer Elliott (poet, died 1849) Ebenezer Church (Bristol)
The man who codified the rules of the greatest game in the world does not even make the top 10.
This is why the commemoration of English football over the next 12 months or so should be vitally important to all those who love sport, history and the role played in both by this country.
On Friday, the Football Association will celebrate their 149th birthday. The one after is coming early: on January 1. Next year, 2013, is the FA's 150th anniversary. The official logo for the event and the briefest outline of the festivities will be announced, in a low-key manner, by chairman David Bernstein today. It is almost as if the organisation do not wish to make too much of a fuss. They should.
All smiles: Chairman Bernstein will be forced to answer questions surrounding Rio Ferdinand and John Terry
Bernstein will no doubt spend much of the morning being asked about Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, racism and the stuttering World Cup campaign. He is as good as serving his notice in the position anyway and will stand down next year at 70, his application for an extension having been rejected by the FA council.
Old codgers, you might think. But these old codgers, in fact 150 years of old codgers, deserve to be celebrated: the FA are the keepers of football's flame and have been since 1863.
Ebenezer Cobb Morley was probably a codger by the end, too. He founded the Barnes and Mortlake Regatta, sat on Surrey County Council and was a Justice of the Peace.
Yet at the age of 32, as the captain of the Barnes Club, he wrote to Bell's Life, proposing a governing body for the sport he loved. From this the Football Association were formed.
Waving goodbye: Bernstein is soon to relinquish his role as chairman of the Football Association
Morley drafted the first Rules of the Game – the document previously in Barber's possession – at his home in Barnes. He became the FA's first secretary, their second president, played in the first official match – Barnes versus Richmond in 1863 – and the first representative game, London versus Sheffield in 1866.
And, in terms of popularity, on Google he's pegged behind a kiddie-techno song that includes the line, 'A great philosopher once wrote “naughty, naughty, very naughty”.'
The FA are much criticised, maligned and occasionally slandered, but deserve more than a tip of the hat as they approach their sesquicentenary.
There were 70,000 volunteers helping run the Olympic Games in London this summer and proud they were made to feel, too. Open bus parades at the end, smiles and salutes wherever they went.
Yet, each weekend, 400,000 volunteers make grass roots football matches happen all over this country and what is their reward Abuse, in some cases. Disrespect or anonymity in most others.
History makers: Morley (left) devised the rules of football and Alcock created the FA Cup
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Rise too far up the county association's greasy pole and you're liable to be dismissed as a 'blazer', as if a lifetime spent putting the goals out and organising under 13 football in Gloucestershire makes you any less qualified than Lord Triesman. Qualify as a referee and spend each Sunday morning being cursed by all sides.
The FA keep all of these balls in the air, the game shuffling along. Football is the most popular participation sport in England, cricket is second and women's football now third. Disabled football is seventh.
The FA are not only there for the nasty things in life: racism charges, Joey Barton. There is an enormous amount of good being done, with no thank-you parade in sight.
The history of the FA is one of unsung heroes. For instance, Charles Alcock, who created the FA Cup and was one of the instigators behind international football, or Cuthbert Ottaway, England's first captain, who died at the age of 27, having achieved the unique distinction of being awarded a Blue at Oxford in five sports: football, cricket, racquets, athletics and real tennis.
As part of the 150th anniversary, at the time of a celebratory fixture against Scotland on August 14 next year, Ottaway's grave in Paddington Old Cemetery is to undergo restoration.
Type 'Cuthbert' into Google and he doesn't make the top 10, either. Maybe that is about to change. It deserves to.
There has been a movement in recent years to remove football's legacy from these islands and place it in China or Mesoamerica, as if pre-Medieval festivals bear any resemblance to a man at home in Barnes, settling down to codify a game with rules that would still be recognisable to any player today.
Morley got most of it right first time, too, in language the world could understand. Have you ever looked at Principia Mathematica
So next year, for once, we should be allowed to boast that football is coming home. We can explain why Athletic Bilbao are not called Atletico and why AC Milan are not AC Milano. We can tell the story of how Juventus got their black and white kit or the tale of the first official match in Spain, Recreativo de Huelva versus Sevilla on March 8, 1890, which featured 20 British players out of 22.
We spend so much time trying to avoid appearing arrogant that we as good as forget our own history: next year is a time to remember.
Melvyn Bragg was right. Ebenezer Morley, Charles Alcock, Cuthbert Ottaway: these men changed the world. It is right that we know who they were.