Skip navigation
Crystal palace

      Palace and the Foundation of the FA: 160 years on...


      On a special anniversary for the Football Association this month, historian Peter Manning explains how its early history is inextricably linked to the beginnings of Crystal Palace Football Club…

      This article was originally featured in the Palace v Brighton matchday programme...

      In the middle of the 19th Century, cricket was the major team sport in England and had had its own laws for more than a century. Football, by contrast, was disorganised; it had been taken up at the beginning of the century by public schools as a healthy outdoor sport but there were no universal rules as each school made up its own.

      The style of football played by the schools broadly fell into two camps: the ‘dribbling game’ played by Eton and Winchester, where the ball was kept at the feet; and the Rugby game which allowed handling the ball, the holding of players and hacking, the practice of kicking away the legs of a player who had the ball. These were the two extremes, with Eton prohibiting the handling of the ball and the holding of players and Rugby vehemently defending the rights of its players to hack. Most other schools adopted rules somewhere between the two.

      As many of the schoolboys got older, they went on to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and, naturally, wanted to carry on playing football. But which school’s rules should take precedence?

      In 1848, a Cambridge student, Charles Thring, came up with a ‘universal code’ by adopting the key parts of the major schools’ rules so that the students could carry on playing each other, at least while they were at university. But the schools, themselves, jealously stuck to their own rules, so little progress was made.

      At the same time, serious cricketers, saw the benefit of playing football among themselves in the winter to keep up their levels of fitness and it is here that Crystal Palace come into the picture.

      The Crystal Palace, which originally opened in Hyde Park as The Great Exhibition, had moved to Sydenham in 1854 and in 1857 laid its own cricket pitch and set up its own cricket club, known, not surprisingly, as the Crystal Palace Club.

      James Turner
      James Turner

      It is around this time that the first organised clubs appeared in London. A club called Forest, founded by the Old Harrovian brothers, John and Charles Alcock was formed in Leytonstone, Essex in 1859 and in 1861, archives show that the Crystal Palace Club’s cricketers formed their own club.

      On 15th March 1862, the two clubs played in each other in what is the first recorded game between two clubs who would go on to form the Football Association. The match was reported in Bell’s Life.

      Two other clubs were formed soon after, Barnes and the N.N’s (No Names) of Kilburn, and these three clubs formed Palace’s first fixtures. The four clubs would soon go on to form the core of the Football Association and between them, five of their players would become recognised as the Founding Fathers of the Football Association, including Crystal Palace’s James Turner.

      On the evening of Monday, 26th October 1863 a meeting of club captains and secretaries was held at the Freemason’s Tavern in Covent Garden ‘for the purpose of forming an association with the object of establishing a definite code of rules for the regulation of the game of football’. Eleven clubs were minuted as attending, including Crystal Palace, who were represented by Frank Day, the Secretary of the Crystal Palace Cricket Club.

      There then came the task of agreeing the rules for the new Association and, more trickily as it turned out, the proposed rules and laws of the game.

      Nine rules for the Association were readily agreed at a second meeting, where Crystal Palace were represented by team captain, James Turner, but, after two hours of discussion, only the first nine laws of the game had been agreed.

      So, a third meeting was held to continue the discussion, ending up with a draft of 23 laws. These included laws that allowed hacking and holding players but banning tripping.

      A fourth meeting was adjourned without agreement and at the fifth meeting, the Rugby teams found themselves politically outmanoeuvred, and the draft laws were agreed without the inclusion of laws which would have allowed hacking and handling. A sixth and final meeting took place on 8th December 1863, 160 years ago this month, to confirm and set the laws, most of which worldwide football still plays to today.

      Crystal Palace had played a full and vital role in setting the new laws of football. We were the only club to attend all six meetings and sent more individual delegates, seven, to the meetings, than any other club. It is a role which Crystal Palace can be rightly proud of having played to this today.

      With thanks to Peter Manning and the Football Association.