Open Google today (16th August) and you’ll be greeted by the latest of the search engine’s unique ‘Doodles’ that celebrate the birthdays of famous and important historical figures.
Over the years, these quirky designs have paid tribute to anyone and everyone who has made a notable a contribution to human history across various fields from science, politics, culture, sport, society and everything in between.
Today, it honours the 187th birthday of Ebenezer Cobb Morley, a pivotal individual in football history. It is a name that is perhaps unknown to most fans these days, but modern football owes everything to Morley for his role in formalising a very disjointed sport in the 19th century.
Born in Hull in 1831, Morley was a solicitor by profession and moved to Barnes in Richmond upon Thames in outer west London in his twenties, where he formed a football club – Barnes FC.
At a time when football was played by different sets of rules in different parts of the country, from public schools at Eton, Rugby and Harrow, to universities like Cambridge and clubs like Sheffield FC, Morley first proposed the creation of a single set of laws to unify the blossoming sport by writing to popular Victorian era newspaper Bell’s Life in London.
What that led to was the now iconic meeting at the Freemasons’ Tavern in London’s West End in October 1863, at which the Football Association (FA) was officially created.
As a founder member, Morley was FA secretary and became the man responsible for drafting the first copy of the ‘Laws of the Game’, a set of rules, albeit heavily updated and adapted over time, which world governing body FIFA still adheres to over 150 years later.
After that first coming together at the Freemasons’ Tavern, it took five further meetings for the fledgling FA to approve Morley’s laws, with the sixth and final gathering of the game’s pioneers finally outlawing ‘hacking’ – the act of kicking an opponent in the shins.
Playing for his own Barnes club against Richmond, Morley was there in December 1863 as the first ever football match to be played by the new FA rulebook took place.
Morley also served as FA president between 1867 and 1874 and died in 1924 at the age of 93.
The FA was initially a very small organisation and its rulebook did not make an instant impact throughout the rest of the country. ‘Sheffield Rules’, for example, were still being used by some clubs in Yorkshire as late as 1877.
But eventually they all did subscribe to the FA laws, and what Morley and his early associates had done was provide a blueprint to create a sport that has since reached unimaginable levels.