I have always thought of Hull as the centre of the football universe and now it turns out that this assumption was correct all along. Hull can rightly claim to be the birthplace of the modern game.
This is all thanks to one man, Ebenezer Cobb Morley, who has never had his achievements properly recognised, given that he made a vital contribution to establishing the game of association football.
Morley was born, bred and educated in Hull and, although he left the city at the age 22, it was his Yorkshire roots that shaped him into the great pioneer he became.
Ebenezer initially moved down to Barnes to work as a solicitor. As a keen sportsman, he soon became interested in establishing a governing body for football.
He strongly believed that the game should have rules and so wrote to one of the major sporting publications of the time ‘Bell’s Life’. His letter was the catalyst for a meeting that would change the nature of football forever.
On the 26th October 1863, at the age of 31, he sat down in the Freemasons Tavern in Holborn and drafted the rules of the modern game. The clubs represented at the meeting included Barnes, Blackheath, Perceval House, Kensington School, the War Office and Crystal Palace.
At the same meeting, Morley founded the Football Association, an achievement that saw the lad from Hull being given the freedom of the city of London.
By drafting the rules of football, he was taking a game that had previously been a disorganised pastime and setting it on the road to global popularity.
Football, up to the point where Morley intervened, was played under a range of local rules with massive variations. This meant that if a team from a particular school or club wanted to play another, there was usually a lot of effort needed to agree the rules under which the match would be played.
Morley was also a founder-captain of Barnes Football Club. He clearly had a great passion and love for the game and was appointed the first FA Secretary, his major task being to draft the rules of the game.
At a meeting on 24th November, 1863, Morley presented a draft set of 23 rules. These were an amalgamation of the rules played by public schools, universities and football clubs.
One of the more controversial debates surrounded hacking and tripping. These were seen by many as an important ingredient of the game. One supporter of hacking argued that without it “you will do away with the courage and pluck of the game.”
The main defender of hacking was F.W. Campbell, the representative from Blackheath, who considered this aspect of the game was vital in developing “masculine toughness”.
Funny how a similar debate has raged in recent years, as to whether tackling has become a forgotten art. Just compare a match from the 1970s to one today and it is a very different game.
After considerable debate and disagreement Morley’s proposed rules were eventually adopted by the majority of clubs.
Ebenezer held the post of secretary of the Football Association until 1866.
He continued playing for Barnes and scored in the first representative match, between the clubs of London and Sheffield on 31st March 1866. The following year he was appointed president of the FA.
Morley died on November 20, 1924, aged 93, and was buried in Barnes Old Cemetery.
Now, 151 years after that ground breaking meeting in Holborn a campaign has been launched in Hull to give Ebenezer Cobb Morley the recognition he deserves. The aim is to erect a statue in his honour and so mark Hull as the place where modern football was born.
The social media crusade is the brainchild of local teenager Oliver Harsley:
“The campaign came about a couple of weeks ago. It just came into my head. I started it because nowhere in Hull honours Ebenezer and I aim, to etch his memory into Hull’s legacy.”
The aim is to erect a life-size bronze statue in Hull, possibly to coincide with Hull’s reign as City of Culture in 2017.
By Steve Sands