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20 July 2010

On this day in history: English Football Association legalised professionalism, 1885

Within decades of the Football Association's creation in 1863, its ethos of amateur contest began to be undermined. According to the rules of the FA - the world's first governing body for soccer - no footballer should receive payment for playing in any FA endorsed event. Nevertheless, in 1879 the Lancashire club Darwen F.C. reached the quarter-final of the FA Cup fielding two professional Scottish players: Fergie Suter and Jimmy Love.

By the mid-1880s the controversy surrounding professionalism had created a schism between the more middle-class amateur clubs of the south of England, and the more working-class clubs in the northern towns. In response to the expulsion of Accrington F.C. in 1883, and year-long suspension of Preston North End a year later, thirty-one broke away from the FA to form the rival British Football Association in 1884. In order to assert its authority over the game, the members of the FA had to agree to change their rules.

At the general meeting of the FA in March 1885, a majority of representatives voted to legalise professionalism but they did not amount to the two-thirds required to change the rules. A sub-committee formed to negotiate a settlement, and on the evening of 20th July 1885, FA members met at Anderton's Hotel on Fleet Street, London, to hear its report, which read:

The sub-committee [...] in their opinion it is now expedient, in the interests of association football, to legalize the employment of professional football players, but only under certain restrictions.

They consider that no player can be termed an amateur who receives any remuneration or consideration above his necessary hotel and travelling expenses, but that, under certain conditions, professionals - viz, players receiving for playing more than those expenses - may be allowed to take part in all cup, county, and inter-association matches... [source The Times (21st July 1885), p. 5]

The restrictions included residency requirements, such as being born within six miles of a club's ground or HQ, or living within that radius for two years in order to play for the club in the FA Cup. A list of registered professionals was to be kept, and they were to be barred from serving on any FA committees.

The FA delegates voted 35 to 12 in favour of the recommendations and amended the laws of the game accordingly. Over the next few decades, professionalism began to dominate the game of soccer with many staunchly amateur clubs falling by the wayside. Following the arrival of television (particularly satellite TV) today's top flight footballers now receive enormous salaries to play what was once a wholly amateur sport.

Related posts
Foundation of first Irish football club: 20th September 1879
First Italian football championship: 8th May 1898
First live radio broadcast of a soccer match: 22nd January 1927
Uruguay won first FIFA World Cup :30th July 1930


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