THE FOOTBALL SERVES as emblem, symbol, subject, and object of the ancient, medieval, and modern forms of the game of football (or soccer). It is the one constant in the game's story of change.
The football may be the most widely recognized cultural object in the world. Its status depends partly on its origins as a shared thing and partly on the distinctiveness and exclusivity of its modern attributes. It supplies a focal object through which great themes in intellectual property have shaped the game: its origins, innovation, and standardization, and relationships among law and rules on the one hand, and the organization of society, culture, and the economy on the other.
Games involving a ball and the feet are among the world's oldest. Pre-Common Era antecedents of football have been documented in ancient China (cuju), ancient Greece (episkyros), and ancient Rome (harpastum), among other places. Mob football, sometimes called “Shrovetide” football or “festival” football, was played in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and parts of Normandy and Brittany from the 12th century onward.
In medieval times, more formal versions of the game were contested by smaller groups, often organized as clubs attached to taverns. Football was not class-based nor gender-specific, and aristocrats and laborers participated, women and men. “Footeballe” was promoted during the 16th century in England by Richard Mulcaster, headmaster of the Merchant Taylors’ School in London, where the play involved kicking, throwing, and possessing a ball. History is vague as to the existence and content of rules at this time, as football was quintessentially local and locally variable.
During the mid-1800s, related developments shaped mob football and its domesticated versions into the game's recognizable modern form. Efforts to systematize the game gradually distinguished between elements of modern rugby and modern football, depending on whether the ball could be possessed and advanced with the use of the hands. Developing and defining the football was central to those efforts, but sharing innovations mattered more than controlling them via intellectual property. The Football Association (FA) was formed in London in 1863, and published a set of rules that year for the so-called “Association game.” (The word “Association,” in shortened form, generated the label “soccer.”) For the first time, the 1863 FA rules formally prohibited handling the ball by carrying or throwing it.