Today’s amusing Google Doodle (16th August 2018) commemorates Ebenezer Cobb Morley’s 187th birthday. Featuring images reminiscent of the sportsmanship and footballing prowess depicted by Harry Enfield & Chums – the Arsenal team of 1933 against the Liverpool team of 1991, the latter ‘playing for the first time in black and white!’ – the ‘doodle’ perfectly illustrates Ebenezer’s contribution to the modern game.
A ‘Hullian’ by birth, Morley lived in Barnes, Surrey from 1858. He practised as a solicitor in London and became a justice of the peace, county councillor and the conservator for Barnes Common. Referred to as ‘the grand old sportsman of Barnes’, Morley was an accomplished athlete, yet it is football which he will be long remembered for.
He formed Barnes Football Club in 1862, a year before the Football Association of England (FA) was established. During these embryonic days before association football there were often disagreements about the way the game should be played. Whether the ball should be handled as well as kicked, or, should hacking an opponent be permitted or not, were often disputed. Diego Maradona and Ron “Chopper” Harris may have their own views on these…
Morley suggested that football needed its own set of rules in the way that cricket had – the earliest ‘Laws of Cricket’ were drafted in 1744. On 26 October 1863 at the Freemasons’ Tavern in Great Queen Street, London, the FA was formed. Morley drafted the first set of playing laws for football and was appointed as the organisation’s secretary, becoming the Association’s second president from 1867 to 1874.
Charles William Alcock (1842-1907), a contemporary of Morley’s and his successor as secretary, proposed in 1871 ‘That it is desirable that a Challenge Cup should be established in connection with the Association, for which all clubs belonging to the Association should be invited to compete’. This proposal led to the creation of the FA Cup, the oldest national football competition in the world. The inaugural tournament in 1871-72 was won by Wanderers, captained by Alcock, who beat the Royal Engineers 1-0. The trophy was presented by Morley.
Morley remained in Barnes until his death at the age of 93 in November 1924, a year-and-a-half after the opening of Wembley Stadium. Alcock’s latter years were spent living at 7 Arundel Road, Brighton. He died in the town on 26 February 1907 aged 64.
Some commentators credit Morley as the father of football. Indeed, his playing laws have shaped a once unruly and often violent game played on urban streets and open fields into the world’s most popular sport. Although today’s game is not 100% perfect, video assistant referees (VAR) being the latest introduction in an attempt to reduce human error, it’s great to be reminded where it all started from.
By Dan Robertson, Local History & Archaeology Curator, Brighton Museum