By Michael Kachitsa
In 1581 Richard Mulcaster was writing about a game called ‘foteball’ and suggested that things might go smoother if there was a ‘judge over the parties’. Of course we all know from reading the History Of Football article elsewhere that ‘foteball’ probably had more in common with rugby than the game we know and love today. It wasn’t until the 1840s that players and organisers sought a clarification of the rules of the sport, so it’s interesting that reference to a referee was made in a match report from a Rochdale game in 1842.
Having said all of that, these ‘referees’ didn’t operate in quite the same way as we understand the role today. At the start of modern football’s life it was believed that the players were gentlemen. They would never, under any circumstances, deliberately cheat or foul another player. The ‘referee’ was merely there to keep time as accurately as possible so everyone knew when the game was over. Of course, not everyone is a gentleman. Believe it or not there are some unscrupulous characters out there and they began to come to the forefront as the sport of football became more serious and more competitive.
When that happened it was decided that each team should have an ‘umpire’ to make decisions when contentious moments arrived in the game. The umpires would discuss the matter between themselves and try to come to an agreement, but if they couldn’t then the issue would be referred to the ‘referee’ who was keeping time and he would have the deciding vote. It wasn’t until 1891, when the Football Association agreed a re-structuring of the Rules of the Game, that referees began to take centre stage and the umpires were turned into linesmen, who assisted from the side.
The first ever referee’s society was formed in 1893 in London. The primary purpose of the society was to speak to the different people purporting to be referees in order to discover their qualifications before then appointing them to officiate a given match. The North Staffs Referees’ Club, formed in 1896, came about because the popularity of the game caused more and more people to become referees. They began to get together and teach each other the rules of the game in order to ensure that things went as smoothly as possible, yet in those early days there was no set ‘qualification’ that a person had to have in order to be able to referee a football match.
By 1899 there were 27 referee’s societies with 773 members, so the appointment of people to officiate different games became too complicated. It was at that point that responsibility for the organisation of all of the referees swapped over to the Football Association. By 1904 the game had taken off around the rest of the world and that led to the formation of a governing body called FIFA. After initial scepticism, the English FA joined FIFA in 1906. They began to introduce some new rules, such as the one in 1912 that stopped goalkeepers from being allowed to handle the ball outside the area.
Source – Football Stadiums