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A re-enactment of a Cambridge Uni football match

Cambridge... the birthplace of football?!

Yep, sounds unbelievable, but the origins of the beautiful game really do lie in the heart of Cambridge!

Take a group of people, give them a ball and they'll probably start kicking it around... That's been true for hundreds of years. In fact, the earliest record of football in Cambridgeshire can be found in the Cambridge University records of 1579...

A re-enactment of a Cambridge Uni football match
Football 1800's style!

One record states that a match between 'town and gown' ended in a violent brawl which caused the Vice-Chancellor to forbid the students from playing 'footeball' outside of college grounds!

The problem was that every team played to a different set of rules. Brute force tended to get you further than any ball skills, and games often ended in fights and injuries. But despite the street-style brawls, football remained popular.

Cambridge Rules

Playing football on Parker's Piece
Parker's Piece in 2006

Finally, in 1848, a group of representatives and students from Cambridge had the bright idea to draw up a definitive set of rules. Copies of the rules were pinned to the trees surrounding Parker's Piece (the big open park in the centre of Cambridge), which had become the favourite place for matches and kick-abouts.

The 'Cambridge Rules' were soon adopted by many of the teams in the area and further afield... When the country's leading clubs and schools got together to form the Football Association in 1863, they used the Cambridge Rules as the basis for a new set of FA rules.

"The Cambridge Rules appear to be the most desirable for the Association to adopt."
J.F Alcock, FA Committee Member 1863

The first game to be played to these rules was in 1863 on Parker's Piece. Association football allowed no hacking, tripping or handling the ball. As the committee said, it would be the triumph of 'skill over force'.

Commemorative plaque on Parker's Piece

In 2000, the Zion Eagles, a football team for homeless people in Cambridge, discovered that the city had played a major role in the development of the FA rules. They organised a commemorative football match and called for a permanent memorial to be erected on Parker's Piece.

Cambridge Rules memorial plaque on Parker's Piece
Cambridge Rules plaque on Parker's Piece

The Eagles are still pressing for a commemorative sculpture, but in the meantime you'll find a small plaque on a tree in the corner of Parker's Piece nearest the fire station. Barely noticeable as you walk or cycle past, the text on the plaque reads:

"Here on Parker's Piece, in the 1800s, students established a common set of simple football rules emphasising skill above force, which forbade catching the ball and 'hacking'. These 'Cambridge Rules' became the defining influence on the 1863 Football Association rules.

"'The Cambridge Rules appear to be the most desirable for the Association to adopt' J.F.Alcock, F.A. Committee Member 1863.

"'They embrace the true principles of the game, with the greatest simplicity' E.C.Morley, F.A. Hon. Sec. 1863."

Do you think there should be a larger permanent memorial on Parker's Piece? Have your say at the bottom of the page.

The oldest club in the world?

Cambridge Uni FC's 100th anniversary certificate
Cambridge Uni FC, 100-years-old in 1956?

For many years, Sheffield FC claimed to be the oldest club in the world, having formed in 1857. But with the discovery of the Cambridge Rules, it now appears that Cambridge University FC were around in 1856, making them the oldest club...

However, the Football Association says there's room for both clubs in the record books; Cambridge University for the rules and Sheffield as the world's first true football club!

Find out more about Cambridge University's claim to be the oldest football club in the world:
video Video: Cambridge Uni FC - the world's oldest club! >
Audio and Video links on this page require Realplayer
last updated: 22/09/09
Have Your Say
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The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

Patrick
Why have the council removed the plaque (noting that the Cambridge Rules were invented on PP) and started to dig up the trees guarding one end of Parker's Piece?

maxi
hi i'm from uruguay, the country where the first world cup took place and the first worlds champions, thank you england for giving us the opporunity to be the best country in something!

Rob
Fair enough, Sheffield FC our the first football team, but thats only cos they had rules to follow, and these rules were made in cambridge. And yes im sure people did kick a round ball around before these rules were created, but the football we all know and play was created in cambridge.

m stocks nee creek
my grandfather came to sheffield from fen ditton so i guess he could was lucky

jamie
cambridge didnt invent football lol... they staged the 1st match but actually in the vocabula book which was written 200 years before "england" invented football... it describes a man from aberdeen playing football so it was the SCOTS who invented it hehe so guted lol =)

H Taylor
The Racecourse Ground Wrexham was the venue in March 1877 for a football match ,Wales v Scotland. The Welsh team included Hughes and Morgan of Cambridge. This game verus Scotland proves that The Racecourse Ground is the oldest continually used International ground in the world.

haley
im 12 and i LOVE football, but i bet there is an older one out there somewhere!!!! cuz football started back in ireland when they started to call it "football" in which means soccer! so i bet there is older ones somewhere!!!!

FOOTBALL MANIC
Hi sheffield is too cocky they should accept the fact that cambridge made the rules and probably should be the oldest club

Peter
Absolute rubbish, ok with the bit about the rules, which is fact but the oldest club in the world, not a chance

Tony V
Stop kidding yourselves guys Sheffield FC is the oldest club in the world recognised by FIFA and the FA historians and all!!

eggyolkfungus
Why waste space for playing footie with a statue. I'd commemorate it by banning that daft frisbee game students play on Parkers Piece, getting in the way of the football!

J. Francis
I think that a statue should be put up on Parker's Piece. I grew up in Cambridge and think that this momentous piece of history must be retold. i would like to add two observations that are clear to me now i live outside England. First, the English - and places like Cambridge especially - are FAR too modest. If a foreign country had invented football they would make sure we all knew about it!!! In Cambridge everyone just keeps quiet about their achievements. Second, a statue would help bring in tourists. I know you may think that Cambridge already has too many tourists, but they are great for the city's economy and reeputation. Go on: a statue!

alex storey cambiridge!!
wow ! seriously ! football was invented here in cambiridge only 20 mins away from where i live ! :S and its played with the rules made here all around the world.. that is something for cambridge to be proud of !

Linton Boy Fred
nice that cambridge invented football, great to see we do have something to bragg about!

kerall
has ron atkinson ever managed cambridge united

cambridge kid
yer we rock at football we made the game woo yer in ur face shefield fc we made the game i'll tell my mates in other countrys woohooo :)

Jan
If the FA rules were adapted from those drawn up in Cambridge, then there should be a permanent reminder of recognition.

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