Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Tell The World: Ebenezer Cobb Morley, Founding Father of the Football Association - The Hull Connection

The 2017-2018 football season is well under way with all the usual excitement and tensions that the game brings, but without the Hull connection and a man from humble beginnings, the Football Association (FA) as we know it, may never have been formed.

Ebenezer Cobb Morley (1831-1924), widely recognised as the founding father of the Football Association, was born at 10 Garden Square, Mason Street, Hull on the 16 August 1831.

Houses in Garden Square showing numbers 2-5 [L 402]

Princess Street showing gates leading to Garden Square, c.1930 [L 405]

His father, Reverend Ebenezer Morley was an independent minister at the Holborn Street Chapel, and it was here that he was baptized in September 1831. He was named Cobb after his mother Hannah’s maiden name. Unfortunately we know little else about his early life in Hull except that, despite not being educated at a public school, he became articled to a solicitor and qualified in law in 1854. He went on to practice as a solicitor, and had chambers at 3 King’s Bench Walk, Temple, London. 

Morley was an all-round sportsman and, after settling in Barnes in South West London, he joined the London Rowing Club. It was with friends and colleagues from the rowing club that he founded the Barnes football club. His nonconformist background and schooling appear to have had a great influence on him and this, together with his passion for the game, led him to believe that football should have rules.

He wrote to Bell’s Life suggesting that rules should be imposed on the game, as had occurred in cricket. This led to a meeting of representatives from a dozen London and suburban clubs, which meeting was held at the Freemason’s Tavern in London on the 26 October 1863. It was at this meeting that the Football Association of England was formed. Morley himself drafted the thirteen original laws of the FA at his home in Barnes.

We can only imagine how violent the game was before the laws were introduced as number 13 stated: 'No player shall wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta percha [a form of natural rubber introduced to the west in 1843] on the soles or heels of his boots'. A dangerous game indeed!

Cobb Morley was elected the first Honorary Secretary of the F.A. in 1863, a post he held until 1866. He then became the second president of the F.A. (1867-1874), and even scored the first goal in a representative match between London v Sheffield on the 31 March 1866.

Morley, a remarkable man in every aspect, lived life to the full and died at the grand age of 93 years. He died from pneumonia on 20 November 1924. By this time, the original Wembley Stadium had been open for eighteen months, and football as we know it had become a more structured and ordered tournament game, both locally and internationally. We should therefore celebrate with pride our city's connection to Ebenezer Cobb Morley and all he achieved.

If you want to find out more about this remarkable man, his family and life, please see our research guide available on the History Centre Website.

Carol Tanner, Collections and Access Manager (Hull City Archives)

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