British Values: Ebenezer Cobb Morley and the Laws of the Game

Most people, other than the historically uneducated, will have heard of the first two names in my series, even if they don’t necessarily associate them with the same topics that I have. But today’s source of British values is far more obscure. And yet his influence is, arguably, far more widespread.

The original handwritten Laws of the Game, by Ebenezer Cobb Morley
The original handwritten Laws of the Game, by Ebenezer Cobb Morley

Ebenezer Cobb Morley was, by profession a solicitor. Alongside his paid work, he also served as a county councillor and a magistrate. And, in his spare time, he was a keen amateur sportsman. Originally from Yorkshire, one of his first acts on moving to London at the age of 22 was to found (or take control of; historical sources are unclear) the Barnes Club, one of the oldest rugby football clubs in existence. On the water, too, he was a skilled oarsman and founded the Barnes and Mortlake Regatta – an event which still takes place each year.

However, Morley’s biggest contribution came in a different sport. One of the issues which plagued the sport of football was the lack of any consistent set of rules by which it was played. The Barnes Club, as already mentioned, is now known primarily as a rugby club, but in Morley’s day it would play according to any set of rules, depending on who the opponents were and what could be agreed between them.

Morley was not the first to find this situation unsatisfactory. In 1848, Cambridge University Football Club had drawn up what became known as the “Cambridge Rules” for the game. This was the first significant attempt to standardise the rules, and many clubs subsequently adopted them. But many (including Sheffield FC, the oldest football club still operating) did not. The simple problem was that CUFC was just one club, albeit a prominent one, among many and had no authority to impose their rules on any club which did not adopt them voluntarily.

Morley’s solution was to create an official governing body for the sport, independent of any of the clubs playing it. In 1863 he set up a series of meetings which led to the founding of the Football Association. Morley was elected as the FA’s first secretary. One of his first tasks as secretary of the newly formed association was to draw up a set of draft rules.

Morley based his rules essentially on those drawn up by CUFC. The three key aspects of the Cambridge Rules which were adopted by the fledgling FA were: a prohibition on most handling of the ball, a ban on deliberate tripping and hacking as a means of dispossessing the player with the ball, and permitting forward passes (as with existing rugby rules, many early forms of football only allowed backwards or sideways passes).

The inclusion of these three rules had two significant consequences. On the one hand, it formalised the split between the handling and non-handling forms of the game, with the majority of clubs who preferred the handling form declining to join the FA and, instead, becoming founding members of the Rugby Football Union in 1871. But, on the other hand, by making only minor amendments to the Cambridge Rules, the FA made it easy for clubs who preferred them to join as they didn’t need to significantly change their style of play to do so. The FA wasn’t an instant success, but from the eleven founding member clubs – all based in and around London – it had grown to 50 members from across the country when the FA Challenge Cup was instituted eight years later in 1871. By the time the Football League was launched, with the FA’s approval, in 1888 that number had grown to many hundreds and the FA’s role in overseeing the rules was essentially unchallenged.

The original 13 rules of Association Football – known as the “Laws of the Game” – have changed remarkably little in the intervening period. The only major change has been the introduction of a ban on all handling of the ball, other than by a designated goalkeeper inside the penalty area – Morley’s rules had no provision for a goalkeeper, and instead allowed any player to block or catch (but not carry, throw or pick up) the ball with their hands. Other changes over the years have included tweaks to the offside system, the addition of goalbars and alterations to the definitions of fouls and their penalties. But these are all evolutionary changes, and a game of football played to Morley’s rules would still be recognisable as the same sport as the games being played in Brazil this evening.

But what has this got to do with British values? Ebenezer Cobb Morley wasn’t the first to codify the rules to a sport, nor was he the last. But this is where we see a pattern. Of the world’s most popular sports, the majority of them can trace the ancestry of their rules back to this island. As well as three forms of football (Association, Rugby Union and Rugby League), Britain is responsible for the modern forms of cricket, tennis, table tennis, hockey (both field and ice), golf, polo, badminton, snooker, darts, many variants of motorsport and several winter sports (including downhill skiing and bob-sled).

Of the world’s ten most popular sports, anything from six to eight (depending on how you measure popularity) originated in the UK, with Association Football being far and away the leading example. Among the exceptions, two (American Football and baseball) are themselves directly descended from sports first codified here. Only one major global sport, basketball, has no direct lineage to the UK. We may not necessarily be particularly good at playing sports, 1966 notwithstanding, but we sure as heck are good at writing the rules for them. And the principles we established have proved remarkably resilient. For all FIFA’s endemic corruption and overbearing commercial pressure, the Laws of the Game have successfully resisted excessive tinkering.

In any survey of what people consider to be important British values, the rule of law is always one of the most highly placed. When people give this answer they are generally thinking of common law and statute law, of things ranging from the Theft Act to the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations. But respect for the rule of law is exemplified in sport. Nobody is forced to adopt the rules of a sport. There’s no law, in the statutory sense, compelling it. But schoolchildren having a knockabout game of football in the park still conform to the Laws of the Game as far as their circumstances permit. A church cricket team playing against their neighbours doesn’t have to do as they’re told by MCC. But they do.

Ebenezer Cobb Morley may be only one of many people who exemplifies British enthusiasm for the rule of law. But his contribution to it has probably been felt more widely than any other. Now, if only the English football team could live up to that heritage…

World Cup Scenarios

Taking a break from politics and one way streets, here’s look forward to the World Cup next month. No matter what happens as far as England are concerned, someone will say that they predicted it all along. So here’s my shot at making sure I can say that, with a set of the most plausible scenarios for the group stage.

“Just not good enough”

England wilt in the tropical heat of Manaus, with Italy notching up a comfortable 2-0 victory. Against Uruguay England have a better game, and take the lead mid-way through the first half. But goals either side of half time from Edinson Cavani leave England no way back. A fairly routine – and, by now, irrelevant – win over group whipping boys Costa Rica does nothing to improve the mood.

It might not be that bad, of course. It might, instead, be almost as bad…

“If only…”

With neither side willing to exert themselves in the Manaus heat, the opening game against Italy peters out into a nil-nil bore draw. A more open game against Uruguay features plenty of chances but only two goals, one for each team. Results in other games mean England need to win by at least two clear goals in their final game against Costa Rica in order to progress, and they start brightly by taking an early lead. But a goalkeeping howler lets the Costa Ricans equalise from a set piece just before half time, putting Roy’s boys back to square one. Pushing for the required two goals in the second half, England get one of them but just can’t force another breakthrough against a team with no ambition other than to park the bus.

Alternatively, there’s more than one way to make a mess of things:

“Defeat from the jaws of victory”

An opening game defeat to group favourites Italy is put behind them as England record a deserved victory over Uruguay, meaning a win over Costa Rica will see them comfortably through. But it all goes horribly wrong when England lose a defender to a red card following a horror tackle in the 18 yard area. Costa Rica equalise through the ensuing penalty, and England’s ten men can’t force another goal. Four points isn’t enough, as Uruguay grab a last-minute winner over Italy in their final game to put both them and the Italians through with six points apiece.

Then again, if things go the right way in the end…

“Scraping through”

After 0-0 and 1-1 draws respectively against Italy and Uruguay, England need a win against Costa Rica to progress. The game starts badly with Costa Rica taking an unexpected lead in the first ten minutes, and holding that lead until half time. England’s equaliser comes shortly after the restart, but the floodgates don’t open. Instead, a combination of Costa Rica’s backs-to-the-wall defence and some slipshod shooting from England’s strikers means that they enter the last five minutes staring elimination in the face. But Daniel Sturridge shows he’s learned from his Liverpool strike partner by going down just a bit too easily in the box, and Frank Lampard – on as a sub for the injured Steven Gerrard – puts away the penalty to take England into the next round.

And England’s luck can’t be all bad:

“Comfortable enough, in the end”

England get off to a good start against Italy with an early goal, but are pegged back by an equaliser in the second half and the game ends all square. In the second game, there’s a bit more margin for error as England take a 2-0 lead by half time. Uruguay pull one back midway through the second half, and England have some last ditch defending to do as the South Americans throw everything at them in the final 20 minutes. But luck, and the woodwork, is on England’s side and they hold on to the lead. A routine 2-0 win over Costa Rica cements their place in the second round.

And, just to round things off, what if it all works out?…

“You know, we might even have a chance of winning this thing…”

A set piece header by Gary Cahill, very much against the run of play, gives England a one goal lead over Italy early in the second half. With both sides tiring in the heat, England are content to sit back and let Italy wear themselves out first by doing all the attacking. The defence holds firm and England notch up an unexpected, but not undeserved, victory. The good defensive form continues into the second game where another 1-0 win is delivered courtesy of Steven Gerrard’s free kick in the first half. Finally, against Costa Rica, the strikers get their chance to appear on the scoresheet in a comfortable 4-1 win as England end the group stage in pole position.

I’m not going to say which of these I think is the most likely. And. of course, there are plenty of other scenarios as well. But I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these, or something pretty close to it, is what turns out to happen. What do you reckon?

Bad news for football fans

It’s being reported that BT has grabbed the rights to all Champions League and Europa League football matches from 2015. As things stand, this is seriously bad news on several different levels.

It’s obviously bad news for Sky and ITV, but that’s not really the major issue. Competition between broadcasters isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and no company has any particular right to succeed if another can do it better. So if that’s all there was to it, then I wouldn’t be too bothered.

What’s more important is that this is bad news for football fans. At the moment, Sky is the only significant operator in pay-TV football in the UK – BT’s 38 Premier League games a season, like Setanta and ESPN before them, is just a pinprick by comparison. At the moment, a football fan’s appetite can be pretty much sated by a subscription to Sky and the free to air channels. You’d have to be really hardcore to actually feel the need for BT Sport as well.

Champions League

This deal changes that. While Sky will still dominate the domestic leagues and FA Cup, the loss of 350 European games is a major blow. These aren’t the trivial scraps from the season currently broadcast by BT, they are some of the most-watched fixtures of the year. And 350 is a heck of a lot more than 38.

So football fans, to get anything like comprehensive coverage, will need to subscribe to both Sky and BT. That’s clearly going to be more expensive than just Sky alone. The alternative is to do without most European games, which isn’t going to go down too well.

In theory, this isn’t such a problem for customers of BT’s “Infinity” fibre Internet service, as they get BT Sport for free along with their contract [update: see note at the end of this article]. But the problem here is that, unlike Sky, the BBC and ITV, BT’s own online streaming system is awful. It’s full of bugs, and even when working properly, is well below the quality you can get from SkyGo, iPlayer and ITV Player. If a large number of football fans switch to BT Internet in the hope of getting European football matches on their PCs and tablets, they are likely to find themselves seriously frustrated.

Therein lies another problem. Both ITV and Sky, the current rights holders, have said that BT’s bid was vastly higher than the value that they place on the rights. So BT appear to have bid considerably over the odds to obtain them.

That money has to come from somewhere. Partly, of course, BT is hoping that it will come from additional subscriptions that they sell on the back of this. But if Sky don’t think it’s justifiable, it’s hard to see how BT will be able to make this deal profitable on the basis of subscriptions alone. Which means that it’s going to come from other parts of BT’s empire.

If that were just a case of cross-subsidising from BT’s other retail operations, such as Internet and telephone, that wouldn’t necessarily be such a problem (although people who pay BT for a phone line just so that they can have broadband from another ISP may be less than chuffed about it). But there may be more to it.

BT is legally prohibited from using profits from its wholesale operation, BT Openreach, to cross-subsidise its retail operations. But wholesale is where BT is making money. Like all consumer ISPs, BT’s retail prices are squeezed to the bone. But their dominant position in wholesale provision allows them to charge pretty much what they like to other ISPs. And they do.

Ofcom is already investigating a number of complaints against BT about wholesale pricing, including one from TalkTalk which explicitly asserts that BT is breaking the rule prohibiting them from subsidising retail operations from wholesale profits. Ofcom has yet to issue a ruling, but the fact that BT retail can seemingly manage to pay well over the odds for sporting rights while still being one of the cheapest broadband providers is likely to raise eyebrows. Even if the accusations are not proven, this is likely to cause ructions between BT and its wholesale customers.

Possibly more worryingly, if the complaints are upheld and BT is forced to cut prices it charges to wholesale customers, that leaves a Champions League sized hole in BT Retail’s finances. Unlike Setanta, which bit off more than it could chew with Premier League rights and went bust as a result, BT is big enough to swallow those costs if necessary. But the money still has to come from somewhere, and retail pricing and customer service are likely to suffer the most.

As well as the question of where the money comes from, it also matters where it goes. And where it will mostly go is the clubs involved in European competition, as well as UEFA itself. That’s obviously good news for those clubs, but it’s bad news for clubs not in Europe as the income gap between them and European competitors will widen. And history shows that when organisations like UEFA get used to being on the receiving end of large sums of money, they don’t readily give that up. To get the rights back again, Sky and ITV will need to outbid BT next time round. It doesn’t take a genius to work out where that money might come from, either.

So, bad news all round? I think so. It’s bad news for Sky and ITV. And, in the long run, it’s likely to be bad news for Sky’s customers. It’s very bad news for football fans who aren’t BT Infinity customers. It’s moderately bad news even for football fans who, like me, do have BT Infinity. It’s bad news for BT customers who aren’t interested in football. It’s bad news for football clubs that don’t play in European competition. Just about the only people it’s good news for are clubs that do play in Europe, and BT executives.

[update] It’s being reported by the Daily telegraph that even BT Infinity customers will have to pay extra for most of the games. That makes it even worse a deal than I’d originally thought, even for people like me who have BT Infinity.

Shrinking violets hiding behind injunctions

There’s a quite astounding comment attributed to a footballer who has managed to gain an injunction preventing the press reporting his off-field activities. No, not Ryan Giggs, the other one. Well, one of the other ones – it seems that there are plenty of footballers who are gaining injunctions to prevent it being reported that they’re more free-scoring off the pitch than on it.

This particular case is the footballer known as TSE. In the published decision, the judge has this to say:

In a witness statement made by him the man [TSE] states that the information in question has hitherto been private and explains the effect that he says that publication of this information would have if it were published. It would have a devastating effect on his marriage, on his wife and particularly their children. He states that it has become common for footballers whose private lives are exposed by the media to be booed during games and be the subject of cruel chants.

There are a couple of things here that really need to be said. Firstly, however unpleasant it may be to have your indiscretions plastered over the gutter press, the real “devastating effect” on TSE’s marriage is caused by the fact that he’s been having an affair. Call me old-fashioned if you like, but I happen to believe that if you make a promise to be faithful to someone, then you should be. And if you’re not, then you just have to hope your spouse is in the mood to be forgiving. Trying to hush it up through the courts is more likely to make things worse.

Secondly, being on the wrong end of terrace taunts is part and parcel of being a footballer. Harsh? Yes. But realistic, too. And is it really any worse to be on the receiving end of “You’re not secret any more” (allegedly sung at Ryan Giggs yesterday) than “You couldn’t score in a brothel”? (Or, in some cases,  suggestions that scoring in a brothel is only too easy). Yes, fans enjoy taking the Australian lager out of players who have been caught with their pants down. Ask Ashley Cole. Or Wayne Rooney. But it blows over. Again, ask Ashley Cole or Wayne Rooney. Prolonging the agony via the courts is only going to make it worse.

I wrote a couple of days ago that I do have some sympathy for Ryan Giggs, given that he does seem to have been at least partly set up and a victim of his own naïveté  as much as anything more serious. But that argument doesn’t apply here. TSE isn’t being blackmailed, or the victim of a kiss-and-tell. He and his co-injunction-seeker are two people who willingly and knowingly engaged in an adulterous relationship and now want to hush it up.

Fortunately for TSE, his season is over (unlike Ryan Giggs, who will almost certainly be playing in the Champions League final on Saturday). By the time it all kicks off again in August, the fans will have forgotten. But I doubt if his wife will, and I can’t imagine she’s going to be too pleased at the way things are panning out. I can only hope, for his sake, that she is the forgiving type.

Scoring an own goal

We will not rest until the whole world knows our name
I’m not particularly a Man Utd fan, but I have to admit that they deserved to win the Premier League this year. Of their main rivals, Arsenal still can’t find the bottle to go with their undoubted skills, and Chelsea’s mid-season meltdown was entirely their own fault – and wasn’t helped by boardroom meddling. By contrast, Man U just kept going, kept winning and had the stamina and guts to bounce back when they did encounter a setback. The 19th title is in the bag, and Liverpool are off their perch. So kudos to the Red Devils, and good luck against Barcelona next week.

It’s a pity, therefore, that United’s achievements have been somewhat overshadowed by the football injunction row. Probably the most high profile case is that of a player who I can only identify as “CTB”, who took out an injunction to keep secret his affair with former Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas.

Now, I don’t know the details of what went on between them, and, to be honest, I don’t particularly want to. I’m not a fan of tabloid style journalism which thrives on celebrity gossip, and I do have a fair amount of sympathy with CTB for wanting to keep his name out of those papers. But there are some things about this case which I do find disturbing.

Reading the details which have been published so far,  it seems that Miss Thomas was planning to sell a “kiss and tell” account of the relationship to the press. That much seems to be undisputed, and was the initial trigger for CTB to seek the injunction. But, beyond that, it all gets a little murky. Early reports, from the perspective of Miss Thomas, gave the impression that CTB was a “love rat” deliberately cheating on his wife over a period of several months. But the claims made in the injunction – and, seemingly, accepted by the judge, Mr Justice Eady – give a different picture. There, the impression is given of a gold-digger luring a rather naive celebrity into a brief relationship which she then sought to exploit, both by selling her story to the press and by extracting money from CTB himself. As Mr Justice Eady put it

It now seems that the Claimant may well have been “set up” so that photographs could be taken of Ms Thomas going to one or other, or both, of the hotels.

and

The evidence before the court at that point, therefore, appeared strongly to suggest that the Claimant was being blackmailed

If those accusations are true, then it does put an entirely different light on the matter. I think a lot of people would agree that people, even celebrities, should have the right to prevent the press printing an essentially contrived story about them. But also, if the accusations are true then CTB has been the victim of a serious crime. If that is the case, then that needs to be investigated properly by the police and anyone found to be involved needs to be brought to justice. But, on the other hand, if that isn’t an accurate account of what happened then CTB and his lawyers, aided and abetted by the judge, have perpetrated a very serious libel against Miss Thomas. At least, it would be libel if it were not for the fact that statements made in court are subject to absolute privilege.

This is where my sympathy for CTB wears thin. Irrespective of any other considerations, it seems to me to be an abuse of process to use the court as a vehicle for defaming someone else while at the same time making it impossible for her to defend herself in public. Wanting to prevent the gutter press printing her story, if indeed it is largely fictional, is reasonable. But it isn’t reasonable to combine that with hindering the investigation of a possible crime and exploiting a legal loophole to avoid a libel suit.

What makes it all the more ironic is that CTB seems to be blissfully unaware of the Streisand Effect. The attempts to hush it up have only served to propel both the affair itself, and speculation over his identity, further into the public mind. As many celebrities have found, coming clean and getting it over with almost always works out better in the long run – does anyone really care now about Wayne Rooney’s well-publicised dalliances with a prostitute last year?

I’m not expecting top-class footballers to be morally perfect. They are very rich, often not particularly intelligent – it doesn’t take brains to be a footballer, fortunately for some – and are an obvious target for those who would seek to exploit them. But someone, somewhere along the line, should have sat down with CTB and told him that using the courts to try to hide his infidelity was just plain stupid.

I blame John Terry

So, England are out of the World Cup. Never mind the dodgy linesman’s decision which wrongly ruled out Frank Lampard’s goal. The fact is, the team just weren’t good enough anyway. So, what went wrong?

I blame John Terry. No, really. Hear me out.

England breezed through qualification. They didn’t become a bad team, and Fabio Capello didn’t become a bad manager, overnight. So what changed?

What changed was Terry sticking his dick where it didn’t belong. That cost him his authority in the team, and cost him the captaincy. Then Rio Ferdinand got injured, and the armband ended up with Steven Gerrard.

But Gerrard isn’t an England captain. He can’t lift a team when it’s down, and he needs someone else on the field to tell him to play for the team instead of himself. He needs a captain to lift him out of himself when he’s playing badly. With the armband, he drags everyone down to his level when he’s not playing well.

And he didn’t play well. Maybe the weight of the captaincy itself contributed to that. But, whatever the reason, the team also played badly as a result. And that’s why they’re on the way home.

A good captain could have made a difference. But the best captain in the team had thrown it away through his own stupid behaviour, and the second-best captain got injured through no fault of his own. Ferdinand’s injury wouldn’t have mattered in that respect if Terry had kept his libido under control. But it did matter, and the team paid the price. I only hope that Terry realises that he did to England’s chances in the World Cup exactly what he did to Vanessa Perroncel.

Unofficial world champions

Since today is the first day during the 2006 World Cup on which there is no football, today’s website is a football-related one to help those suffering from withdrawal symptoms. The Unofficial Football World Championship is contested in a simple boxing-style title system. Winners of title matches become title holders, and move up the rankings. Read more about it at www.ufwc.co.uk. The current unofficial champions, by the way, are Uruguay.

World Cup – Not!

I promised I’d try to avoid doing too many football-related websites during the World Cup. So, to start with, here’s one for the anti-cup brigade. The World Cup Widows Club is a site set up by a bunch of women (mostly) who are fed up with their blokes watching football all the time. How unsporting of them.