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Ebenezer Cobb Morley: The Founding Father Of Modern Football

Having spent his formative years in a religious home in Hull, Ebenezer Cobb Morley, seen as the founder of the modern game, inherited important qualities, beneficial qualities which no doubt helped him during his future organizational roles.

Initially, Ebenezer Cobb Morley trained in Hull and may have worked for his father’s solicitors Messrs. Phillips & Copeman in 1851, but came to Brentford in 1853 and was admitted to the Law Society as a London solicitor in 1854.

Morley initially resided at the White Hart Inn, at the west end of Barnes Terrace, in 1861. The tavern was a meeting place for leading rowers of the time and a good location for aspiring coxes. Therefore he purchased 26 The Terrace, Barnes soon afterward and remained for some sixty years.

He also entered into a partnership with Richard Alfred Goodman (1804-65), a solicitor and nonconformist from Market Harborough, from the firm of Goodman & Morley. Indeed, the partners were based at 3 King’s Bench Walk, Inner Temple, which had considerable significance, while the latter was a counsel for indictments on the Oxford Circuit.

football game in the 1880s

Barnes Football Club

After his father died in 1862, Morley turned his attention and energies to the fledgling sport of association football. Later that year, after playing some games with friends on Barnes Green, Ebenezer Cobb Morley formed Barnes Football Club at Limes Field, Mortlake. This was just a short walk from his home and to the west of White Hart Lane.

Although just formed, Barnes Football Club played some crucial games and was said to be “A live proposition boasting a big membership.” In particular, they had contests against their neighbors Richmond, and the two met at Barn Elms Park, Putney, beside the Thames in November 1862.

Many spectators gathered to watch the struggle, many being of the fairer sex. The winning team was the first to score two goals. However, Barnes Football Club managed this in just twenty minutes and left as victors. This football association game predates Sheffield versus Hallam on 29 December. Barn Elms Park was the venue for the first (unofficial) ‘club’ football representative match.

Heavy Rain And Disputes

A return game took place at Richmond Green a month later. Due to heavy rain, the football pitch became extremely muddy, and the 400-500 spectators were greatly amused as the players failed to keep their feet. Mr. Gregory won the game for Barnes with a single goal, but this was neither football nor rugby since the goal was described as:

“He made a neat catch about 15 yards exactly in front of the Richmond base and after making his mark scored with a dropkick.” Meanwhile, the gentlemen of the two football clubs dined afterward at the Talbot Hotel.

During that year, Ebenezer Cobb Morley succeeded William M. Shirreff (a fellow solicitor) as secretary of the Barnes And Mortlake Regatta. The sports enthusiast continued to play football. A lack of established rules meant football teams played using their own format, which led to some unruly football disputes.

Consequently, as the Barnes captain, Morley sent a letter to the sports newspaper Bell’s Life, stating that the rules should be established on similar lines to the MCC. His letter published in the Bell’s Life newspaper proposed a governing body with the power to set rules that all teams follow.

Ebenezer Cobb Morley

The Football Association

As a result, the Football Association was formed during six meetings in late 1863. Morley was integral in getting the founding football clubs to agree on the initial rules of the beautiful game. He ended up drafting the first rules of football at home.

Ebenezer Morley encouraged the Richmond club representatives to get involved. They attended the later meetings and proposed to join the Football Association if the rules were ready for winter. Despite Richmond playing in the first-ever match under FA rules at Limes Field on 19 December 1863, they departed to play Rugby soon afterward.

Morley was the first secretary of the FA in 1863-66 and helped establish the early game. Morley led his “Secretary’s Side” to defeat the “President’s Side” in a friendly match on 2 January 1864 at Battersea Park to test out the new laws.

In fact, stringent offside rules were making dribbling an essential talent. A player would progress down the pitch backed up by other forwards while two strong-kicking backs defended behind. As secretary, he made an unsuccessful proposal to abolish the offside law.

The Rule Book of Association Football was recently included in Melvyn Bragg’s recent collection of 12 Books That Changed The World. There was much more chaos in the original game, hence the importance of new rules. The 13th rule provides insight into how unruly football was in those days: ‘No player shall wear nails, iron plates, or gutta-percha on the soles or heels of his boots.

laws of the game

Keen Rower And Athlete

Morley was a keen rower and stroked for the London Rowing Club eight in the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley in 1864. He arranged an athletics meeting at Limes Field on the day of the Boat Race that year. The latter continued for many years and attracted top athletes of the day.

His business partner Mr. Goodman died in 1865. Morley continued to practice law alone at 3 King’s Bench Walk, Temple, until 1868. These red brick chambers were erected shortly after the ‘Great Fire of London’ and accessed across an uneven, paved, cobbled walkway.

He married Frances Bidgood, the daughter of a woolen merchant at Christchurch, on 14 October 1869. They had no children.

Ebenezer Cobb Morley Becoming President

There were some further developments after the contests against Sheffield FC in 1866. Ebenezer Cobb Morley became president of the FA from 1867-to 74. When the next FA annual meeting took place in February 1867, the future of the Association looked bleak.

Ten clubs were left, and Arthur Pember, the founding president, had to be replaced. The few club representatives in attendance elected Morley to the position after he volunteered.

Morley was involved in the test games in 1867-68 when the offside rules were changed, and this saw the introduction of “middling” as an essential skill (bend it like Beckham). After Morley’s appointment as president, the football association had grown to thirty members. But the lack of funds meant that the officers had to cover expenses from their own pockets.

The FA committee appointed a secretary, president, treasurer, and four other members in 1863, but this was increased to ten members in 1869. Finally, the governing body was poised to make its most important decision.

google doodle of Ebenezer Cobb Morley

FA Cup

A meeting took place at the Sportsman Office, Ludgate Hill, on 20 July 1871. It was under Morley that the FA Cup was introduced. The initial idea of this competition was the brainchild of Charles Alcock.

An informal international was played at the Oval in 1870 and a full game in Glasgow on 30 November 1872. The corner kick rule was introduced in 1873, and Morley retired from his senior role at the FA the following year.

Professional Life Outside Football

So what about his professional life? He practiced as a commissioner for oaths in Chancery and was the senior partner in Morley & Shirreff by 1871.

The other partner was his neighbor and rowing associate W.M. Shirreff, and their chambers were at 59 Mark Lane, London. In addition, he helped to conserve Barnes Common and was a keen horserider with a pack of beagles, who hunted with the Surrey Union Foxhounds (from the 1870s).

He continued to live at 26 The Terrace with his wife, his sister, and two servants in 1881. His offices were at 53 Old Broad Street, not far from Liverpool Street Station.

Ebenezer Cobb Morley remained the secretary of Barnes & Mortlake Regatta until 1880, and the event continued until 1888. The Barnes club played in their last FA Cup tournament at Limes Field in 1886-87.

Morley tried to revive the Regatta on several occasions from 1908 but eventually had to concede defeat. He was a president of the Barnes Artizan’s Club, a local JP, and represented Barnes on the Surrey County Council from 1903 to 19.

Later Years

He was a Devon member, Somerset Staghounds from 1902, and his wife Frances died of pneumonia at the Imperial Hotel, Taw Vale Parade, Barnstaple, on 15 August 1911. Despite the many changes within the game, the FA recognized his significant contribution during their 50th Anniversary jubilee of 1913.

Ebenezer Cobb Morley of 53 Gresham House, Old Broad Street, and Barnes made his last will on 29 October 1918. It was a lengthy document, and he left his estate in trust to several relatives, while numerous bequests and legacies went to local charities and his employees.

Ebenezer Cobb Morley Grave

Death Of Ebenezer Cobb Morley

He was a remarkable man of great energy and died of pneumonia at 26 The Terrace on 20 November 1924, aged 93. His funeral took place at Barnes Church, and he was buried in the corner of the Old Cemetery on the common, not far from where he had first played football.

Those at the service included his relatives, partners from Morley, Shirreff, members of Barnes Council, and the Artisan’s Club. The details of his life appeared in two local papers, and his estate was valued at £48,994.

Meanwhile, Barnes Old Cemetery was closed in the mid-1950s, and plans for a lawn cemetery failed; thus, it became a nature reserve. As a result, it is entirely overgrown, although Ebenezer Cobb Morley’s grave survives and can be found being the last one in the southeast corner.

A blue plaque commemorated him in the house where Morley drafted the FA’s first laws (No 26 The Terrace). In November 2015, during construction work, the mansion collapsed. In honor of Morley’s 187th birthday, Google honored him with a special Google Doodle. This is because he played such a vital role in making football the game that we know today.

Ebenezer Cobb Morley plague

Ebenezer Cobb Morley Life Summary

  • 1831 Born in Hull.
  • 1858 Moves to Barnes, boarding at The White Hart.
  • 1862 Founds the Barnes and Mortlake Regatta.
  • 1863 Writes the laws of soccer at his home. The first match under the new rules is played. Barnes and Richmond draw 0-0.
  • 1864 Rows in Grand Challenge Cup in Henley.
  • 1867 Becomes president of the FA.
  • 1871 Co-writes rules for the FA Cup.
  • 1872 Morley presents the first FA Cup to the Wanderers at their annual dinner in Charing Cross four weeks after the final.
  • 1913 Golden jubilee of FA. Morley was one of only two surviving members from the original meeting in the tavern.

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