Football, the national winter pastime of England, is an outdoor game, which at the present time may be said to be very nearly, if not quite, the most popular game played. The game has of recent years been divided into two great camps of players, each owing allegiance to two different codes of laws - viz. those of the Rugby Union and those of the Football Association. The chief point of difference is, that in the former game the ball may be picked up and run with at any time, while in the latter no handling of the ball whatever is allowed, and the whole of the work has to be done with the feet.
Under the Rugby Union laws fifteen players on each side take part in the game, distributed as follows: one full back, three three-quarter backs, two half-backs, and nine forwards. The field of play should be 110 yards long and 75 yards broad. At each end are placed two goal posts 18 ft. 6 in. apart, joined by a crossbar 10 feet from the ground, and the object of each side is to kick the ball tfver this bar of their opponents' goal. The field of play lis marked round with a chalk line. When the ball goes over the side lines, called the touch lines, it is out of play, and has to be thrown into play at right angles from the touch lines and parallel to the goal lines. A try is gained when a player touches the ball down behind his opponents' goal fines. The ball is then brought out straight by a player of the side gaining such try, and being placed on the ground, a kick at goal is taken. Should the ball go over the crossbar it counts a goal, and the ball is then kicked off again from the centre of the ground. A player is offside when the ball has been kicked by one of his own side who is at the time behind him, and he may not then touch the ball or in any way interrupt or impede any opposing player till he is again on side. A scrummage takes place when a player holding the ball in the field of play is collared or held. He then has to put it down on the ground in front of him, and all who have closed round on their respective sides endeavour to push their opponents back, and by kicking the ball, or by passing it back to their own side, to kick or carry it in the direction of their opponents' goal. A drop-kick is made by letting the ball fall from the hands and kicking it the very instant it rises. A goal may be obtained by any kind of kick except a punt, which latter is made by letting the ball fall from the hands and kicking it before it touches the ground.
If et player wilfully breaks any of the rules of the game, or in the opinion of the referee is guilty of unfair play, a free kick is awarded to the opposite side.
A match is won by a majority of points. A goal kicked from a try equals 5 points (including the value of the try), a try 2 points. A goal from a drop-kick, or from any other kick except a punt, 4 points, and a penalty goal 3 points. The ball played with is of oval shape, and is made of an inflated bladder covered with leather.
Under the Association laws eleven players a side take part in the game, the disposition in the field of such players being one goal-keeper, two fullbacks, three half-backs, and five forwards, two playing on the left wing, two on the right wing, and one in the centre. The limits of the ground vary from a maximum of 200 yards long by 100 broad to half this distance. The goal posts are 8 yards apart with a bar across them 8 feet from the ground. The ball is round, the circumference being 27 to 28 inches, and the weight 13 to 15 ounces. The rules are much simpler than those of the Rugby Union game, the sole object being to kick the ball between the opponents' goal posts and under the bar.
The game is started by a kick from the centre of the ground, the opponents' forwards standing 10 yards back from the ball, till it is so kicked off. If the ball crosses the side touch lines it is out of play, and must be thrown into the field of play by a player of the opposite side to that which kicked it out. The thrower has to face the field of play and throw it over his head with both hands in any direction. With the exception of the goal-keeper no player is allowed to carry, knock, or handle the ball under any pretence whatever. Should he do so, a free kick is allowed against him. When a player kicks the ball, or throws it in, from touch, any one of the same side who is then nearer to the opponents' goal-line may not touch the ball, or in any way hamper his opponents, until the ball has been played, unless there are at such moment of kicking or throwing at least three of his opponents nearer their own goal-line. A corner kick is when the ball has been sent behind their own goal-line by one of the defending side, in which case one of the opposing players shall kick it from one yard of the nearest corner flag-post. Such player endeavours to kick it as near the mouth of his opponents' goal as he can, the other players of his side attempting to rush it between the posts.
Football, generally, is of Very ancient origin, and mention is found of it as far back as the reign of Edward II. It was then played in a very rough and primitive fashion by large groups of men, the goals being often some miles apart. Shrove Tuesday appears to have been the great day for these games, and the games played at Chester, Corfe Castle, Scone, and Derby. are historical. Many Acts were passed in the reigns of Edward III., Richard II., Henry IV., and Henry VIII., with a view to stamping out the sport; but these appear to have been quite ineffectual, and the game flourished generally in the sixteenth' century. Several allusions to the game are to be found in Shakespeare. Tripping, hacking, and rough play of every description was then allowed, and the game got a very bad name - a character which it has not even yet quite shaken off. The modern Rugby Union game came in its present form from Rugby School, although even the laws there have been very considerably modified. The Rugby Union was started in 1871, and since its institution has done extremely good work in expunging the rules of the game which led to roughness and brute force and changing it into what it now is - a really healthy and scientific pastime.
The Football Association was started in 1863. This branch of the game takes its origin almost entirely from the public schools of Eton, Harrow, Westminster, Winchester, and Charterhouse. The scientific nature of the game has been largely elaborated of late years, and the play of the powerful professional teams of the north attracts enormous crowds, and awakens the most intense excitement and enthusiasm. In fact, football in the north of England and in Scotland may be said to be now the most popular game played.