Eminent Victorians (Southern England)
It is no coincidence that Association Football was born in southern England. It is here that the sons of the aristocracy and gentry were educated and where education pioneers conceived of vigorous, even brutal, sporting endeavour as an essential ingredient in the building of character essential to the administration of empire. Football was, in its formative years, the pursuit of gentlemen players who played the game under the unique rules of their public school.
When these young men went up to Oxford and Cambridge intent on continuing their interest the resulting confusion over the rules led to the first attempt to draw up a unified code at Cambridge University in 1848. The formation of the Football Association in 1863 created what were intended as universal rules. On 19 December 1863 Barnes played Richmond in the first match ever to be played under the new FA Rules. The club provided the FA with their first three secretaries. While teams in the south adopted the FA Rules, in the midlands and north the older Sheffield Rules continued to be observed until 1877.
Army sides are evident in these early years and reflected the social divisions of the period. The famous Royal Engineers were a team of officers and gentlemen whereas the Royal Artillery, formed 20-odd years later, was made up from the ranks, trained by NCOs and led by an officer. In addition there were Volunteer Rifle regiments made up of part-time citizen soldiers.
There were no registration rules so players could represent several teams with interesting consequences when the FA Cup was introduced. For example, Harrow Chequers scratched from their tie with the Wanderers in November 1871 because most of their players had been picked for the Wanderers' team. (Indeed the Chequers entered the FA Cup twice more and scratched on each occasion. Their record as the Old Harrovians is rather more distinguished.)
Southern teams dominated the FA Cup until the early 1880s when working class teams from Lancashire, who subverted the amateur rules of the time, soon dominated the game. Professionalism was recognised by the FA in 1885 but it took years for this new reality to penetrate the amateur ethos of the southern clubs. When Royal Arsenal turned professional in 1891 they were expelled from the London FA and their attempts to form a professional league fell on stony ground.
Sources: Peter Ferrette, Charles Alcock's Football Annuals 1873, 1876, 1877, 1879, 1880, 1881 researched by Robin Horton, Lost Teams of the South (Mike Bradbury 2019), The Straw Plaiters.