LONDON: The last few days have been birthday time. October 24, 1857, saw the founding of the world’s oldest football club, Sheffield FC, and Friday [October 26] was the 149th anniversary of the founding of the Football Association in the Freemasons Arms in London’s Covent Garden.

From such tiny acorns have grown the massive oak which is now world-embracing and sportsworld-dominating association football or soccer.

Powers at the FA: pioneer (and player) Lord Kinnaird through to (inset) David Bernstein

The latter is not a term created by the Americans, its origins are as old as the venerable FA itself. In the days when hacking was permitted the youthful enthusiast Lord Kinnaird challenged his playing pals: “What is it today: rugger or assoc-er?”

Some versions of the story attribute this to contemporaries such as Charles Wreford-Brown and C W Alcock; personally I favour Kinnaird.

His reputation for ferocity was such that, when his mother confided in a friend that she was always afraid he would return from a game with a broken leg, she was told: “No need to worry, he may do so, but it won’t be his own.”

All a far cry from today’s game when the merest puff of wind can blow a forward to the ground anywhere within sight of the penalty box.

The Football Association – not, let it be noted, the English Football Association but the magisterial one and only – has not always been loved. The expansion of the game nationally and internationally have seen it embroiled in a series of wars.

First there was the philosophical clash between the professional game and the amateurs who believed they ‘owned’ the true tradition of the sport; then there was the mixture of disdain and resentment towards the fledgling FIFA; next came a stand-off with the Football League when the latter was led by its flinty, Lytham-based general secretary Alan Hardaker.

Later still the FA was virtually taken prisoner by the Premier League and it needed various reports and inquiries and a kicking from successive Sports Ministers to enforce structural evolution which, by the English nature of such action, ended up in the present uneasy compromise.

The latest contrary example of traditionalist strife was the rejection by the FA Council of the board’s proposal that the age limit of 70 for the chairman be waived so that David Bernstein could continue in office beyond next year.

Power in the council was perceived as having been wielded by men compared with whom Bernstein is still a sprightly youngster.

However, in an era when companies and corporations – indeed, entire industries – spring up and vanish as hastily from the shop-window of society, the Football Association can take pride in being a grand old survivor at 149.

Where would we all be without it?

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