The International Football Conference of 1882: the story of the short-lived National Football Association and the creation of the International Football Association Board (IFAB)

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) is an incredibly influential organisation yet the vast majority of football fans know nothing about it. This is the organisation that recently gave the world of football VAR and only this month approved a temporary rule change that will allow each side up to five substitutes per match to protect player welfare when football resumes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The story of the creation of the IFAB began when the Football Association decided to change its name to the ‘National Football Association’ in early 1882.

Sheffield Independent – Tuesday 26 April 1881

This name change passed without much comment in England and in September 1882 the draw for the first round of the FA Cup was for the first and last time called the ‘National Football Association Challenge Cup’.

Sporting Life – Tuesday 20 September 1881

In January 1882 Mr Don Hamilton (ex-vice-president of the Scottish FA) gave an after dinner speech following a game between Queen’s Park and the Old Carthusians played in Glasgow, in which he railed at the Football Association for styling itself as the ‘National Association’ and accused them of arrogance and impudence.

Athletic News – Wednesday 11 January 1882

Don Hamilton’s outburst led to a conference to discuss the matter and at the same to standardise the rules played by the four home associations

Sporting Life – Saturday 21 October 1882

English Association football in 1882 was equally represented at the Manchester International Football Conference by the London FA in the person of Major Marindin and the Sheffield FA by William Peirce Dix.

List of delegates at the the International Manchester Conference December 6th 1882

Francis Marindin (president of the FA, representing England)
William Peirce Dix (vice-president of the FA and treasurer of the Sheffield Football Association, representing England)
John Wallace (member of the Committee of the SFA, representing Scotland)
Thomas Laurie (vice-president of the SFA, representing Scotland)
Llewellyn Kendrick (representing Wales)
W. R. Owen (representing Wales)
John Sinclair (vice-president of the IFA, representing Ireland)
J. M. McCallery (secretary of the IFA, representing Ireland)

The conference successfully created a common set of rules that could be applied to matches between the UK football associations’ national teams and also saved us from competing for the NFA Cup every season. The rules agreed were:

Sheffield Independent – Thursday 07 December 1882

In the 1883 Football Annual Charles Alcock declared that the Manchester 1882 conference had avoided a serious rupture between English and Scottish players.

In my opinion this December 1882 moment also represents Sheffield’s end point in terms of the influence it represented to the national game. Sheffield is the home of Association football and for the first 25 years of the history of Association game (1857 to 1882) Sheffield was ‘the centre of early world football‘. (Professor Wray Vamplew, Emeritus Professor of Sports History, University of Stirling). But from 1883 Sheffield’s influence with the FA faded and by persevering with amateurism in the 1880s Sheffield missed the boat on professionalism.

If you want to know more about the history of early Sheffield football you can purchase ‘A History of Sheffield Football 1857-1889’ here :

The International Football conferences continued until a falling out in 1886 over professionalism that had been legalised in England in July 1885. Sheffield’s position on professionalism was clear as we can see from this page from the February 1886 Sheffield FA Minute books. ‘It was resolved that in the opinion of this committee it is undesirable to legalise professionalism in any shape or form’. Signed W. Peirce Dix, Chairman.

Courtesy of the Sheffield &Hallamshire County FA

The International Football Conference for February 1886 went ahead without England as they could not agree to the agenda put forward by the Scottish, Welsh and Irish Football Associations.

South Wales Echo – Wednesday 24 February 1886

Unanimity was restored three months later when the International Football Association Board (IFAB) was formed at a meeting held on June 2nd 1886 at the FA’s offices at Holborn Viaduct in London at which it was decided that the FA, SFA, FAW and IFA would each have equal voting rights.

When the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was formed in 1904 they accepted the Laws of the Game as laid out by IFAB but as their global popularity grew they requested that its representatives be included in IFAB. At a special meeting held on February 1913 in Wrexham, FIFA were admitted to IFAB.

Scottish Referee – Monday 24 February 1913

IFAB agreed to FIFA’s request.

Pall Mall Gazette – Saturday 05 April 1913

The first regular IFAB meeting to include FIFA occurred in June 1913. Each association (including FIFA) was entitled to send two representatives, with a four-fifths majority required to change the laws meaning that the UK associations could still change the laws against FIFA’s wishes if they combined their votes. Britain’s on/off relationship with FIFA carried on for the post-war IFAB meetings with FIFA excluded from IFAB from 1920 to 1923 but got back on track from 1924 , with nothing dramatically changing until 1958 when the voting system was over-hauled. Instead of the five members having two votes each, with 80 per cent needed for a majority, FIFA was given four votes and the British home nations one each, with the threshold lowered to 75 per cent. FIFA could not force a change through against England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales’ wishes and vice-versa.

Pictured below are the current members of IFAB (including FIFA’s new chief of global football development Arsene Wenger) courtesy of the excellent Athletic website:

New 620 pg book England’s Oldest Football Clubs 1815-1889 now available in print. Print purchase includes a free PDF version to aid search and online links. “The sort of book that the FA should have produced long ago” Adrian Harvey (Football: The first 100 years)