Association football is arguably Britain’s greatest cultural export. With the game increasingly established in the British Isles during the late 19th century, the association code also began to be played in other parts of the world. While the British were not the only force behind its expansion, the diffusion of modern sport reflected Britain’s global influence at this time.
In general the rugby code was played amongst the social elites in the White Dominions of the British Empire while American football, largely based on rugby rules, was played in Ivy League universities. Soccer’s spread was more widespread. The two main agencies behind this development were commerce and education.
Britain’s manufacturing and trading power took British workers of all types to all parts of the world where they helped to establish the game. The Genoa Cricket and Athletic Club was founded in 1893 by English port employees and soon renamed the Football and Athletic Club.
In 1897, it was agreed to admit Italians as members. The first organised football match played in Brazil had taken place in São Paulo between a group of young Englishmen from the local Gas Company, the London and Brazilian Bank and São Paulo Railway in 1895.
The game had been arranged by Miller, widely recognised as the father of Brazilian football. Miller had been born in Brazil to British parents and aged 10 they sent him to school in England in 1884. Ten years later, he returned home to São Paulo with two footballs and a set of FA rules.
British migrant communities also established their own educational establishments. In St. Petersburg’s English schools and colleges they were playing football by the end of the 1890s and young Englishmen sent to Swiss schools took the game with them. Football was actually taught in the Gordon Memorial College in Khartoum as well as the Marist Colleges and the English Mission Schools in South African and India.
The role of the military was also significant. Teams from visiting British warships played in Montevideo while one of the first games to be played in Barcelona in 1898 was against a team of British sailors. In 1911, 49 British army regiments entered the Durban football competition.
British touring teams further popularised football and helped to improve playing standards. Elite southern amateur teams led the way. The Corinthians, whose players had the time and money, made regular visits to South Africa, North America and Brazil.
By 1900, professional teams were touring. Southampton, Nottingham Forest, Everton, Swindon and Exeter had visited Argentina by 1914, while others entered tournaments like the Vienna Festival of Sport.
Despite the early British influence, different styles soon emerged along with different interpretations of the laws, yet paradoxically it reinforced football’s status as the world game.
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