Puneet Varma (Editor)

Professionalism in association football

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Association football is the world's most popular sport, and is worth US$600 billion worldwide. By the end of the 20th century it was played by over 250 million players in over 200 countries. Around the world, the sport is played at a professional level by professional footballers, and millions of people regularly go to football stadiums to follow their favourite football teams, while billions more watch the sport on television or on the internet. Football has the highest global television audience in sport. The sport had amateur origins and evolved into the modern professional competition.



Association football was first codified in 1863, with the formation of the Football Association (FA) in England. At this time the sport was played mainly by public schools, or teams with public school roots, and amateurism was the norm. This remained the case until the 1880s, when working-class teams began to vie for supremacy. Blackburn Olympic, a team composed mainly of factory workers, won the 1883 FA Cup Final. They were the first working-class team to win the competition since its inception in 1870. Though professionalism was not permitted, Olympic arranged jobs for their players, and supplemented their income with additional payments, a common occurrence among Lancashire clubs.

The differences between the amateur idealists from southern England and the increasingly professionalised teams from northern industrial towns came to a head in 1884. After Preston North End won an FA Cup match against Upton Park, the Londoners protested, seeking the result to be overturned due to the presence of paid players in the Preston ranks. This sparked a series of events which threatened to split the FA. Preston withdrew from the competition, and fellow Lancashire clubs Burnley and Great Lever followed suit. The protest gathered momentum, to the point where more than 30 clubs, predominantly from the north, announced that they would set up a rival British Football Association if the FA did not permit professionalism. Eighteen months later the FA relented, and in July 1885 professionalism was formally legalised in England.

Though English clubs employed professionals, the Scottish Football Association continued to forbid the practice. Consequently, many Scottish players migrated southward. At first the FA put residential restrictions in place to prevent this, but these were abandoned by 1889. In the inaugural season of the Football League (1888–89), champions Preston North End fielded ten Scottish professionals. The Scottish FA lifted its ban on professionalism in 1893, whereupon 560 players were registered as professionals.

Timeline by country

This table details the year in which professionalism was introduced, country by country.

See also Professional sports#Association football


Professionalism in association football Wikipedia