Nearly 155 years ago a group of men entered the Freemasons Tavern on what was then known as Queen’s Street. The date was the 26th October and together with the representatives of almost a dozen London-based sides, the Football Association (FA) was born.

Among their number was Ebenezer Cobb Morley, a solicitor originally from Hull. He moved to Barnes in 1858 where he practised his trade in various London offices up until 1921. He was passionate about helping those in need and was reported to have given legal council free of charge to those who could not afford to pay. Morley also served on the served on the Surrey county council during the early twentieth century, from 1909 to 1919, where his was a dedicated voice for then improvement of education. Amongst his passions was also conservation and he worked as the Barnes Common keeper during his life. He married Frances Bidgood in October 1869 but alas unfortunately did not have any children.

Morley is often referred to as 'the grand old sportsman of Barnes', and was multi-talented across a range of sports. For example, he was a talented rower and the founder of both the Barnes and Mortlake rowing regattas in 1862. He was also particular to a sport of gymnastics and built his own gym at 26 The Terrace, Barnes which was used by rowers and footballers alike.

It was however in football in which Ebenezer Cobb Morley left his defining legacy. He was the first secretary of the FA from 1863 to 1866 and helped to draft the first ever laws of the game from his residence in Barnes. Up until this point ‘football’ had been a violent activity from the streets, with many confusion and differing ‘rules’ from the public schools of the age. For example, it would take several meetings before ‘hacking’ was prohibited- quite a world away from the multi-million-pound superstars that we see nowadays in the Premier League!

During his playing days he played in one of the first officially recognised fixtures against Richmond. This game was played on he 19th December at Lime fields, Barnes. He then went one better and scored in the first representative match for the clubs of London XI against a fellow XI from their counterparts in Sheffield on the 31st March 1866. This match was of great historic importance as it was the first time that a football match had been limited to the now traditional 90 minutes, and it wold prove so popular that it would go on to be adopted as the standard length of football matches from then on. Morley was described by a contemporary report from the game as both a “clever and effective player.”

The Football Associations influence was mainly limited to London during its early years, but its jurisdiction and reach quickly grew. Morley's distinctive handwriting can still be seen in the first ever minute book, which is held by the FA. He was also the first man to present the FA cup in 1872, following the Wanderers 1-0 victory against the Royal Engineers at the Kennington Oval, London. Morley sadly died of pneumonia on 20 November 1924 at his house in Barnes—just two years shy of the opening of England’s footballing cathedral, Wembley stadium—aged 93. He was later buried in Barnes cemetery.

As the first secretary of the first organized football body, Morley deserves to be better known for his incredible legacy, that has brought millions around the world pleasure and joy. Morley and the FA defined football and subsequently paved the way for later developments such as the creation of tournament and international football. It is also fascinating how our local area and people played such an important role in the fundamental foundations of The beautiful game.

James Dowden

Hampton School