Ebenezer Cobb Morley

The Football Association’s Founding Father – The Hull Connection

Ebenezer Cobb Morley (1831-1924)

It would be hard to imagine football without the Football Association (FA), and especially the FA Cup, but without the Hull connection and a man with humble beginnings, the Football Association may never have been formed.

Ebeneezer Cobb Morley, widely recognised as the founding father of the Football Association, was born at 10 Garden Square, Mason Street, Hull on 16 August 1831, just a few steps away from the site of the Hull History Centre. His father, Revd. Ebenezer Morley (1802-1862), was an independent minister at the Holborn Street Chapel, and it was here that he was baptized in September 1831. He was named Cobb after his mother Hannah’s (1800-1880) maiden name.

We know little about his early life in Hull except that, despite not being educated at a public school, he became articled to a solicitor and qualified in law in 1854. He went on to practice as a solicitor, and had chambers at 3 King’s Bench Walk, Temple, London.

It is clear that the family relocated to the London area in the 1850s as we find his mother, father, sisters, a cousin and their servant living in Chelsea on the 1861 census. However, it would appear that Ebenezer Cobb Morley still retained interests in Hull as late as 1876, as records within the Hull History Centre archives reveal that he surrendered land in Linneus Street for a consideration of £950 to a George Wilde Windass on 6 November 1876, Ebenezer himself signing the Court Roll to secure the deal [C WY/3 bundle 1876, Manor of Tupcoates with Myton Court Roll]. His address at this time is given as 13 Palmerston Buildings, Old Broad Street in the City of London.

Morley was an all-round sportsman and after settling in Barnes in south-west London he joined the London Rowing Club. It was with friends and colleagues from the rowing club that he founded the Barnes football club.

Ebenezer’s nonconformist background and schooling had a great influence on him, and this, together with his passion for football, led him to believe that the game should have rules. He wrote to Bell’s Life suggesting that rules should be imposed on the game in the same way that cricket had, and this led to the meeting of representatives of a dozen London and suburban clubs at the Freemason’s Tavern in London on 26 October 1863. It was at this meeting that the Football Association of England was formed.

Morley himself drafted the thirteen original laws of the FA at his home in Barnes. We can only imagine how violent the game was before the laws were introduced, as number 13 stated:

No player shall wear projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta percha (a form of natural rubber introduced to the west in 1843) on the soles or heels of his boots.

A dangerous game indeed!

It is no surprise that he was elected the first Honorary Secretary of the FA in 1863, a post he held until 1866, before becoming the second president of the FA from 1867-1874. He scored the first goal in the representative match London v Sheffield on 31 March 1866, and in 1872 became the first man to present the FA Cup.

Alongside his footballing career, Ebenezer Cobb Morley was the founder and secretary of Barnes and Mortlake Regatta and was an oarsman in London Rowing Club’s eight for the Grand Challenge Cup, Henley, in 1864. He was a keen huntsman and had his own pack of 12 beagles, and he built a gym for footballers and rowers in Barnes.

In later life, from 1903-1919, Ebenezer Cobb Morley represented Barnes on Surrey County Council, and was a Justice of the Peace and Conservator of Barnes Common.

Morley, who came to be known as ‘The Old Sportsman of Barnes’, was a remarkable man in every aspect of his life and seems to have lived life to the full for the whole of his 93 years. When he died from pneumonia on 20 November 1924 in Richmond, Surrey, the original Wembley Stadium had been open for eighteen months and football as we know it had become a more structured and ordered tournament game, both locally and internationally.

Ebenezer Cobb Morley married Frances Bidgood in Pancras on 14 October 1869, but as neither he nor any of his siblings had children, his direct lineage ended with his death.