Sport has played a great role in England. The most popular of them, football was first codified in 1863 in London. The impetus for this was to unify English public school and university football games. There is evidence for refereed, team football games being played in English schools since at least 1581. An account of a kicking football game from Nottingham-shire in the fifteenth century has striking similarity to football. The two main cup competitions in England are the FA Cup, which is open to every men's football team in England, and the League Cup, which is for the 92 professional clubs in the four main professional divisions only.
Another popular sport in England is Cricket.
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The United Kingdom was the birthplace of modern sport. From the drawing up of rules to the development of sporting philosophies, Britons have played a major role inshaping sport as the world knows it today. This role meant that British sport wasoverly insular and confident in its early days, while its post-1945 history was markedby doubts and crises as the nation realised that the rest of world had moved on, asituation that mirrored the UK’s wider crisis of confidence in a post-imperial world. Clubs could afford to pay players because soccer and rugby had become somethingthat people watched as well as played. This owed much to the establishment of cupcompetitions, which, fed by civic and regional rivalries, gave some purpose andexcitement to matches. In the industrial north of England, the growing crowds beganto be charged for the privilege of watching and hosted in purpose-built grounds. Suchcrowds worried the class prejudices of social onlookers, who complained about thedrinking, gambling and partisanship of supporters, as well as the impact on thenation’s health of a population that spent its free time watching rather than playing.When soccer played on after the outbreak of war in 1914 the reputation of professional sport plummeted amongst the middle classes. Nonetheless, sport was toplay an important role in maintaining troop morale at the front. In the aftermath of theGreat War spectator sport reached new heights of popularity. The largest leaguegames in soccer could attract as many as 60,000; yet, beyond drinking and gambling,disorder was rare. This led the sport to be celebrated as a symbol of the generalorderliness and good nature of the British working class at a time of political andsocial unrest at home and abroad.For spectators professional sport offered an exciting communal experience,where the spheres of home and work could be forgotten in the company of one’speers. As such, crowds at professional soccer and rugby league becameoverwhelmingly masculine enclaves that fed a shared sense of community, andperhaps even class, identities. Sport’s ability to promote civic identity wasunderpinned not by the players, who being professional were transient, but by thesupporters and the club sharing the name of its town or city. Working-class sport could not be divorced from the character of working-classculture. Local sport was thus intensely competitive and often very physical. In bothfootball codes, bodies and fists were hurled through the mud, cinders and sawdust of the rough pitches that were built on parks, farmland and even mountainsides. But,win or lose, for many men and boys, playing sport was a source of considerablephysical and emotional reward. For many youths, giving and taking such knocks waspart of a wider process of socialization: playing sport was an experience that helpedteach them what it meant to be a man. Similarly, working-class sporting heroesreflected the values and interests of the audience; they were tough, skilled andattached to their working-class roots. Cricket was the national sport of late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuryEngland, in that its following was not limited to one class or region. Matches in urbanworking-class districts may have lacked the pressed white flannels or neat greenwickets of a test match at Lord’s but they shared the same intricacy and subtlety of play. The contest between the skill and speed of the bowler and the technique andbravery of the batsmen was one familiar to both working-class boys and upper-classgentlemen. Cricket’s popularity owed something to the rural image of England that itencapsulated. Cricket on the village green was an evocative and emotive image,employed even by a prime minister at the end of the twentieth century. Yet, from theEnglish elite, cricket spread not only to the masses of the cities but also the fourcorners of the vast British Empire, where it enabled the colonies to both celebrateimperial links with the motherland and also take considerable pride in putting theEnglish in their place.Like cricket, horseracing had been organised since the eighteenth century andwas followed by all classes from Lords to commoners. Gambling was at the core of its attraction and a flutter on the horses was extremely popular, despite its illegality(until 1963) when the bet was placed in cash and outside the racecourse. As withsoccer, the sporting press offered form guides and was studied closely, with elaborateschemes being developed to predict a winner. The racecourse itself was often ratherdisreputable, with the sporting entertainment on offer to its large crowds beingsupplemented by beer, sideshows and, in the nineteenth century, prostitutes. Itprovided the middle classes with an opportunity to (mis)behave in a manner thatwould be impossible in wider respectable society. 
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