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A speech by The Duke of Cambridge at the Football Association's 150th anniversary dinner

Published 26 October 2013

With the stroke of a pen and 13 rules, Saturday afternoons were never the same again.

The Prince of Wales

FA Chairman, President Blatter, President Platini, Members of The FA Council and all honoured and distinguished guests.

As President of The Football Association it is my great pleasure to welcome you all here this evening, to this The Football Association’s 150th Anniversary Gala Dinner.

It was in this very place 150 years ago that a group of men sat down together in a pub and, although they did not realise it, they took one of the greatest steps in global sporting history. They took a pastime, a popular hobby among young men, and did what comes naturally to human well, perhaps British nature: they gave it some rules. Not too many. Just 13 rules in all, which were written down in a rule book, revised over a short period of time, and then shared among the football clubs that made up the new Football Association.

We take it for granted that association football is a world sport, but it needn’t have been that way. The sport would have probably remained the preserve of a few schools and a handful of clubs, perhaps splintering to a number of different versions of the game - if it were not for the rules laid down that particular evening.

That act of getting together and forming The FA, and crucially giving it simple rules, allowed the game to become the global phenomenon which it is today.

But of course tonight is not just an English celebration. Football is international in every possible way and I believe that the game’s constantly evolving spirit and appeal is a consolidation of all its global influences. Every nation should be proud of their contribution to 150 years of football.

With all that in mind, I consider my position as President of The FA to be an honour and a privilege.

I am proud that during so much of the past 150 years, the Royal Family has been able to offer its support as Patrons and Presidents of this great organisation. As an aside, it’s worth considering that The Queen, who has been Patron of The Football Association since 1952, has witnessed the development of association football across the world for 61 of its 150 years.

Sadly for me, Her Majesty’s time as Patron includes only one occasion when Aston Villa topped the league and only once when we won the FA Cup. I am looking forward to getting to Villa Park soon to do my bit to encourage them to new glories. Regrettably, Her Majesty’s reign includes only one time that England won the World Cup, but I know that Greg and Roy are trying to make up for lost time now.

One aspect of the game which has been intrinsic to it from the start, but I wonder is sometimes taken for granted in the clamour around success, is the old-fashioned idea of sportsmanship. Fair play a level playing field was central to football’s idea of hard-fought competition, and England, on the field at least, has long been perceived as retaining that sense of fair play even if we no longer win so many trophies. I am glad to see that, under the new Chairman and Commission, there is renewed vigour to improve the competitive quality of our national game, for all our sakes, but I would also encourage us to make sure we retain sportsmanship at the heart of this energetic drive for success.

Our national players are role models for millions of young people and I think we need to give those highly pressured and driven players the support and training they need to live up to their rightly exalted status. We were as a nation so proud of our TeamGB athletes at the Olympics and Paralympics, for their success on the field but also for the way they conducted themselves in interviews and with their competitors. It is perfectly possible to say the same about our national teams - they are good people, ambitious for success and to a man and woman aware of their status as role models. The example they set others can, to coin a phrase, inspire a generation. Given the current young and successful England Men's squad as we look forward to Brazil and beyond I think we can be as ambitious about our sportsmanship as we are our competition success; and I look forward to continuing this thought with some of you over the coming months.

On that score, I am proud of the work of Kick it Out, which is also celebrating an anniversary its 20th this year.

There is sadly more work to do but it is heartening to see how seriously The FA takes stamping the blight of racism and discrimination out of football.

One final aspect which remains central to the game now just as it was 150 years ago is the role that volunteers play.

For that reason, I was delighted to be able to meet 150 volunteers at an event to celebrate Grassroots Heroes at Buckingham Palace last month. These volunteers represented an army of over 400,000 volunteers working in football in England, quite apart from countless millions worldwide.

Every one of those volunteers, just like those founding fathers, and so many of you in this room, gives their time freely for the game they love, and they deserve our most grateful praise.

Football is a passion, a hobby, a profession, for many an obsession. Those few men who sat here on October 26 1863 set out a path for us: competition, skill, sportsmanship, team work, dedication and lots and lots of fun.

With the stroke of a pen and 13 rules, Saturday afternoons were never the same again.

Thank you for what you do in ‘Supporting Football’ and have a wonderful evening