Various early ball games were played in England in the Middle Ages which are sometimes referred to as 'folk football' or Shrovetide football. In the games villagers or townspeople would play against a neighbouring settlement, with the aim to move an inflated pigs' bladder through goal posts which could be miles apart. These games varied a great deal locally. The games could become a dangerous free-for-all and even lead to rioting so both the monarchy and local authorities often sought to ban the games and encourage more useful pastimes such as archery instead. Football became standardised due to its usage in public schools in the 18th and 19th centuries. Each school had its own rules and in order for them to play against each other these rules had to be standardized. In 1863 the Football Association was formed and developed the rules of Association Football which were similar to those used today, but received further modification in the 1870s-1880s.
(Plan of Swindon Town FC proposed additional stands, 1911 - part of the Swindon Borough Council archives Reference G24/760/2453)
In 1871 the Football Association Challenge Cup was instituted which was the first knockout competition of its kind and helped to popularise football nationally. Professional players were allowed subject to certain conditions. Wiltshire's most successful football club is Swindon Town Football Club. Founded in 1879 as 'the Spartans' it turned professional in 1894 and went on to win the Southern League championship, the League Cup, and entered the Premier League in 1993. It is currently in Division One.
Photograph of Swindon Town Football 1st Team c1909 (Reference 2367/9)
Most of the other clubs in Wiltshire play in minor leagues but are no less loyally supported than Swindon. They often have nicknames based on their kit - eg Bluebirds for Chippenham; the Peacocks for Corsham; Robins for Downton (and Swindon); the Bees for Trowbridge, and so on.
Some of Wiltshire's footballers have even gone on to play for England - see our blog. Football was first included in the Olympics in 1900 and women's football was included from 1996.