An English civil servant and contributor to Blackburn Rovers' domination of the English FA Cup competition in the 1880s, who became the second president of world football's governing body the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), from 1906 to his death in 1918. Initially, when FIFA was founded in 1904, the British associations had turned down overtures from the founding nations. Woolfall attended a meeting in Berne in 1905, in negotiation with those founding members after the British had accepted FIFA's objectives and agreed to cooperate, but reported back to the Football Association in England: ‘it is important to the FA and other European Associations that a properly constituted Federation should be established and the Football Association should use its influence to regulate football on the Continent as a pure sport and give all Continental associations the full benefit of the many years experience of the FA’. The language is telling: the FIFA initiative was seen by the English as not ‘properly constituted’, the FA as the guardian of the purity of the game.
When, the following year, Robert Guérin resigned after his attempts to organize an inaugural international competition came to nothing, a four-man British delegation arrived at the third FIFA Congress in Berne in 1906. Woolfall was one of these and was duly elected president, though the football associations of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales were denied membership for several years, mainly as a result of the objections from Germany and Austria on the basis that all of those associations were actually in the one country or nation, the United Kingdom. Woolfall's board eventually granted separate membership to all four British associations in 1912, though this was clearly still against the statutes. Woolfall also stubbornly persisted in keeping the laws of the game in the hands of the British body, the International Board, that had set the rules of the game. His legacy was therefore to establish, whatever the succeeding volatility of the FIFA–British relationship, an unrepresentative presence for British football in the international context, and an extraordinary—and long-lasting—influence of the British over the rules and laws of the sport.
Subjects: Sport and Leisure.