Football was played in Wales in the early Middle Ages. According to George Owen (c. 1550) in Wales football was slightly different from the game played in England: "There is a round ball prepared... so that a man may hold it in his hand... The ball is made of wood and boiled in tallow to make it slippery and hard to hold... The ball is called a knappan, and one of the company hurls it into the air... He that gets the ball hurls it towards the goal... the knappan is tossed backwards and forwards... It is a strange sight to see a thousand or fifteen hundred men chasing after the knappan... The gamesters return home from this play with broken heads, black faces, bruised bodies and lame legs... Yet they laugh and joke and tell stories about how they broke their heads... without grudge or hatred."
Professional football emerged in Wales in the late 19th century. It became very popular in those areas which had seen large-scale immigration from England. The game was encouraged by the ruling class. In 1881 Sir William Wynne, MO for Denbighshire, argued: "Much has been said of the British spending their time on drinking... These kinds of sports... keep young men from wasting their time... after playing a good game of football... young men are more glad to go to bed then visiting the public house."
The best Welsh players moved to England. For example, the former miner from Chirk, Billy Meredith, was considered to be the best players in the league in the 1890s.
Rugby Union became more popular in Wales than football and it was impossible to establish a high-quality league in the country. The top clubs joined the Football League and Cardiff City became a leading First Division side and in 1927 won the FA Cup.