In the 18th century football was played by most of Britain's leading public schools. There is documentary evidence that football was played at Eton as early as 1747. Westminster started two years later. Harrow, Shrewsbury, Winchester and Charterhouse had all taken up football by the 1750s.
In 1848 a meeting took place at Cambridge University to lay down the rules of football. As Philip Gibbons points out in Association Football in Victorian England (2001): "The varying rules of the game meant that the public schools were unable to compete against each other." Teachers representing Shrewsbury, Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Marlborough and Westminster, produced what became known as the Cambridge Rules. One participant explained what happened: "I cleared the tables and provided pens and paper... Every man brought a copy of his school rules, or knew them by heart, and our progress in framing new rules was slow."
Former public school boys also played football at university. Many continued to play after finishing their education. Charles W. Alcock and his brother, J. F. Alcock established the Old Harrovians Football Club in 1850.
In 1862 a new set of football rules were established at Cambridge University. These specified 11-a-side, an umpire from each side plus a neutral referee, goals 12ft across and up to 20ft high. An offside rule was added. A man could play a ball passed to him from behind, so long as there were three opponents between him and the goal. It was also decided that each game should only last one hour and a quarter. The first game under these rules took place between the Old Harrovians and Old Etonians in November, 1862.
The Old Harrovians played their games on the edge of the edge of Epping Forest at Snaresbrook. Arnold Hills, who played for the Old Harrovians, established Thames Iron Works Football Club in 1895. This club became West Ham United in 1900.