UEFA President Michel Platini thanked the English Football Association (FA) "for its contribution to creating, fostering and building our sport" as the FA's 150th anniversary celebrations began in earnest with a gala event in central London.
Held at the Great Connaught Rooms, on the site of the Freemasons' Tavern where the first laws of the game were drawn up, the event celebrated the esteemed history of the world's oldest association and its responsibility, in the words of FA chairman David Bernstein, to "promote fair play and positive behaviour to encouraging equality and inclusion".
Bernstein added: "From Wembley to parks pitches, an invisible unbreakable thread runs through. Through hope, ambition and a love of the game it links us all, every player, coach, official and fan. It has been quite some 150 years. The minutes from that original meeting pinpointed the three values at the heart of football – vision, commitment and team work. They remain our inspiration."
England manager Roy Hodgson and women's counterpart Hope Powell were among those to pay tribute to the work of the association, as did FA president HRH the Duke of Cambridge. "It is an organisation which reaches every community, bringing the simplest enjoyment to people of all ages and all abilities," Prince William said in a video address. "Over 150 years, football has become part of the very fabric of our society and I hope the year ahead will allow us to celebrate every aspect of this great game."
UEFA will play a major part in the anniversary festivities, with the men's and women's UEFA Champions League finals due to take place respectively at London's Wembley and Stamford Bridge either side of the UEFA Congress – returning to the English capital for the third time after 1966 and 1996 – in late May. The UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship will then be held in central England at the end of the year.
Michel Platini said: "I would like to congratulate the Football Association on this wonderful landmark, its 150th anniversary – a milestone that is worthy of celebration by the entire worldwide football family. Although UEFA has only existed for a fraction of this time, we are honoured to play our part in celebrating the anniversary of the oldest football association in the world.
"To my mind, it is logical that this season's UEFA Champions League final will be played at the new Wembley, the new home to the Football Association. We thank the Football Association for its contribution to creating, fostering and building our sport, and on behalf of UEFA and its member associations we wish you another 150 years of success in helping to further strengthen and develop football worldwide."
From FIFA World Cup winners to volunteers, all levels of the English football pyramid were represented. Joining them were famous names of European football: German greats Olivier Bierhoff – scorer of the golden goal that won EURO '96 at Wembley – and Lothar Matthäus took to the stage along with French legends Marcel Desailly and Patrick Vieira, while former FC Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola and Real Madrid CF's José Mourinho both sent messages.
The FA later announced that an annual National Football Day would have its inaugural staging on Saturday 10 August to honour the manager who led England to the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup, Sir Bobby Robson. More than 150 clubs at all levels will participate in a day that will promote grassroots football.
For a full calendar of FA150 events, click here.