The England national football team is the joint-oldest in the world; it was formed at the same time as Scotland. A representative match between England and Scotland was played on 5 March 1870, having been organised by the Football Association. A return fixture was organised by representatives of Scottish football teams on 30 November 1872.

This match, played at Hamilton Crescent in Scotland, is viewed as the first official international football match, because the two teams were independently selected and operated, rather than being the work of a single football association. Over the next forty years, England played exclusively with the other three Home Nations—Scotland, Wales and Ireland—in the British Home Championship.

At first, England had no permanent home stadium. They joined FIFA in 1906 and played their first ever games against countries other than the Home Nations on a tour of Central Europe in 1908. Wembley Stadium was opened in 1923 and became their home ground. The relationship between England and FIFA became strained, and this resulted in their departure from FIFA in 1928, before they rejoined in 1946. As a result, they did not compete in a World Cup until 1950, in which they were beaten in a 1–0 defeat by the United States, failing to get past the first round in one of the most embarrassing defeats in the team’s history.