The Origin, History, and Invention of Soccer

Lionel Messi of Barcelona takes on Marcelo (L), Cristiano Ronaldo (2R) and Toni Kroos of Real Madrid
David Ramos / Getty Images

There are a number of conflicting beliefs concerning the question of who invented soccer. Known as football in most of the world, it is undeniable that this is one of the most popular sports today. Let's explore how soccer developed and spread over the years.

Soccer in Ancient Times

Some suggest that the history of soccer dates back as far as 2500 B.C. During this time, the Greeks, Egyptians, and Chinese all appear to have partaken in games involving a ball and feet.

Most of these games included the use of hands, feet, and even sticks to control a ball. The Roman game of Harpastum was a possession-based ball game in which each side would attempt to retain possession of a small ball for as long as possible. The Ancient Greeks competed in a similar game entitled Episkyros. Both of these pursuits reflected rules closer to rugby than modern day soccer.

The most relevant of these ancient games to our modern day "Association Football" is the Chinese game of Tsu'Chu (Tsu-Chu or Cuju, meaning "kicking the ball"). Records of the game began during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.) and it may have been a training exercise for soldiers.

Tsu'Chu involved kicking a small leather ball into a net strung between two bamboo poles. The use of hands was not permitted, but a player could use his feet and other parts of his body. The main difference between Tsu'Chu and soccer was the height of the goal, which hung about 30 feet from the ground.

From the introduction of Tsu'Chu onwards, soccer-like games spread throughout the world. Many cultures had activities that centered on the use of their feet, including Japan's Kemari which is still played today. The Native Americans had Pahsaherman, the Indigenous Australians played Marn Grook, and the Moari’s had Ki-o-rahi, to name a few.

Britain Is the Home of Soccer

Soccer began to evolve in modern Europe from the medieval period onwards. Somewhere around the 9th century, entire towns in England would kick a pig’s bladder from one landmark to another. The game was often seen as a nuisance and was even banned during some periods of Britain’s history.

Various forms of what is now known as "folk football" were played. Some of the British games pitted two massive and rather mob-like teams against one another. These could stretch from one end of a town to the other, with both teams trying to get the ball into their opponent's goal.

It's said that the games were often low scoring. Standard rules were not enforced, so almost anything was allowed and play often became quite violent. Shrove Tuesday often saw the biggest games of the year and most matches were a big social event.

As the country industrialized, the space limitations of the cities and less leisure time for workers saw a decline in folk football. This was partially attributed to legal concerns over the violence, as well.

Versions of folk football were also played in Germany, Italy, France, and other European countries. 

The Emergence of Modern Soccer

The codification of soccer began in the public schools of Britain at the beginning of the 19th century.

Within the private school system "football" was a game in which the hands were used during periods of play and grappling allowed, but otherwise, the modern shape of soccer was being formed.

Two barless goals were placed at each end, goalkeepers and tactics were introduced, and high tackles outlawed. Yet, the rules varied greatly: some resembled the play of rugby, while others preferred kicking and dribbling. Space restraints did cool the game down from its violent origins, however.

The rules and regulations continued to evolve in Britain and by the 1800s dedicated soccer clubs at schools began to emerge. Again, even in its semi-organized form, the rules stretched from rugby to modern soccer. Players often tripped each other and kicking an opponent in the shins was only frowned upon when he was being held.

Over the years, schools began playing matches against one another. During this time players were still allowed to use their hands and were only permitted to pass the ball backward, as in rugby.

In 1848, the "Cambridge Rules" were established at Cambridge University. While this allowed students to move up in the ranks as they graduated and adult football clubs became more common, players could continue to handle the ball. There was still quite some way to go in producing the modern game of soccer we see today.

The Creation of the Football Association

The word soccer was derived from an abbreviation from the word association. The -er suffix was popular slang at the Rugby School and Oxford University and used for all sorts of nouns the young men shortened. The association came from the formation of the Football Association (FA) on October 26, 1863.

During this meeting, the FA attempted to bring together the different codes and systems used across Britain to form one accepted set of soccer rules. Carrying the ball was banned, as were the practices of shin-kicking and tripping. This led to the departure of the Blackheath club who preferred the rougher rugby style of play.

Eleven clubs remained and the rules were agreed upon. However, even in the 1870s, a number of regions in Britain continued to play by their own rules.

Soccer Goes Pro

Over the years, more clubs joined the FA until the number reached 128 by 1887. The country finally had a nearly uniform rule structure in place.

In 1872, the first Football Association Cup was played. Other divisions were formed, including the Football League in 1888 in the north and midlands of the country, and the first championship league games were played. 

According to FA rules, players must remain amateurs and not receive pay. This became an issue in the 1870s when a few clubs charged admission to spectators. Players were obviously not happy and demanded compensation for their training and game time. As the popularity of the sport grew, so did spectators and revenue.

Eventually, clubs decided to begin paying and soccer turned into a professional sport.

Soccer Spreads Worldwide

It did not take long for other European countries to adopt the British love for soccer. Leagues began popping up throughout the world: the Netherlands and Denmark in 1889, Argentina in 1893, Chile in 1895, Switzerland and Belgium in 1895, Italy in 1898, Germany and Uruguay in 1900, Hungary in 1901, and Finland in 1907. It was not until 1903 that France formed their league, even though they had adopted the British sport long before.

The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) was formed in Paris in 1904 with seven members. This included Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Germany announced its intention to join the same day.

In 1930, the first ever FIFA World Cup was held in Uruguay. There were 41 members of FIFA at the time and it has remained the pinnacle of the soccer world ever since. Today it boasts over 200 members and the World Cup is one of the biggest events of the year.

Source:

FIFA. History of Football. 2017.