When was football invented?

So if you’re a visitor to TFT, we’re guessing that you already know what football is but to the non-initiated it’s a team sport which involved two teams playing and trying to kick a ball in a set area to score a goal. There are many types of football (American, Gaelic etc.) but this article is going to focus on association football or soccer as it’s known in some countries.

There are conflicting beliefs as to when football started to emerge, some of which we will explore in this article.

Ancient origins

There are suggestions that football dates back as far as 2500 BC (so about 4500 years ago). Ancient Romans and Greeks are known to have played ball games; some of these involved the use of the feet. The ancient Greeks played a game known as Episkyros (or ἐπίσκυρος), and the ancient Romans adapted this into a game called harpastum. These games were mentioned in ancient texts and appeared to resemble the game of rugby more closely. FIFA recognises Episkyros as an early form of football.

The earliest evidence of people playing a sport like football was in China. People called it Cuju or Ts’u-chü. This was a competitive game which involved kicking a ball through an opening and into a net. FIFA recognises this as the earliest form of football for which there is evidence. The text which references this (Zhan Guo Ce or in English Strategies of the Warring States) dates the sport from 206 BD to AD 220, which means that people played a version of football over 2200 years ago. Initially, soldiers used football as a form of fitness training, and wealthy cities showcased it for entertainment. The sport remained popular for nearly 2000 years in China until it’s decline during the Ming Dynasty in the 1600s.

There are many other ancient games which resemble football, “Marn Grook” from Australia, Ki-o-rahi, a game played by the Māori in New Zealand and many others.

Football in Britain

Modern football has its origins set firmly in Medieval times in Britain. This type of “folk football” was a free-for-all played by mobs of people with little in the way of rules and with games often descending into violence. Kicking and handling of the ball towards the goals seemed to be allowed. We know very little about football in Britain up until the nineteenth century. The only references to the game before this point were mainly about attempts to ban the game from being played. This basic version of football often involved entire towns playing on the festival day of Shrove Tuesday. Versions of this type of football were also played in other countries in Europe including Germany, Italy and France around this time.

Moving towards the modern-day

Public schools helped to drive the sport of football in the early 1800s. This version was one where you could handle the ball, and grappling was allowed. This form of football resembled modern-day rugby to an extent, but we see the development of some of the central tenets we are used to seeing today, including goals at either end of a pitch and rules. Each school had its version of football with their own rules, but schools wanted to organise football matches between themselves so there needed to be a set of rules established to let these happen. These rules are the basis for modern rugby, with referees enforcing the rules.

The Cambridge University Rules became the basis for modern association football, a revised set of these rules was published in 1863 which forbade the tripping of opponents and soon after would disallow handling of the ball. These revised rules were borne out of a meeting between several clubs and schools and they agreed to form the Football Association (FA), taking parts of the rules from Cambridge and Sheffield. With the adoption of these rules, certain things were banned, like carrying the ball, shin kicking and tripping. This lead to one team leaving the FA and resulted in the formation of the Rugby Football Union a few years later.

Professional and international beginnings

More and more teams adopted the rules that the FA had laid out, and by 1871 the inaugural FA Cup competition was held. The first FA cup final took place at Kennington Oval in 1872. The Wanderers won! The FA Cup is the world’s oldest major competition.

International football has it’s first match in 1872 when the England national team went to Glasgow to play the Scottish national team, it ended in a 0-0 draw. Although there had been earlier matches in London between teams called England and Scotland, these weren’t officially recognised by the FA.

The FA had set out rules that to be a footballer in the FA, you must remain an amateur and thus not receive any pay. This started to become an issue in the 1870s when some clubs charged admission and players didn’t receive a cut. Disputes arose between clubs and players with players demanding compensation for their effort. Due to the popularity of the sport increasing revenue for the clubs they decided to start paying their player, and thus football turned into a professional sport.

International adoption

Football began spreading throughout Europe, and many other countries started setting up their football leagues (Netherlands and Denmark in 1889, Argentina in 1893, Chile in 1895 and many others). France formed their association in 1903 even though football had been played there for many years. The next year, 1904, seen the creation of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), which as you probably know is responsible for the World Cup, which was first held in 1930 in Uruguay and won by the home team.

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