Who invented football, why and when was the first game?

The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is underway, with billions of people around the world watching the world’s most popular sporting spectacle.

So what is the origin of football – a sport that now has five billion followers around the world, according to FIFA– and how far back do games like this date?

Which country invented football?

The earliest version of a football-like game, for which we have evidence cuju, which was played in a wide variety of forms throughout China for centuries. Sources indicate that some sort of trap game was played in China as early as the fourth century BC, although cuju probably became more formalized around the second century BC under the Han dynasty.

Cuju existed in many different varieties and could be played for competitive or purely aesthetic reasons, in teams or individually. These different versions involved kicking a ball, usually made of leather and stuffed with feathers. In competitive versions, two opposing teams passed the ball between them, without it touching the ground, before kicking it into court through a goal.

“Over time, the game continued to evolve, but in terms of sports that we can identify through source material, cuju is the earliest kicking game we have documentation for,” said Zachary Bigalke, a researcher focused on the history and philosophy of sports at Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development News Week.

“From China, cuju spread across borders and developed into local variants of trap games in Japan, Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.”

A model of a game of cuju
A photo taken on May 15, 2014, shows a miniature model illustrating a traditional Chinese game of cuju at the Linzi Football Museum in Zibo, China. Cuju is the earliest documented kicking game involving a ball.
MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

While cuju is the earliest documented trap sport, that doesn’t mean trap games were unknown before it appeared.

Indigenous groups in Australia date the origin of their own trap game, known as mar guess, several millennia ago, although there is a lack of contextual evidence to establish the time of its origin. Despite this, Bigalke said it’s likely that marn gook arose independently around the same time as cuju in China.

Aside from the games played in China and Australia, other notable examples of ancient ball games that restricted the use of the hands can be found in Mesoamerica, a cultural region that includes parts of present-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras included. Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Ball games have a long history in Mesoamerica, stretching back millennia, and played a key role in the political, social, and ritual life of the civilizations that populated this region.

But unlike cuju and related games, which were played with the feet, players of the Mesoamerican ball games propelled the ball with their hips. The balls used bounced as they were made from locally sourced rubber, which is native to the region.

“Mythological accounts state that their unique sport originated several thousand years in the past, and remnants of the ball courts can be found all over Central America,” Bigalke said.

The ancient Greeks and Romans also knew ball games, although these were mainly played with the hands. These sports largely came into the background of the Olympic Games and gladiatorial competitions, although there is evidence that they were part of everyday life.

“The Hellenic Games of episkyros and faininda and the Roman version known as harpastum it was all about throwing and catching in some form, which would make them the ancient progenitors of other football codes such as rugby and the gridiron version found in the United States, rather than prototypes of football,” Bigalke said.

“Overall, these sports probably had little impact on football as we know it today, although they demonstrate the universal appeal of games that challenge individuals and teams to manipulate a ball,” he said, sometimes without shaking their hands. to use.

When was football invented?

The roots of modern football can be traced back to the British Isles, where folk football matches have been played in towns and villages since the Middle Ages, each with its own rules and customs.

Some of these games were particularly violent and destructive and often involved angry mobs. Folk football was a largely chaotic affair and had few rules.

Also called “mob football”, these games featured large opposing teams, either from different villages or within the same settlement. They engaged in kicking, throwing, dragging, or carrying a wooden or leather ball, or an inflated animal bladder, through streets and fields toward a specific target. Anyone could join – women and children, rich and poor – and there was no limit to the number of players.

A variety of statutes restricting or prohibiting the playing of football matches can be found in towns across England and Ireland dating as far back as 1450. This was a response by the authorities to the violence of some of these games.

“Village football games were played as annual traditions around holidays and harvest times, and it was those folk traditions that developed in earnest in several ways during the 19th century,” Bigalke said.

In the 19th century, public (or independent) schools in Britain played an important role in the evolution of football. Attempts were made in this century to standardize and codify the game.

The first World Cup trophy
In 1930, Jules Rimet, president of FIFA, presents the first World Cup trophy to the president of the Uruguayan Football Association after Uruguay defeated Argentina 4-2 in the first World Cup final.
Keystone/Getty images

Independent schools such as Eton and Rugby all had their own version of football, with unique rules, some of which allowed limited handling of the ball, while others did not.

“At the same time, the game was developing distinct traditions among workers in places like Sheffield and across Scotland,” Bigalke said. “As they developed side by side, it was the public schools in particular that won out when it came time to codify a universal set of rules.”

History of the word football

In 1863, the Football Association was formed in London to govern the game and create a unified set of laws. By 1870, the FA had already banned handling of the ball except by the goalkeeper.

Even before the establishment of the FA, football began to expand beyond Britain to other parts of the world, including America.

“Thanks to British economic influence and their imperial power, the game was already played under rules of association – the root of the word football— in places like São Paulo and Buenos Aires before the late 1860s,” Bigalke said.

“In short, we can point to Britain as the clear source of the game we now know as football, as in Britain where rules were reconciled and became universal in the 19th century.”

In the United States, association football is more commonly referred to as “soccer.” But where does this word come from? Students at the University of Oxford, England used different terms in the 1880s to refer to different versions of football. They called rugby football – now known simply as rugby – ‘ruggers’, while referring to association football as ‘asoccer’, which was further shortened to ‘soccer’.

In Britain – and many other parts of the world – ‘soccer’ was simply referred to as football. But in the United States, the term football came to be preferred over time due to the growing popularity of a sport that emerged in the late 1800s, mixing elements of both rugby and association football. This sport is called “gridiron football”, but most Americans simply refer to it as “football”.

Lionel Messi during the Qatar Word Cup
Lionel Messi of Argentina is seen during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group C match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in Lusail City, Qatar. Messi is widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time.
Lionel Hahn/Getty Images

As the gridiron spread across the US, eclipsing both rugby and association football, players of the latter began to refer to their sport by using the word “football”.

Despite the success of gridiron football in the United States, soccer continued to grow in popularity around the world throughout the 20th century. In 1904, the sport’s current governing body, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), was formed by the football associations of Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

In 1908 football was included in the Olympic Games in London and in 1930 FIFA organized the first World Cup championship.

Held every four years, this tournament is now the most prestigious event in sports and is watched by billions worldwide.

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