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Who Invented Soccer?

By Mike Crocombe

Soccer player kicking ball in stadium
Bernhard Lang/The Image Bank/Getty Images

There are a number of conflicting beliefs concerning the question of who invented soccer. Some suggest that the history of soccer dates back as far as 2500BC, during which time the Greeks, Egyptians and Chinese all appear to have partaken in feet-based games involving a ball.

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 where 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’, but 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’ or ‘kick ball’ as it translates. Records of the game begin during the Tsin Dynasty (255-206BC) and represent a game in which soldiers competed in a training activity featuring a leather ball being kicked into a net strung between two poles. The main difference between Tsu-Chu and soccer was the height of the goal, which hung about 30 feet from the floor.

From the introduction of Tsu-Chu onwards, soccer-like games spread throughout the world, with many cultures having activities that centred on the use of their feet. The Native Americans had ‘Pahsaherman’, the Indigenous Australians ‘Marn Grook’ and the Moari’s ‘Ki-o-rahi’ to name a few.

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

The codification of soccer began in the public schools of Britain at the beginning of the 16th 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.

The rules and regulations continued to evolve in Britain and by the 1700s dedicated soccer clubs began to emerge, playing matches against one another. During this time these sides were still allowed to use their hands during play and were only permitted to pass the ball backwards, meaning there was still quite someway to go in producing the modern game of soccer we see today.

It was finally the Football Association (from which the term soccer derives) who attempted to bring together the different codes and systems across Britain to form one accepted set of soccer rules in 1863. Soon after the FA rules were agreed, the first official soccer match took place in Battersea Park, London, featuring many of the top players.

From that point on soccer flourished in Britain, with the Football Association Cup being introduced 12 years later and the foundation of the Football League in 1888. At the same time soccer clubs began to spread throughout Europe, with Denmark, Belgium and Switzerland all having Association football clubs by 1880. By the turn of the 20th century many European countries had formed their own soccer leagues and competed in international games between rivaling nations.

The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) reflected an international agreement between codes and countries and was formed in 1904. In 1930 the first ever FIFA World Cup was held in Uruguay and has remained the pinnacle of the soccer world ever since.

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