Soccer’s obscure origin is ironic considering its popularity today. Historians tried to trace the individual who began the history of football but soccer’s very ancient origins has clouded him in mystery.
Yet historians successfully traced the cultures that first played football-like games.
To see more clearly how football began, we can divide its origins into two. First, the ancient times that goes back as old as 4,500 years (A) and then the modern period, the immediate predecessor of the football we love today (B).
A. The Ancient Origin of Football
Historic artifacts and enduring traditions make it clear that football has been played in Egypt, Ancient China, and Rome. The game’s basic principles survived through the years and went on to be played during the medieval times.
Soccer’s Origin in Ancient Egypt
Balls made of linen have been discovered in Egyptian tombs that date way back to 2,500 BC. Some of these balls were made from animal intestines or skin to improve their bouncing.
Based on drawings, scholars theorize that Egyptians played a football-like game during feasts of fertility.
They wrapped their balls in bright-colored cloth and kicked them around the ground to celebrate the abundance of the earth.
Approximately 2,000 years later, a different form of football-like game appeared in China.
Football in Ancient China
Around 476 BC to 221 BC, a sport called cuju was popularly played in China. The name is roughly translated as “kick the ball with foot.” The ancient Chinese stuffed feathers inside a leather ball which they kick inside a rectangular playing field. To score a goal, they have to shoot it through a in a piece of cloth hung between two poles.
The game became so popular because it was used by military leaders as a competitive sport to keep soldiers physically fit.
As the game became more widely played, royal courts began organizing cuju matches played by professional cuju players. Teams composed of women and civilians participated in tournaments as well.
Just like today’s soccer, cuju players are allowed to touch the ball with any part of their body except their arms and hands. Referees are present in the game to make sure that players follow the rules.
Unlike modern-day football, the number of players who can play cuju is flexible. It could range from two to 10 while in matches sponsored by the royal court, the number is usually around 12 to 16.
But not all cuju matches are won by goals. In some tournaments, the games are decided by scores given to players according to how they played the game. For instance, players who make passes that are too short or who kick the ball outside the field’s limits are penalized with point deductions. The team that has the smallest deductions wins.
During the mid-17th Century, cuju began to decline in popularity. Its codes of play, however, survived throughout the ages, making it possible to still play the game today.
About the same period the Chinese were playing their referee-monitored cuju, the Ancient Romans were enjoying another version of football.
The origin of soccer in Ancient Rome
Soccer in Ancient Rome has no rules, strategies, or tactics. It was played by 54 players (27 on each team) whose only aim is to get the ball to the opposing team’s goal.
It became so popular that it was included in the early Olympics. Naturally, many players went home injured during that game.
Aside from football played on the field, there was another one played on the streets. Roman orator Cicero noted that it was mostly played by young boys. These boys would run around the town, kicking the ball on the ground.
He wrote about an incident where the carelessness of players led to death. It happened because they accidentally kicked the ball towards a barber who was shaving a customer.
The barber lost control of his blade and cut the customer’s throat.
Soccer during the Middle Ages
It can be said that English people in general were the ones who kept the tradition of football alive during the Middle Ages.
A very popular form of the sport in the mid-14th Century England is called mob football. It was played by an unlimited number of players. At that point, there was still no one who created football rules.
Players were allowed to go on playing as long as their actions do not lead to manslaughter. They played the games on the streets and turned towns into giant pitches.
Since anyone can join in the games and there were very few rules, medieval football often went out of hand and ended in riots. Playing on the streets also caused trouble to residents and merchants.
These forced rulers to issue decrees banning the sport. However, it has already become so popular that its playing was not stopped at all.
By the end of the 14th Century, the game has become deeply embedded in the English culture.
B. The Beginning of Modern-Day Football
While the sport was widely played by youngsters all over England, it was banned in schools because of its fierceness. Lack of rules governing player conduct often resulted in injuries and chaos.
This prompted the clubs in the 19th Century to create rules that will ensure fair and honest play. These rules are the foundation of the football rules we now follow.
That is why in the 19th Century clubs felt the urge of creating rules. So they gathered together and formed the Football Association. In the United States, the sport became known as soccer.
Creation of the Football Association
As the 1860s began, rules regulating play and roughness in the field were made. It can be said that the clubs that created more strict football rules are the ones who invented the game as we know it today.
But there was one problem during that time: each club or town played with their own set of rules. So when there were meetings from different teams, it often ended in dispute as to what rules should be followed.
This problem was finally solved in 1863 when twelve London clubs met to discuss common rules for the game. These clubs then formed a governing body called The Football Association, the same FA that holds today’s popular FA Cup.
From England, it easily spread to other European countries such as Spain, France, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Eventually, these countries gathered to form a governing body of football that will oversee international games and the FIFA came to be.
FA increased the popularity of football and helped in spreading it throughout the world.
It became known as football, futbol, futebol, and fussbol in different countries but in the United States it became known as soccer.
Who invented the word soccer?
In some countries, such as in the United States, Philippines, and Korea, the world’s most popular sport is referred to as soccer.
The word soccer was first invented in England to distinguish between rugby football and association football.
In order to avoid confusion, students referred to association football “assoccer” while they called rugby football “rugger.” They later on omitted the letter “a” in “assoccer” to make it sound fancier.
Soccer eventually outgrew the popularity of rugby football by far. The distinction between rugger and soccer was no longer necessary. People already knew which sport was meant when someone says “football.” Hence, the word football stuck in English usage.
Americans, however, have their popular sport of gridiron or American football, which goes by the plain name of football. And so they have to use the word soccer to avoid confusion.