Soccer, a game played by more than 250 million players across 200 countries. The sport is loved by fans all over the world, who make up a massive 3.5 billion in population. The legacy of soccer is such a long one that there are hardly any records of its origin. You may as well say that it was born 3,000 years ago.
However, some records in history indicate that early forms of soccer, which is more popularly known as football, originated somewhere around the second or third century BC, in China. Under Han dynasty, Chinese first began to indulge themselves in kicking a leather ball into the net.
A closer look into the past also indicates the existence of the game in some format or the other in various other regions – Japan, Rome, Greece, and Korea. There are various appearances of the game in many cultures throughout history. However, if someone has to get credit for soccer in its modern form, it has to be the British. It was during the mid-nineteenth century that the British formulated a set of rules for the game, most of which are still in use.
Before this modernization of the game, soccer was quite a violent game. Depending on the region where it was played, everything from pushing, tripping, hurting, gauging, punching, and so on was allowed. In fact, some versions of lore around the game claim that the first ball used in England for soccer was actually the head of a Danish brigand. The game became so popular in England during the medieval times that, often people would throng to watch the games all day long.
Consequently, the pressure to win was such that the games were rife with serious violence and bloodshed. This violence was not only limited to the players in the field, but also engulfed the passionate masses. Even soldiers began to miss their archery training sessions in order to play and watch the games.
When the violence became too much to handle, King Edward II went ahead and banned the game in 1365. King James I of Scotland also decided to ban the sport in 1424. As their successors came and passed, their emotion towards the game kept changing. King Henry IV of England provides one of the first documented accounts of the game being called football. His proclamation banned the people from betting on what was then called as “foteball”. King Henry VIII of England ordered a pair of football boots in 1526.
Football, as a game, underwent a tremendous transformation in England during the mid and the late nineteenth century. In 1815, Cambridge Rules were formulated for the game, which made it immensely popular in schools, colleges and universities. Fans of the game were largely divided into two groups. The Rugby Group supported a bit of light violence in the game such as shin kicking, tripping and so on. People who played by these Rugby rules, even allowed handling of the ball. The other group, which espoused the Cambridge Rules, went forth and banned the violence and handling of the ball completely.
This classification, although divided the fans, helped the game spread like a wildfire among the student community. In fact, irrespective of the rules they followed, public schools supported their students to play the game, to keep them fit. These public school boys were largely responsible for creating various rules of the game, when they organized games, especially with other school boys.
With the explosion in the popularity of rail transport, it became easier to travel larger distances. This gave birth to many inter-school sporting events which were separated by large distances. Such events also played a significant role in the convergence of different sets of football rules.
In 1863, formal rules for soccer as well as rugby were laid down in a series of dramatic events. First, Football Association was formed and formal rules were set for soccer. Soon, supporters of Rugby left the association and created their own set of formal rules for the game. Nevertheless, the year marked the beginning of a new era of soccer, whose rules became to be widely accepted. The final nail in the coffin, marking the split of the two game formats, happened in 1869, when the Football Association banned the handling of the ball completely.
By this time, England had become a gigantic empire, with trade partners, and colonies extending to every corner of the earth. The British sailors, officers, soldiers, and traders, who travelled the world, introduced the sport to dozens of other countries. The sport was a particular hit in the colonies. A number of football clubs were also formed across the Europe, Australia and Americas.
Early footballs were made of pig bladders. Richard Lindon is credited with inventing the rubber inflatable bladder. He also invented the brass hand pump to blow up the ball. In 1855, Charles Goodyear created the world’s first vulcanized rubber ball, which was spherical in shape. This laid the foundation for the modern shape of the football. Moreover, the term “soccer” also originated in the late 19th century, as a derivation from an Oxford University abbreviation of “Association”, as the game was then known as “Association Football”.
Similar trends were in action on the other side of the Atlantic in the United States. Students from Yale, Princeton, Harvard, and other top institutes were leading the way in popularizing the sport. Initially, the game was played only by the elite class of boys. Later, it spread among the working class and rapidly spread across the country, to even rival the popularity of baseball. 1920s are considered as the golden era of soccer in America, as the American Soccer League came into existence. Finally, the U.S., had a league that could compete with the European counterparts.
Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)
Attempts to unite the different schools of thought on soccer were afoot as early as 1860s. However, these attempts were mainly limited to bringing together various public schools under a single format. They gathered traction over the years, and the result of this was the creation of Fédération Internationale de Football Association in 1904. It was established to organize events between national soccer associations of European countries like Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
FIFA did not formulate any rules. Its job was, and is, to host championship matches between national associations. The then FIFA president, Jules Rimet, tried to organize the world cup soccer championship as early as 1926, between the Olympics. However, it did not materialize, and the first world cup happened only in 1930. The game was hosted by Uruguay, and the participants, apart from the host, were Argentina, Brazil, Belgium, Bolivia, Chile, France, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Romania, the United States, and Yugoslavia. The rest of the European countries did not want to travel as far as Uruguay and therefore, held back. The first world cup was won by Uruguay.
FIFA has stood against the tides of the changing world for over a century, and has ensured that the world championships kept happening. The biggest milestone for the body came in 1991, when it hosted the first women’s World Cup in China. In 1996 FIFA made another landmark decision to appoint
Korea and Japan as co-hosts of the 2002 championship. Till then, almost all the championships were hosted by European and American countries.
Soccer has come a long way to become the most popular sport across the world. This journey of the sport is almost as long as the human civilizations itself. What was first created as a military training exercise, is now one of the most loved games across the globe.