Now that the FIFA World cup is well on its way, it might be a good time to have a look at the history of Football.
I will be referring to the sport as Football and not soccer, because the name is Associated Football. It is one of the most if not the most popular sports in the world. More than 240 million people around the world play soccer regularly according to the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
The first known examples of a team game involving a ball, which was made out of a rock, occurred in old Mesoamerican cultures for over 3,000 years ago. It was by the Aztecs called Tchatali, although various versions of the game were spread over large regions. In some ritual occasions, the ball would symbolize the sun and the captain of the losing team would be sacrificed to the gods. A unique feature of the Mesoamerican ball game versions was a bouncing ball made of rubber – no other early culture had access to rubber.
The first known ball game which also involved kicking took place In China in the third and second century BC under the name Cuju. Cuju was played with a round ball (stitched leather with fur or feathers inside) on an area of a square.
A modified form of this game later spread to Japan and was by the name of kemari practiced under ceremonial forms.
Perhaps even older Cuju was Marn Gook, played by Aboriginal Australians and according to white emigrants in the 1800s a ball game primarily involving kicking. The ball was made by encased leaves or roots. The rules are mostly unknown, but as with many other early versions of the game keeping the ball in the air was probably a chief feature.
There are a number of references to traditional, ancient, or prehistoric ball games, played by indigenous peoples in many different parts of the world. For example, in 1586, men from a ship commanded by an English explorer named John Davis, went ashore to play a form of football with Inuit in Greenland. There are later accounts of an Inuit game played on ice, called Aqsaqtuk. Each match began with two teams facing each other in parallel lines, before attempting to kick the ball through each other team’s line and then at a goal. In 1610, William Strachey, a colonist at Jamestown, Virginia recorded a game played by Native Americans, called Pahsaheman. Pasuckuakohowog, a game similar to modern-day association football played amongst Amerindians, was also reported as early as the 17th century.
In the 16th century, the city of Florence celebrated the period between Epiphany and Lent by playing a game which today is known as “calcio storico” (“historic kickball”) in the Piazza Santa Croce.  The young aristocrats of the city would dress up in fine silk costumes and embroil themselves in a violent form of football. For example, calcio players could punch, shoulder charge, and kick opponents. Blows below the belt were allowed. The game is said to have originated as a military training exercise.
But football as we know it today has its roots in 19th century England.
An attempt to create proper rules for the game was done at a meeting in Cambridge in 1848, but a final solution to all questions of rules was not achieved. Another important event in the history of football came about in 1863 in London when the first Football association was formed in England. It was decided that carrying the ball with the hands wasn’t allowed. The meeting also resulted in a standardization of the size and weight of the ball. A consequence of the London meeting was that the game was divided into two codes: association football and rugby.
In Europe, early footballs were made out of animal bladders, more specifically pig’s bladders, which were inflated. Later leather coverings were introduced to allow the balls to keep their shape. However, in 1851, Richard Lindon and William Gilbert, both shoemakers from the town of Rugby (near the school), exhibited both round and oval-shaped balls at the Great Exhibition in London. Richard Lindon’s wife is said to have died of lung disease caused by blowing up pig’s bladders. Lindon also won medals for the invention of the “Rubber inflatable Bladder” and the “Brass Hand Pump”.
In 1855, the U.S. inventor Charles Goodyear, who had patented vulcanised rubber , exhibited a spherical football, with an exterior of vulcanised rubber panels, at the Paris Exhibition Universelle. The ball was to prove popular in early forms of football in the U.S.
The iconic ball with a regular pattern of hexagons and pentagons (see truncated icosahedron) did not become popular until the 1960s, and was first used in the World Cup in 1970.
Clubs in Sheffield played a significant role in the development of the rules of football, leading to how the modern game is played today. The Sheffield Rules were devised by the Sheffield Football Club and played in the city between 1857 and 1877. As a result, corner kicks, throw-ins, and heading the ball were introduced into Sheffield football before Association Football rules.
On 28 October 1858, Sheffield Football Club’s first rules of football were ratified at a general meeting at the Adelphi Hotel. As well as creating Sheffield FC, Nathaniel Creswick and William Prest was instrumental in setting up the rules that they adhered to. Sheffield FC’s first set of rules featured the following features:
A player cannot touch the ball with his hands, except when pushing or hitting it, and when a fair catch is made. Kicking, tripping, and holding opponents (foul play) were forbidden, but charging and pushing were permitted. A fair catch resulted in a free kick, but the free kick could not lead to a goal. In 1858, a goal could only be scored by kicking it. Throw-ins are awarded to teams that touch the ball after it has left play. In order to throw the ball in, it must be thrown at a right angle to the touchline.
There was a “kick-out” (goal kick) from 25 yards when the ball went out of play over the goal-line. Offside laws did not exist. The numbers on each side were not dictated by the Sheffield rules. Over the 20 years, these Sheffield rules were updated after each season until the Sheffield Association and the London-based FA came to a head in 1877.
The world’s first competitive inter-club match between Hallam FC and Sheffield FC in 1860 and the world’s first football tournament, the Youdan Cup, were played according to the Sheffield Rules. Following the 1860 Boxing Day derby between Hallam and Sheffield, players and committee members retired to The Plough pub for much-needed refreshments.
As the sport developed, more rules were implemented and more historical landmarks were set. For example, the penalty kick was introduced in 1891. FIFA became a member of the International Football Association Board of Great Britain in 1913. Red and yellow cards were introduced during the 1970 World Cup finals. More recent major changes include goalkeepers being banned from handling deliberate back passes in 1992 and tackles from behind becoming red-card penalties in 1998.
Some of the top players throughout history include Pele (Edson Arantes Do Nascimento) from Brazil, who scored six goals in the 1958 World Cup and helped Brazil claim its first title; Lev Yashin from Russia, who claimed to have saved more than 150 penalty shots during his outstanding goal-tending career; and Marco Van Basten from the Netherlands who won several very prestigious soccer awards during one year alone.
I know the current world cup is highly politicized and I do believe awarding the world cup to Qatar was probably the biggest mistake in the history of FiFa However setting the politics aside, it is still enjoyable to watch the matches, and surprises like Saudi Arabia beating Argentina and Japan beating Germany only add to the charm of the game
Despite all the controversy it is great to see some fans displaying the best of behaviour, like the Japanese supporters cleaning up after the match.
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