According to FIFA, more than 240 million people around the world play the most popular sport on the planet – football, regularly. However, not many people know how this game originated. It has evolved quite a lot from kicking an animal-hide ball into the sport we know today.
According to some historians, the first game similar to football originated in ancient Mesoamerican cultures around 3,000 years ago. It involved a ball, which was made out of a rock, symbolizing the sun, and somewhat bizarrely, it also allegedly involved a human sacrifice – the captain of the losing team was sacrificed to the gods.
Somewhere between 3,000 and 2,000 years BC, a game involving kicking a ball was invented in China. It was called “Cuju,” and it was played with a round ball on a square pitch. The object of the game was to kick the ball through a net opening, and the players could not use their hands. The game was in time spread to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. “Cuju” was so popular in China that in the 10th century a “Cuju league” was created in large Chinese cities.
Ancient Greeks also had their version of the game, and there are records indicating that they played something similar to football in the 7th century. They played with a ball made out of leather filled with hair. Ancient Romans did not play any ball games, but there are some claims that the military engaged in this activity and brought it to the British Isles.
England – the birthplace of football as we know it today
In the 12th century, a few games that had a lot of similarities with football were played on the roads and meadows in England. The ball could not only be kicked, but punched with fists, as well, so this early form of the game was pretty rough and violent when compared to the way the game is played today. Because of this and the fact that the game involved a lot of people and large areas in towns which were damaged during the play (sometimes there were even casualties), it was banned for a few centuries.
The game reappeared in the 17th century and was forbidden again in 1835. However, it made its way into public schools – Rugby and Eton. At Rugby, the use of hands was allowed, but at Eton, it was not, so it was decided that an official distinction between the games needs to be made.
In 1863, the First Football Association was formed, and the decision that the ball couldn’t be carried with hands was made, so football officially became a recognized sport which would develop further and become the most popular sport in the world.