By Johannes Helmold
Football, in its various forms, can be said to be an ancient game, and perhaps the most popular globally. Famous footballers are treated like gods in Europe, and the sport is actively played in the farthest reaches of countries worldwide. Though contemporary football began in England, ancient peoples played similar games throughout history. Let us delve into how this beloved sport, game, and pastime became what it is today.
The first time the modern game of football appeared with rules akin to today’s ones was during the Han dynasty and possibly the Qin dynasty in China (FIFA.com). This was in the second and third century BC, and the game was called Cuju. The Japanese also had their own version of the game named kemari and was developed in the Asuka period (538 to 710) (Japanese Sports: A History). These versions have been recognized by FIFA as the first occurrences of football being played according mostly to today’s rules.
Many ball games similar to football and rugby were played in the times of Ancient Greece and Rome. According to FIFA.com, “The Greek ‘Episkyros’ – of which few concrete details survive – was much livelier, as was the Roman ‘Harpastum’. The latter was played out with a smaller ball by two teams on a rectangular field marked by boundary lines and a centre line. The objective was to get the ball over the opposition’s boundary lines and as players passed it between themselves, trickery was the order of the day. The game remained popular for 700-800 years, but, although the Romans took it to Britain with them, the use of feet was so small as to scarcely be of consequence” (FIFA.com). In addition, across the globe, football-like games were in ancient times. Eskimos in Greenland, Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, the Maori of New Zealand, and other peoples played games that resembled football (Voyages in Search of The North-West Passage). However, it was the Chinese with their game Cuju that was the true football link from the ancient world to modern times.
As we can see, games like rugby and football have been played throughout the ages across the world, but England was the first country to make a governing body for these types of games, supposedly. According to FIFA.com, “The contemporary history of the world’s favorite game spans more than 100 years. It all began in 1863 in England, when rugby football and association football branched off on their different courses and the Football Association in England was formed – becoming the sport’s first governing body” (FIFA.com). This event stemmed from the fact that many school football teams and clubs were formed, and representatives from these organizations in England wanted a set code for their beloved game. Through several meetings of the Football Association, rules were added, cut, and changed. After six meetings, the Association published the “Laws of Football” in December of 1863—making it the first official rules of football written from a governing body of club and team representatives (Hacking – a history). Rugby, the brother of football, also found its place with its first official rules be published in 1871 by the Rugby Football Union based in London (RFU). However, as it is known, football became increasingly more popular than its brother, and even soon moved to North America. The North Americans had their own rules, and split the game into kicking and carrying games—the carrying game we know now as American football without much use of the feet except for running and an occasional kick at the end of a team’s turn of play (The Journey to Camp: The Origins of American Football to 1889).
Though football is ancient as a game, it has not come that far from its Chinese relation, Cuju. Sports using a ball, and primarily employing one’s feet to play with it, have been around for eons and have been seen in various countries. Yet, it was in the 1800s of England that football got its first set of official rules from a governing body. Since then, football spread not only to North America, but to every corner of the world—making it the most popular game our history has seen.
Guttmann, Allen; Austin Thompson, Lee. Japanese Sports: A History. University of Hawaii Press. 2001. pp. 26–27. ISBN 9780824824648. Retrieved 2010-07-08.
FIFA.com. “History of Football – The Origins.” FIFA.com, www.fifa.com/about-fifa/who-we-are/the-game/index.html.
Hakluyt, Richard. Voyages in Search of The North-West Passage. Archived October 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine., University of Adelaide, December 29, 2003.
Peter Shortell. Hacking – A History. Archived 2008-04-03 at the Wayback Machine., Cornwall Referees Society Archived March 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine., 2 October 2006.
“Home Page.” RFU, www.englandrugby.com/.
“No Christian End!” (PDF). The Journey to Camp: The Origins of American Football to 1889. Professional Football Researchers Association. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-06-11. Retrieved 2010-01-26.
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