Football is the world’s leading sport, with an estimated 3 billion fans, meaning it’s more beloved than most other sports combined. It’s also among the oldest modern sports, dating back thousands of years, and while the original consisted of completely different rules to the ones that we have today, there are enough similarities that we can give the sport a defined origin.
Here we will explore the history of football and how it changed over the years into the game that we know and love today.
Where It All Started
Most experts believe that football began as far as 2500 years BC, when the ancient Greeks, Chinese, and Egyptians were at the height of their power. Back then, it would have been made up of differing rules, but the one commonality among all cultures is that it was a game involving kicking a ball around a field of some kind. Some may also have used sticks or hands; a ball was almost always part of the action. One such example is the ancient Roman game of Harpastum, which was a game where each side would fight each for possession of a ball for as long as they could. Episkyros was a similar Greek version, although historians believe that these games were closer to rugby than to modern football, even if they gave rise to the latter.
Perhaps the game that was closest in overall similarities was the ancient Chinese game of Cuju, which was played around 2000 years ago, and was used as a training exercise for soldiers at the time. Here, a small leather ball would be kicked into bamboo nets, and the use of hands was never allowed. It’s understood that this is where football truly originated, and slowly made its way around the world, becoming a favourite for most of the cultures that it came across.
It’s Growth In Europe
Once early versions of football came to Europe, it didn’t take long for the people to adopt it as a true pastime. From the 9th century going forward, towns around England would spend their free time kicking a pig bladder between landmarks, and while it was extremely popular among the common people, it was often viewed as something of a public nuisance and subsequently banned more than a few times over the centuries.
But the game couldn’t be stopped, and eventually turned in something known as “folk football”, which saw two large teams pitted against one another. This was also the time that the Industrial Revolution was beginning, and as cities expanded and law became more prominent throughout the land, folk football saw a large decline, although it remained popular in other European countries.
By the start of the 19th century, football has become a common way for school children to spend their free time, much like gaming online is today, and it gave the sport enough of a kickstart to re-enter the public consciousness. Over the next century, it would be adopted as a national sport, with the very first rules being established at Cambridge University, and the game exploded across the country not long after.