A Brief History of Football

There are many ancient games that have similarities to football as we know it today, but whether these games influenced the creation of other such games or were simply imagined and created separately is unknown.

Evidence of the Chinese game Cuju dates back as far as the third century B.C. and, as this game involved players kicking a ball into a net, even FIFA recognises it as one of the games that could have influenced the birth of modern football.

Move forward around 900 years to Japan and a popular game played in the Asuku imperial court in Kyoto was called Kemari, a game that involved players using their feet to try and stop a ball hitting the ground – sounds like an early version of keepie uppie if you ask me.

But these types of ball games weren’t limited to Asia, as such games are also mentioned in the histories of cultures such as the Romans and Ancient Greeks. During the sixteenth century, there is even reference to a crew of a ship under the command of an Englishman called John Davis playing a game that resembled football against Eskimos in Greenland.

Despite similar games to football being discovered in a variety of countries throughout history, England is generally considered as the birthplace of football as we know and love today. Shrovetide football was one of the original football games played in the United Kingdom. This basically involved two mobs trying to move the ball to a predetermined target, without any other rules besides the fact that you couldn’t kill your opponents on purpose or by accident. One could only imagine what would have happened if the restless mobs had been asked to stop for a few minutes whilst VAR made a decision about a possible foul or offside during the build-up.

Apparently, shrovetide football still takes place on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday in some places. An example of which is Ashbourne in Derbyshire, so it might be wise to give Alton Towers a wide berth on those days.

Such was the roughness of shrovetide football, believed to be as nearly as brutal as the 1973 match between Chelsea and Leeds, authorities tried to ban it for almost 500 years. However, without Sky Sports to entertain them, the mobs that wanted to play shrovetide football proved hard to suppress.

Football remained in this primal state until the beginning of the 19th century when many public schools introduced football as part of the curriculum. For this to happen, it was decided football and its rules (or lack of them) needed refining to bring order to the chaos.

In 1863, the Football Association in England (The FA) was formed after a group of people at Cambridge University decided to address the rules of football. Several meetings were held and the most important one took place at the Freemason’s Tavern on October 26, 1863. Representatives of 11 clubs and schools in London assembled to establish a set of football rules that would be acceptable to everyone.

All sorts of criteria were discussed at the meetings including what would happen regarding tripping, shin-kicking, and carrying the ball. The majority voted that all three of these would be outlawed, and those that didn’t like this decided to separate and create their own brand of football, rugby football.

Within eight years of the FA being formed, there were 50 clubs registered as members of the Football Association. This led firstly to the creation of the FA Cup, with a league being formed 17 years later.

The popularity of football grew rapidly around the world, and FIFA (the Federation Internationale de Football Association) had 20 affiliated national associations by 1912. That number had nearly doubled (39) by 1925 and there were 46 by the time the first World Cup took place in 1930.

There were 52 affiliated associations by the 1938 World Cup and, though the Second World War halted football, the number of FIFA affiliates had still risen to 68 by the time the 1950 World Cup took place.

Over 200 nations are currently associated with FIFA, taking in all corners of the world. That includes over 300,000 individual football clubs, of which over 200,000 are in Europe. More than 1.5 million teams are registered and nearly 250 million people play football on a regular basis.

Football also continues to help break new boundaries, with the World Cup having been held in countries like South Africa, which was once boycotted by many sporting stars because of its political beliefs. Meanwhile, the rapid rise in the popularity of women’s football is aiding the quest for sexual equality in sport throughout the world. There are also innovations such as the Homeless World Cup, which again unites many countries in the fight that everyone should have somewhere to call home.

Football also continues to try and embrace improvements in technology and, though we may not agree with all the decisions VAR makes, we should probably agree that the world would probably be a much worse place without football. It will certainly be interesting to see what further boundaries football can help break down over the next few years.

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