With the World Cup finals in Brazil just weeks away, fans will take a break from their domestic season to cheer on their national teams in one of the planet’s biggest sporting events. Yet while billions of passionate fans and spectators tune in to watch the games, historians are still debating the genesis of the game and who really invented it. Below are a few theories on the history of soccer.
Episkyros is an old game invented in Greece, which pitted two teams of 12 or 14 players against each other. The object of the game was to get the ball across the opposing goal line situated at the other end of the pitch. However, the rules of the game seem to permit the throwing of the ball. It would appear Episkyros is a far more violent form of US football or even rugby.
The Acropolis Museum houses an item of pottery depicting an athlete balancing a ball on his thigh. That image later appeared on the European Cup trophy.
Writers who were around during the Episkyros heyday argued that the Roman game of Harpastum was the game that spawned soccer. However, the ball is described as one similar to that of modern baseball.
According to world governing body FIFA, the foundations for the world’s most popular sport were laid during China’s Han Dynasty (the second and third centuries BC). In fact, there is a military manual somewhere – from that era – that details a game not a million miles from what we see today. Cuju was a game where players tried to kick a leather ball of feathers and hair through a small goal made of bamboo.
There are much later recollections of “the beautiful game” with historical tales of Aboriginal tribes, Native Americans and even eskimos playing soccer.
England and the modern game
Although there have been many descriptions of games that closely resemble the current sport that is soccer, the general consensus is that the nation of England is most definitely led the lay developing a competitive version of the game.
What is often referred to as “Mob Football” in the Middle Ages, where far too many players tried to hoof the ball from one side of town to the other, became the forerunner for the far more civilized game of today.
Nevertheless, it was not until the beginning of the 16th Century where there is evidence of soccer matches involving schools. Soccer then achieved some credence with the creation of the Cambridge Rules in 1848. The Association football rules were published in 1863, when the Football Association set out the laws of the sport.
The Football Association Challenge Cup, more commonly known as the FA Cup, was first competed for in 1871, making it the oldest competition of its kind in the world. While the history of soccer will always be the subject of debate, one thing for sure is over 200 countries play the sport.
World Cup Preview is a series providing commentary and analysis of the teams and players participating in this year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd