History of the World’s Most Popular Sport
Although soccer is played by more than 240 million people all over the world, most people know very little about its history and how it eventually became the most popular sport on Earth. Next time you play or the next time you take your children to practice, you can let them know all about the origins of soccer and what led to it becoming the sport as we know it today.
The Origins of Ancient Soccer
Because soccer is at its core a very simple game—kicking a ball through a goal—it is difficult to determine where exactly it started and when it was first being played. There is evidence of many ancient cultures playing games very similar to soccer. The earliest evidence has been found in China, and the ancient people there were playing a form of soccer as early 4000 years ago. There is also historical evidence of a similar game being played in Ancient Greece and Rome, Japan, North America, and many other locations. Wherever the game started, it is clear that people have been kicking a ball and organizing competitive games for thousands of years.
The Beginnings of Modern Soccer
Fortunately, we know a lot more about the history of modern soccer. The sport as we know it today was formally established, with official rules and etiquette, in England during the 19th century. Universities and colleges were the first to meet and agree on certain rules in 1815. Then in 1863, football clubs across England met, formalized these rules officially for competitive play, and established the Football Association.
Many people wonder why Americans call the sport soccer while the rest of the world calls it football, and this is actually very easy to explain. In the 1800s, there were two sports in England that were known as football. One version of the sport allowed players to carry the ball, and this would eventually become known as Rugby. When the Football Association was founded, the people of England needed to figure out a way to differentiate between both sports. People started using the term Rugby Football to refer to the sport where players could use their hands, and they called the other sport Association Football. People started referring to Rugby players as “ruggers” and association players as “soccers.” The name eventually became synonymous with the sport itself and became the popular name for the sport in the United States.
The Spread of Soccer
Even before the rules were formalized, the sport had been popular around the world for centuries. The European version of the sport was spread by merchants, explorers, and colonialists as they traveled the world. In many of the places where they stopped, the native people already had been playing similar games, and the two versions were combined into one.
After the Football Association created its official rules for soccer, these rules slowly spread across the world as well. In 1904, FIFA was established, and the organization worked to spread this specific version of soccer to every country and continent. Leagues grew in Europe, South America, and many other places, and FIFA then worked to organize a tournament that brought teams together from several different nations. We know this tournament now as the World Cup.
In the last century, soccer has continued to grow in popularity and evolve. You may be surprised to find out that penalty kicks were only established in 1891 and red and yellow cards have only been used internationally since 1970. The World Cup has become an international phenomenon and more and more children in the U.S. and abroad dream every day about becoming international soccer stars.
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