Amongst some of the oldest sports of human civilization football holds a special place. It is not merely a game that consists of two teams struggling to drive a ball into the opponent’s goal using their legs. It is an entire philosophy that originates in the distant past.

Football brings together millions of people of different nationalities, ages, and social classes. The “Football spirit” can be felt in Australia, Asia, Europe and both of the American continents.

The attraction of playing football is based on several factors:

1. Democracy and accessibility.

In football there is no age limit or demands of physical prowess made on the player. This game can be played by everyone, both the vertically challenged as well as those who might be more suited to basketball. Experts mention that the optimal age for football players is when he/she is still young, but no “spring chicken” (roughly between 26-27 years).

2. Open-mindedness.

In contrast to other sports, football is not fussy about the conditions it is played in. Regardless of the strict official rules affecting professional players, a game played en masse does not place any demands on the pitch, sporting equipment, or the fitness of the participants. Football will always be football as long as games are played on pitches without standard measurements, or where goal posts consist of bricks or school bags.

3. Comprehensibility.

The “language” of the game has remained accessible to spectators for many decades. They do not need to know special information, such as tables of coefficients, ranking systems, or point systems. They do not even have to wait for the judges’ verdict; in football it is enough to evaluate the game situation oneself, then draw conclusions to determine who won.

The shadows of distant ancestors

Goal

The international history of football cannot be tied to a single place or time. But this only confirms the ancient roots of the game and its popularity amongst people from different continents.

The exact first appearance of the ball is difficult to locate in relation to the milestone events of human civilization. It is not the same as the invention of the wheel or the discovery that the earth is round. Yet it has become the basis of many types of mobile human activity, existing since ancient times until now.

For our ancestors, the ball symbolized the earth, the sun and moon and even the aurora borealis. It is mentioned in ancient Greek mythology and Homer’s “Odyssey”.

Archaeologists discovered ancient balls digging for fossils in Egypt, Greece, and England. But the most probable location for the origin of the ball is either the ancient state of Lydia (located in Asia Minor) or Sparta  (located in modern Greece).

Generally, balls were manufactured out of the bladders and intestines of large animals. They were stuffed with horsehair, feathers, animal dander, grass, moss, or seeds and then filled with air using a bellows. On the outside the ball was covered with a membrane sewn from canvas or animal hide.

Evidence of sporting rituals with a round implement has been found on various continents of the planet. They were known not only in the empires of the ancient world (e.g. Egypt, Greece, Rome) but also amongst the Eskimos of the Far North, the Aborigines of Australia, and the American Indians. A game played using one’s legs and a ball was used by soldiers in China and Japan as preparation for battle. It is mentioned by Shota Rustaveli in the famous old Georgian epic “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin”.

In ancient Russia, many people enjoyed playing with leather balls stuffed with feathers in market squares or on ice during festivals. Russian people were more enthusiastic towards these types of activities than towards religious services, which antagonised the church.

All of these prototypes of the game differed substantially from football known by people today. However the worldwide football federation FIFA officially recognizes the Chinese game “Tsu-Chu” (III-IV century B.C) as the most ancient variant of football. The Roman game “Gaspartum” is recognised as the most similar in content to European football. Its legacy is visible in the more recent Italian version “Calcio” played between the XV-XVI centuries.

7 reasons to consider England the birthplace of football

Playing football

Despite the reams of evidence that suggest that this team game played with one’s legs and a ball originated from different continents around the world, the birthplace of modern football is, as a rule, believed to be England. So here are several justifications for this reputation provided by the foggy island in the north.

1. It was in England that the game received its modern name – “Foot-ball”, which occurred without official recognition.

2. In England national traditions of entertainment and recreation connected with the ball are rooted deep in the Middle Ages.

3. In England there have existed government bans on the game for long periods of time. However this never prevented it from becoming popular among the masses throughout many centuries.

4. In England the first football club was organized as well as the first football association in the world. To this day it still manages this aspect of sporting life in Great Britain.

5. In England the first attempts at establishing rules and an organizational framework for football tournaments were accepted and successfully realized, and as a result received worldwide recognition.

6. It was in England that the first football match took place with teams playing by established rules as well as receiving the first ever prize in the history of football.

7. The first organized football tournaments in an international format began in England.

Each of these reasons on their own are convincing, but in response to the question “Which country is the birthplace of modern football?” the combination of them does not leave any other country a chance. Indeed, this answer is known by every English football fanatic, as well as by football supporters from around the world.

The untamed nature of “mob football”

Corner penalty

Recognizing the priority of the British contribution to the development of world football, we should not forget that since ancient times the British Isles have had their own national traditions of the currently popular ball game. They were so peculiar that it is hard to believe that it was English society that was able to “civilize” the football we know today and bring it the level of fame it currently enjoys.

Until the 17th century people in England preferred to contemplate the kind of playful fun which, to put it lightly, was unruly in character. The modern term “un-sportsmanlike behaviour” serves only as a vague description of what happened on the streets of medieval London and other English towns and villages.

Competitions were held on festival days between teams composed of members of different communities (towns, villages, areas of London). Restrictions on the number of participants did not exist, and the size of the playing field could be up to several kilometres. Players did not control the direction of the ball, but concentrated around it without any sort of strategy or tactic, causing enormous pile-ups in the street. Often as a result of such “games”, neighbouring communities would try to increase the boundaries of their land.

The most popular version received the name “mob football” which was very rough and brutal. It was not rare for games to end with lethal consequences for several players and fans. During such events the residents of the houses adjacent to the field of play nailed planks over their windows and bolted their doors shut.

Written sources of the 13th and 14th centuries contain information about deaths that occurred as a result of sporting participants with knives in their belts. However such games became so popular due to their entertainment factor as well as the gambling that took place around them that they were honoured a mention in Shakespeare’s play “The Comedy of Errors”

Regarding the origin of these traditions, there are several versions, although none have been decisively confirmed. One version has roots that go back to ancient times, in the days when people celebrated the British victory over the Romans in the III century. In those times, any actions were permitted during play except for murder.

In another version, the origins of the game come from the pagan rite where the ball symbolized the sun. Capturing and carrying it over the crops meant the community would obtain a rich harvest next year.

The third version mentions group competitions involving single and married men. This too was a part of the pagan rituals of ancient British settlers.

So it is no surprise then, that the grave consequences of such mass merrymaking would eventually be put under regulation, not least as a result of the development of unwritten social rules. They certainly did not remain outside of the ruling elite’s attention, which reacted with restrictive measures.

The sweetness of “the forbidden fruit”

The British crown fought for four centuries against “mob football” issuing the following decrees:

1314 – Edward II bans ball games due to concern for residents and danger to health;

1349 – Edward III gives a directive aimed at young people to improve their bow skills instead of entertaining themselves with useless games;

1389 – Richard II bans tennis, football, and games involving dice;

1401 – Henry IV publishes a similar decree;

16th century – Henry VIII issues a decree punishing even the owners of territories where football was played.

The royal prohibitions affecting football are not limited to this list. Despite their systematic publication, as well as the frightening effect of royal will, they could not contend with the widespread popularity of this rough spectacle. At the end of the 16th century, attempts were made to introduce some rules to the game, but this did not receive the support of the population. The British continued to play football despite the negative consequences of doing so.

Only in the XVII century after the execution of the British monarch Charles I and the escape of his followers to Italy was it revealed that various versions of football were being played across Europe. After the coronation of the English monarch Charles II, the game became a favourite pastime of the royal retinue. It then quickly spread to the schools of the offspring of the court.

Each school had its own rules, so the teams of different schools did not organize competitions against each other. Only after a century did students from these same schools, upon graduating from Cambridge University, organize a football club. But the rules of the game they developed remained for a long time the only outcome of their gathering.

A source from the early 19th century contains a description of a game characterized by the following features:

  • The presence of two groups of participants with the same amount of players;
  • The game is played on a field with two goals (each consisting of two poles dug at a certain distance);
  • The presence of a ball;
  • The placement of the ball in the middle of the field before the start of the match.

The aim of the competition became to kick the ball into the opponents goal. The skill of the participants was evaluated by the result of their attack into the other goal as well the defense of their own. The winning team was the one which managed to score first.

Entering the era of the civilised game.

Football stadium

The start of the XIX century is considered an important milestone in the development of world football. This period was marked by the passage of British “mob football” to a game organized by rules, first developed in 1846. The first proper football club was organized in 1857 (in Sheffield). However the real birth year of the famous game is recognized as 1863.

On the 26th of October that year in a London pub the representatives of seven English football clubs gathered to develop the common rules of the game as well as the National Football Association. Draft regulations determined the size of the playing field and goals, which still remain unchanged today.

However, soon several of the rules of conduct became stumbling blocks for the game’s development. Most of them allowed for the possibility of contact between the players’ hands and the ball, prompting protests by supporters of what was known as “the kicking game”. Agreeing to discuss these objections at the next meeting they later developed their own version of the rules at a meeting in Cambridge.

The new football code consisted of 13 paragraphs, 3 of which stipulated a ban on playing with one’s hands in a variety of game situations. On the 8th of December in the same year, this set of rules came into force, marking the beginning of their appearance in the era of modern football. Only in 1871 was the goalkeeper allowed to touch the ball with his/her hands within the box. Proponents of the game played with hands and feet had no choice but to organize a separate association of rugby players.

By the end of the XIX century the British Football Association had identified a number of rules:

– The official definition of ball size;

– The introduction of a corner kick and penalty;

– The organization of international football tournaments;

– The replacement of rope with a metal bar to connect the goal posts, and the use of nets behind goals;

– Exit to the judge’s platform from the pitch, the use of a whistle by the referee, and so on.

Players were forbidden to trip other players up, kick peoples’ legs or their lower body. However brawls on the field and various other power techniques remained specific features of the game that determined how entertaining the competition was. As a result, football was appreciated and loved by its supporters, who grew like a rapidly replenishing army.

The game started to become popular in Europe and Latin America. At the beginning of the last century a number of European countries initiated the establishment of the international football federation (FIFA), which brings together football associations in many countries. In 1908, football became an Olympic sport.

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