Soccer or Football as it is called in many parts of the world goes back thousands of years in our history. While the basic rules of soccer have changed dramatically over this time, the basic tenants of teams moving a ball towards a goal for scoring have remained the same. Soccer is considered one of the most pure team sports in the world thanks to the relatively few rules and simplicity of the game itself. This has no doubt contributed to its popularity as well as making the game itself exciting to watch.
Ancient Forms of Soccer
Arguably the oldest form of soccer can be traced back to Ancient Greece with their game called “Episkyros”. This game involved 12 to 14 players on each team that stood with a white line between them and behind them. Episkyros allowed players to use their hands in throwing the ball over the heads of the opposing team in an effort to force them backwards. The game ended when one team was forced behind their own white line.
Episkyros was a brutal game, although many women practiced it as well. One of the depictions of Episkyros is a marble relief that shows a player balancing the ball on his thigh while standing on one foot, an image that is reproduced on the European Cup trophy.
There were other ball games that were played by the Greeks as well, but Episkyros survived and was later adopted by the Romans who called the game Harpastum. Little is known about the exact rules of Harpastum, but it apparently was so violent that it was recorded how a spectator suffered a broken leg when the players fought over the ball. This would indicate that the game was arguably more similar to rugby than modern soccer.
After Roman times, the game survived in one form or another through the various European civilizations. But in Asia there were similar games known as “Cuju” in China, “Kemari” in Japan and “Woggabarliri” in Australia. In England however, the stirrings of modern soccer began in the 8th Century with different versions of the game being played across the country. It would take over 1,000 years before soccer would begin to become standardized.
The Cambridge Rules
In 1848, Cambridge University took it upon itself to write up the first rules of soccer. The meeting held at Trinity College featured representatives from the nearby schools, including Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Shrewsbury and Winchester. However, the rules were not adopted all around England during this time period. In fact, the formation of the Sheffield Football Club established their own unique set of rules for play of the game.
Thanks to contributions by John Charles Thring and the formation of other soccer teams, this lead to a more formalization of the rules in general. However, a major split developed as two rules, one governing holding the ball by the hands and tripping or tackling an opponent with the ball, divided the groups into two separate sports. In 1871, the Rugby Football Union was formed along with a sport that had separated itself from soccer.
In 1872, the first FA Cup was contested by English teams. The FA Cup is the oldest soccer competition in the world today. In the same year, Scotland and England met in the first international soccer match in the city of Glasgow.
Formed in 1886, the International Football Association Board has set up the rules for what we know as modern soccer. This body was formed after a meeting between several organizations, including the official Irish, Scottish and Wales. The rules that were forged by the IFAB stand as the main tenants of modern soccer as we know them today with some minor modifications along the way. In 1888, England formed the world’s first official soccer league which included 12 teams, many of which still play today.
The Internationalization of Soccer
Arguably the first major international event that featured soccer was the 1900 Olympic Games. In 1904, the international body known as FIFA was formed in Paris and openly declared it would follow the rules and regulations of soccer as recognized in England. By 1930, FIFA had created the World Cup, a venue in which teams from around the world attempt to qualify for the 32 tournament spots that are played out in a selected country.
Over the 20th Century, soccer leagues have formed around the world to play this simple, remarkable game. The success of soccer may be attributed in part to the simplicity of the equipment itself as only a ball and goals are needed for anyone to play. This is one reason why soccer has developed such a large following in developing countries where the people have few resources.
Today, millions of the people around the world either attend or watch professional soccer matches and follow their favorite teams. In fact, soccer has the highest television audience for any sport in the world and over 240 million people play soccer either as professionals, amateurs or as simply play. There is little doubt that soccer brings about great passion and devotion to the teams from individual fans, communities and even nation states.
The 1969 conflict between El Salvador and Honduras was sparked by a soccer match after years of building tensions. Plus, tensions in Yugoslavia were heightened in 1990 after a match between Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade became a riot. However, the Cote d’Ivoire National Football Team actually helped secure a truce to the civil war that was raging across the nation in 2006 and helped to actually bring both sides together over the years.
Today, soccer is certainly the most popular sport in the world with fans that number in the billions. The World Cup which is held every four years is considered one of the seminal sporting events with only the Olympics rivaling it in terms of interest. There is little doubt that the interest in soccer will continue to grow and expand as people around the world play, watch and support this remarkable game.
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