Soccer or “football” – depending on where you are – is widely agreed to be the world’s most popular sport. Even the most conservative estimates suggest that nearly half the world’s population are self-proclaimed soccer fans, beating out every other sport by at least 1 billion people.
The sport dates back several centuries depending on how strictly you define it. The variation of soccer we know today is much younger. Contemporary soccer was officially created in 1863 when the first English football association was born. However, historians have traced the origins of the beloved sport as far back as 1000 B.C.
Earliest Traces of Soccer in Ancient Civilizations
Ancient South and Central American societies played a game called ollama, which involved teams of players using their elbows, knees, and hips to maneuver a rubber ball across a court called a tlachtli, with the goal of knocking it through one of two stone hoops on either end of the court. Hand-to-ball contact was not allowed, just as in modern soccer.
The similarities between ollama and soccer are apparent, however, the sport was also extremely violent. Players wore thick protective padding, but even so, death was not an uncommon occurrence during a match.
A similar, yet non-violent variation of football is traceable to ancient China. The sport, called Cuju, first appears in Chinese history during the second century. Several variations of the sport emerged, some more competitive and some more performative. Cuju was used in military training as well as to entertain those of high birth on special occasions.
Cuju is similar to modern soccer in that players, usually in two teams of about fourteen, used their feet to get the ball into a netted goal. The sport was played for hundreds of years, evolving, and spreading throughout Asia. It fell gradually out of favor between the 14th and 16th centuries, or the Ming Dynasty.
The Development of Modern Soccer in Europe
Variations of soccer and rugby were played throughout Europe for centuries before the official rules of soccer were penned in 1863. These rules served to formally distinguish between soccer and rugby as well as provide an official, standardized ruleset to use in bigger competitions. Since then, association football has grown into the sport we know today.
After 1863, clubs and leagues began to form and Football Association (F.A.) soccer spread throughout Europe and South America like wildfire. The International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) was formed between seven European countries in 1904 and quickly accumulated members from all over the world.
The first FIFA World Cup event took place in 1930, with thirteen competing countries including the USA. Nowadays, there are 57 different F.A. leagues in England alone, and the football industry generates roughly $3 billion per year. 3.5 billion people watched the 2018 FIFA World Cup final in Russia, and audiences are projected to reach 5 billion in the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
If the history of soccer teaches us anything, it is that people love to play, to pit their skills against one another, and to watch the drama unfolding. Much like when you enjoy live casino roulette online, soccer is mesmerizing on all fronts and ticks all the right boxes.
From the era of the Aztecs to our modern civilization, our love for sport has never diminished. Though it may shape itself differently across space and time, sport, and football, will always be a part of human life.