Soccer, or better known to the rest of the world as football, is one of the oldest sports in history. Dating back to 206 B.C., there are accounts of Chinese soldiers playing Tsu’chu, “kicking the ball,” to supplement their training regiments during the Han Dynasty. While many other ancient cultures played games involving a ball, Tsu’chu was the first to not allow hands. Goals consisted of a net attached to two bamboo poles and elevated 30 feet in the air. This is quite the contrast to modern goals that sit on the ground and extend eight feet high and 24 feet wide. The particular style of playing a game with a ball, centered around one’s feet, spread throughout the world.
During the medieval period in Europe, particularly in England, games were played in towns that pitted rival squads against one another. This was called Folkball. The goal was to place the ball into a designated area, usually the captain’s house, to score a point. This would often entail a distance of a few miles between scoring destinations. Games typically resulted in low scoring matches as the process of advancing the ball would be brutal and without regard to one’s well being. Without any set rules the game would cause massive commotion throughout the towns in which it was held, leading to it’s ban in the 14th century.
In 1863, official rules for football were drawn up to create an organized game in England. These rules formally differentiated between rugby football and association football. Hence, modern football was born.
As more clubs agreed to Football Association (F.A.) rules, the desire to breed uniform leagues emerged. In 1872 the first F.A. Cup was played, and by 1888 a league was formed with 128 teams participating in some capacity. England’s love for the game rubbed off on neighboring European countries, eventually making its way to South America. By 1907 there were twelve official F.A. leagues worldwide.
Seven members formed the International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) in Paris, France, in 1904. Those members included: Belgium, France, Holland, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. In 1930, the year of the first World Cup, FIFA had reached 40 members.
Due to an economic depression in Europe at the time of the first World Cup, many nations were not able to travel to Uruguay and compete. With the help of the host country, four European teams did manage to trek the Atlantic for the World Cup, most notably being Belgium and France.
The results of the first World Cup were not shocking as favorites Argentina and Uruguay competed in the final match resulting in a 4-2 victory for the hosts. The United States of America lost to Argentina 6-1 in the semi-final, which remains the USA’s best finish in the tournament’s history.
Today there are six confederations under FIFA that govern specific regions based primarily on the continent in which they belong. In total, there are more than 200 F.A. leagues worldwide.
As the beautiful game of soccer continues to grow, it is important to reflect on how it all started and appreciate those who brought us the game we love.