The History of Football

Trace the origins of football through the ages to see how we got to the beautiful game.

Children playing football

WHERE IT ALL KICKED OFF

While football in its current form most certainly originated on the green playing fields of England, researchers have found remains of a soccer-like game which dates back to Ancient China in 2500BC. However, the real ancestor of footie comes from the Romans and their game and their team game Harpastum, which charmingly used a bull's bladder as a ball. As the legions conquered Gaul, this lead the way to the Gallic game Soule, along with the Florentine Calcio, becoming the genuine forerunners of football.

IT'S FOOTBALL, JIMMY, BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT

Meanwhile back in England, a centuries-old game called Shrovetide Football is still played to this day in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Played every year on Shrove Tuesday, the game has its own particular set of rules although you wouldn't think it. Witness this spectacle and you'll be surprised the word football even comes into it - the goals are three miles apart and pretty much the entire village, divided into two teams, takes part in one enormous human scrum. "Matches" can continue on into darkness and even well into the following day, Ash Wednesday, before a goal is scored and the match is over.

SOUNDS STRANGELY LIKE WIMBLEDON IN THE 80S

Something approaching the game we know today, with rules and regulations we might recognise, originated in the 19th century in English schools and universities. Even so, during the 1860s when the first clubs were beginning to form, players would still "hack" each other's shins, form scrums during play and even handle the ball. Offside was unknown at this time and certain players known as "kick-throughs" stayed permanently in their opponents' half. What's more, as befitting the gentlemanly manners of the time, referees were deemed unnecessary as the two captains would settle any dispute in a civilised manner!

FOOTBALL RULES OK

By the mid-1800s, three sets of laws were floating around in Sheffield, Uppingham and Cambridge, trying to establish the game we now know as our beloved football. The eventual merger in 1878 of the Sheffield rules and the fledgling Football Association in 1878 established the platform from which the Beautiful Game pushed on to became a global phenomenon. In fact by 1882, this had been fully formalised with the creation of the International Board, set up to look after the rules and which is still in existence today.

SOCCER SHOCKER

Any self-respecting British football fan wouldn't be seen dead calling the game "soccer". However, even though the word has been hijacked by American philistines, we have posh 19th century students to thank for the word. Just like the use of "rugger" for rugby, as started up by well-bred Oxford students, a student started referring to soccer as a possible humorous abbreviation for "association" - as in Association Rules football. Some think this very student was one Charles Wreford Brown who later became an England international and FA vice-president.

THE BEGINNING OF AN OLD RIVALRY

And so by 1872, the world saw the very first international taking place between old sporting rivals England and Scotland. However, the game remained different in many respects to the sophisticated one we know today. Players wore "knickerbockers", instead of shorts, as well as bobble hats or caps which they carried on wearing until well into the 20th century. There was also at this time no crossbar. Tape was used to close the goal at the top before the crossbar replaced it in 1875 - previously, players had been able to score through the posts at any height! How times have changed.