Modern football has its roots in the 19th century, but football-like games have actually been played around the world for much longer. Source: Wikimedia Commons / Musée McCord Museum
Modern football has its roots in the 19th century, but football-like games have actually been played around the world for much longer. Source: Wikimedia Commons / Musée McCord Museum

How Britain brought football to the world

Football OlyBet 22.12.2023

Although the birthplace of soccer is generally considered to be Great Britain, the exact origins of the game are unknown. But why is football still attributed to the British? This article will shed a light on this.

Football as we know it today (11 vs. 11), actually began to be played in the British Isles earlier than anywhere else: in the 19th century, namely. However, a soccer-like game was first mentioned in China, in the records of the Han Dynasty, about 2,000 years ago.

Similarly, in Japan, for example, there are notes made in the 7th century about „Kemari“ (in some sources, “Kenatt”), a game that represented a “king”. The mechanics were simple – to keep one ball in the air, with all players cooperating to do so.

Football reached the British Isles through the Romans, who brought „harpastum“ with them during their conquests. As a ball game, it started to be practiced in Great Britain on Shrove Tuesday’s. The rules at that time, in the 12th century, were relatively simple: two teams with an unlimited number of players tried to drive the ball into the opponents’ goal.

Or can we call it a „ball“ game at all? Back then, they played with whatever happened to be at hand. Be it a pig’s bladder or the head of a looter who came to conquer, but faced his poor destiny instead!

What’s on the paper, counts

Written evidence of a football-like game being played on the streets of London dates back to 1175. Yet it took almost seven hundred years for the game to be truly fixed. The first official football rules were written down on paper in 1846 under the leadership of the gentlemen H. De Winton and J. C. Thring of Cambridge University.

Unfortunately, no copies of the original rules of football have survived. The earliest set of rules with which we can compare the modern game dates back to 1862 and was published by Mr. Thring. He called football the “easiest game” at that time.

The easiest game, rules

  1. A goal is scored when the ball is passed through the goal and also under the crossbar unless it is done by hand.
  2. The hand may only be used to stop the ball and place it at your feet.
  3. You can only kick the ball with your foot.
  4. A player must not kick the ball while it is in the air.
  5. Tripping or kicking the legs is not allowed.
  6. If the ball is kicked outside the side flags, the player who kicked the ball must direct the ball back towards the center of the court from where the ball crossed the line between the flags.
  7. If the ball is kicked behind the goal line, it is kicked-off from the same line by a player of the team whose goal is there.
  8. No player may be closer than six paces to the player performing the kick-off.
  9. If the player is ahead of the ball, he is immediately “out of the game” and must return to the ball as quickly as possible. If the ball is passed by a player of his own team, he must not touch or hit the ball or move forward until the opponents have hit the ball or a player of his own team has hit the ball to the same distance as him or in front of him.
  10. The opponent may not be attacked by a player who is “out of the game”, i.e. when the ball is behind him.

As it turns out, there are similarities between the game back then and today. For those who got confused when reading the ninth and tenth points, an attempt has been made to explain the principle of offside at the time with the idea of “out of the game”. As you can see, it wasn’t the easiest task 160 years ago either…

They spread it everywhere

The rules written down on paper are also the reason why football is considered a British game. But not only. In 1863, the world’s first football association was also founded in Freemanson’s Tavern on Great Queen Street in London: The English FA, which at the time, by the way, was still teamed up with the Rugby Union. Soon, however, the two games separated.

The third very big reason why it is the English who can sing “Football is Coming Home” lies in the fact that they were its first missionaries. Due to their ability to travel – England was a very powerful maritime nation – they spread the football bug all over the world.

Wherever they arrived, local people were gathered and football clubs were formed. This is how Vienna FC and Vienna Cricket and Football Club, which later became FK Austria, were founded in Austria at the end of the 19th century. Genoa Football and Cricket Club and AC Milan (not AC Milano) saw the light of day in Italy.

„Railway“ vs „gas“

In 1874, British sailors were also the first to play football on the sandy beaches of Brazil. However, Charles Miller is considered to be the football pioneer of Brazil: a descendant of English immigrants born in Sao Paolo, who went to study in England and returned ten years later with football knowledge acquired in Southampton and two brand new footballs.

Under Miller’s leadership, the foundation was also laid for the first football clubs in South America, which were born from such large British companies as Gas Company, London Bank and Sao Paolo Railway. In the first match, which took place in 1894, “railway” won „gas“ 4:2.

British influence can be seen in South American football to this day. You can find Corinthians in Brazil, Liverpool and Wanderers in Uruguay, Everton and Rangers in Chile, and Newell’s Old Boys and River Plate in Argentina.

As time went by, football gained more and more foothold in the Old World, and thus, for example, the French, German and Portuguese colonies also played a part in the introduction of football in Africa, and Spain and Portugal played a role in it in Asia.

By now, football is played practically all over the world, with one exception: the Marshall Islands cannot be found on the football map. But that’s the topic of another article…


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