In Focus: Who invented the beautiful game?

Paige Simmonds
Modern-day Italians play folk football in Florence
Modern-day Italians play folk football in Florence

The beautiful game. The world's favourite sport. Football has been around for decades, but do we really know where it comes from?

Many believe football was invented in England, becoming popular in the 1800s before the FA made things official by bringing in rules and competitions.

But there are claims dating back over 4,000 years to ancient Greece, Rome and China.

LiveScore investigate the history of football.

Ancient times

It is no surprise that football is more ancient than many first thought. 

Sources claim that the sport dates all the way back to 2500 BC with evidence of Romans, Greeks and the Chinese playing a similar game.

Around 206 BC, a popular sport called ‘Tsu-Chu’ — which loosely translates to “kicking the ball” — was being played in China.

This involved sending a leather ball into a net between two bamboo poles. The key difference from modern football being the use of hands as well as feet in Tsu-Chu.

Similar games that required play by foot were played by the Japanese, Native Americans, and Indigenous Australians.

Fit for a king

English history has proven to have a massive influence on what we know today as modern football.

One of its earliest forms during the ninth century saw villagers kick around a pig’s bladder in contests than ran for miles.

At this point in time, football was a violent sport — even compared to the fiercest derbies today — and was banned by several kings due to the number of riots it caused.

More known for his off-field activities, Henry VIII was a huge fan with the first known pair of football boots found in a list of the wardrobe items taken after his death.

King Henry VIII is the proud owner of the world's fist recorded football boots
King Henry VIII is the proud owner of the world's fist recorded football boots

Folk football

During the 18th and 19th century, many countries including England and France began to play folk football — a similar version to the Chinese Tsu-Chu.

The key differences being the sheer numbers of players and the goals being as much as three miles apart.

This game was extremely violent with kicking an opposing player in the shins being legal.

New schools of thought

The modernisation of football lays solely down to the public schools of England during the 1800s.

Sticking to the roots of folk football, players were allowed to use hands but soon goalkeepers were introduced into the game and outfield players were limited to using their feet. 

Some of the more brutal tackles were outlawed, eliminating much of the violence. 

Soon after football clubs started to emerge, predominantly in the late 1800s, and schools began to play each other. Football started to become the much-loved sport it is today.

Schools were the breeding grounds for what became modern football
Schools were the breeding grounds for what became modern football

The FA

The FA were formed in London on October 26, 1863. And the introduction of the English game's governing body was soon followed by the FA Cup — the world's first football competition — in 1871.

More and more clubs joined and there were 128 teams by 1887. Soon after the FA formed, players started being paid and in 1885 professionalism was formally legalised.

The success of the FA proved football had a future, with the English Football League created in 1888 by then Aston Villa director William McGregor.

Globalisation of football

Football’s popularity grew rapidly and began to spread all over the world — reaching countries including the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, France and Italy before the 20th century.

As the game's recognition grew, so did the associations with FIFA forming in 1904 in Paris with seven members from the continent. 

The first-ever FIFA World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930 and football blossomed into the game we know today.

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