Soccer is the most popular sport in the world with millions of fans. The game is only called “soccer” in the U.S. In other countries, soccer is called football or futbol, in Spanish speaking countries.
Earliest Forms of the Game
Historic evidence of soccer dates back to 200 B.C. in China. A military manual dating from the period of the Han Dynasty includes among the physical education exercises, the “Tsu'Chu.” This exercise – which demanded great skill and excellent technique – consisted of kicking a leather ball filled with feathers and hair through an opening, measuring only 30-40 centimeters wide, into a small net fixed onto long bamboo canes. A variation of this exercise also existed, whereby the player had to use his feet, chest, back and shoulders while trying to withstand the attacks of his opponents. Use of the hands was not permitted. So, the ball artistry of today’s top players is not quite as new as some people may think.
Another form of the game, the Japanese “Kemari,” also originated in the Far East about 500 to 600 years later (and is still played today). In this type of circular football game, the players had to pass the ball to each other, in a relatively small space, trying not to let it touch the ground. Although requiring skill, it was a “more dignified and ceremonious experience” than the Chinese game, without the slightest sign of struggle for possession of the ball.
The Greek game "Episkyros," of which relatively little information has been handed down, was much livelier. So was the Roman game "Harpastum," which was played with a smaller ball on a rectangular field marked by boundary lines and a center line. The object was to get the ball over the other team’s boundary lines. The ball was passed between players and trickery was commonplace. Each team member had a specific tactical assignment, and the spectators cheered them on very loudly. This game remained popular for 700 or 800 years, but, although the Romans took it to England with them, it is doubtful whether it can be considered a forerunner of contemporary soccer.
In 1846, Dr. Thomas Arnold, the head of Rugby school, a boarding school in England, made further advances in this direction, when he established the first truly standardized rules for an organized game. These rules were quite rough. For example, they permitted kicking an opponent's legs below the knees, as well as handling the ball. Many schools followed suit and adopted these rules. Other schools, such as Eton, Harrow and Winchester, rejected this form of the game. They preferred kicking the ball, and carrying it was forbidden. Charterhouse and Westminster were also against handling the ball. This style of game began to spread.
In 1857 the first soccer club was formed in Sheffield, England. This set the stage for one of the most significant dates in soccer history, Oct. 26, 1863. On this date in London, 11 clubs met to form the Football Association, which became the foundation for the nearly 140 modern national associations. With the advent of a national association in England, any soccer played under its jurisdiction was called “association football.” As time passed, the word association was abbreviated to “assoc.,” which eventually gave way to the word “soccer,” the game's common name in North America.
On October 26, 1863, eleven London clubs and schools sent their representatives to the Freemason's Tavern. These representatives wanted to clear up the confusion and establish one set of fundamental rules, acceptable to all parties, to govern the matches played among them. This meeting marked the birth of The Football Association. The dispute concerning shin-kicking, tripping and carrying the ball was discussed thoroughly until eventually on December 8, 1863 the die-hard supporters of the Rugby style – who were in the minority – took their final leave. They wanted no part in a game that forbid tripping, shin-kicking and carrying the ball. A stage had been reached where the ideals were no longer compatible. And so, football and rugby finally split.
Only eight years after its foundation, The Football Association already had 50 member clubs. The first soccer competition in the world was started in the same year - the FA Cup, which preceded the League Championship by 17 years. International matches were being staged in Great Britain before soccer was even heard of in Europe. The first was played in 1872 and was contested by England and Scotland. This sudden growth of organized soccer, accompanied by staggering crowds of spectators, brought with it certain problems – professionalism was one of them. The first moves in this direction came in 1879, when Darwin, a small Lancashire club, twice managed to draw against the supposedly invincible Old Etonians in the FA Cup, before the famous team of London amateurs finally scraped through to win at the third attempt. Two Darwin players, John Love and Fergus Suter, are reported as being the first players ever to receive payment for their talent. This practice grew rapidly and the Football Association found itself obliged to legalize professionalism as early as 1885.
In 1904 a world governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), was created to coordinate all of the national soccer associations in the world. When FIFA was founded in Paris in May 1904 it had seven founder members: France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain (represented by the Madrid FC), Sweden and Switzerland. The German Football Federation stated its intention to join on the same day. This international football community grew steadily, although it sometimes met with obstacles and setbacks. In 1912, 21 national associations were already affiliated to FIFA. By 1925, the number had increased to 36; in 1930 – the year of the first World Cup – it was 41; in 1938, 51; and in 1950, after the interval caused by the Second World War, the number had reached 73.
The result of this organization has been the development of spectacular international competitions such as the World Cup, instituted in 1930, propelling soccer's growth into the world's most popular sport. Today FIFA has more than 200 members from every part of the world. FIFA is the primary organization for international football/soccer and FIFA has devised one set of rules and laws for the game of soccer as it is played in the international community.
Soccer in the USA
A sport similar to soccer can be traced back nearly as far as the original Jamestown settlement in 1609. However, the rules and essence of those games are unclear. The first written accounts of football in the United States began in the early 1800s in the colleges and universities of the northeastern United States. These games perhaps looked quite different from those of today, seeing as how the rubber style of ball now used wasn’t introduced until the 1850s.
When soccer in its more evolved form began in the United States, it was predominantly played by schoolboys and collegiate teams, as it was mainly a sport for the upper-class. It wasn’t until 1862 that the first U.S. soccer club was established. The Oneida soccer club was developed with local students stemming from the elite public schools, making it the first U.S. soccer club to boast an actual roster. The team played mostly pickup games, and managed to go undefeated and unscored upon in their entire four year existence. Familiarity and comfort with teammates seemed to have positive effects on winning matches. The Oneida club was actually the first soccer club anywhere outside of England. Soon, clubs began to spring up in collegiate districts across the northeastern United States.
Unfortunately most collegiate clubs faltered after the majority of elite clubs pushed more towards rugby-type soccer. This left soccer in the hands of the American working class which prompted new success and immense popularity. Aiding in its success was the increased immigration to the United States which brought about new soccer traditions and styles of play. Soccer spread like wild fire throughout the entire U.S. as immigrants brought their unique style of play to cities like Chicago and Columbus.
Today, soccer has grown into an immensely popular American sport with the ability to retain the attention and interest of seemingly all age groups. Opportunities for all ages are available across the country at a variety of different skill levels. There are recreational soccer clubs and YMCA leagues that are not much different from beginner pickup games for those who are just getting involved with the sport. For more advanced players, there are even intensely competitive travel organizations. Colleges and Universities provide both club soccer teams as well as NCAA-level teams.
However, the pinnacle of soccer achievement in the United States is not one’s membership on a collegiate or club team, but rather the ultimate success is the chance to represent the United States as a member of their World Cup team or as a member of their professional league, M.L.S. (Major League Soccer). Since its onset in 1996, the M.L.S. has been evidence that the United States was ready for big-time professional soccer. Close to 3.1 million fans crowded the 10 M.L.S. stadiums in the leagues inaugural year to watch their favorite stars from the 1994 World Cup battle each other on teams like the Columbus Crew, D.C. United, and the Tampa Bay Mutiny.
As Americans have seen men’s soccer seemingly flourish throughout the years, so too has the women’s sport. A large majority of colleges offer the same soccer programs for women as they do for men, both at the club and NCAA skill levels. In fact, the Women’s World Cup team has actually won the World Cup Tournament twice since its inauguration in 1991. National team stars like striker Mia Hamm and defender Brandi Chastain have become international figureheads for young aspiring female athletes worldwide, opening the door to an arena once completely dominated by men.