The Origin of Football

Football, as the most popular game in the world, has the deepest history of any game.

The Origin of Football
Photo by Wesley Tingey / Unsplash

Have you ever asked yourself what real football is? Have you ever thought about how football came to be? That question running through your mind is, who invented football? Then you might have to get all these answers. You definitely will if you read till the end. Regardless of your gender, it is almost certain that you have played or come across football at least once.

With football, I mean soccer. As you grew up, mostly boys, you innovatively made your own balls irrespective of size and weight and played them merrily. Girls on the other side, you might have played with your older or younger brother, or maybe that day you went to the shop, and the boys happened to hit you with the ball; perhaps you helped them collect it when it came rolling down to your legs and kicked it. All I am saying is that we all know what football is, and we have played it at one time in our lives.

The History and Origin of Football

Football, as the most popular game in the world, has the deepest history of any game. At times, this history goes untracked, and very hard to tell. All this history is just about to be revealed to you—historians trace Modern football back to the 12th century in England. [Mind you that ancient football and the origin of football trace back earlier than this.] Football at this age involved punches and kicks. Balls at these times were made of rocks. This sounds really funny. How did they play it? There weren’t really rock balls but rock-like balls. Perhaps they were more like golfs and would be played by rolling.

As time progressed and football’s popularity grew, officials modified the rock-like ball to a bouncing ball made of rubber. This took place in the Mesoamerican culture. People played football at these times during cultural activities. The Mesoamericans used the ball to represent the sun, and the captain of the losing team would be sacrificed. That sounds diabolic, right? At all this time, officials did not really define football in all its aspects as it is today. Actually, it was not to be called football, and it had its names depending on the developments and where players played it.

Football is one of the oldest sports of all time.

The Development and Modification of Football [Ancient Football]

History has it that the Chinese played football as early as in the 3rd Century; only they called it ‘Cuju’. The ball used was a rounded stitched leather ball. The Chinese played the first-ever football game on a square field with this ball, not as it’s played on modern pitches today. The game spread and reached the Japanese, who called it ‘Kemari’. Kemari was played in ceremonies. With the growing popularity of the game, it was discovered that there was even an older ball termed as ‘Marn Gook’. Aboriginal Australians played this. The game involved purely and plainly kicking the ball [this is definitely modern football.] The ball used was made of leaves and roots. The game later spread to Ancient Greece. The ball used in Ancient Greece was made of leather and hair.

The game’s popularity spread, and funny enough, it was played by huge crowds and took place in large towns like Florence in the 16th century. The football game that so many people were playing turned out to be a disaster. Many people died during the game due to a great multitude gathering to witness the game. The city was damaged, and for this, the game was banned. In the 17th century, the game resurfaced again, but players only played it in the streets of London. It was then forbidden in 1835. At that stage, it had grown and was almost impossible to stop. It was later established in public schools. Mind you that all this time, there was no clear distinction between football and rugby.

Real Football with Actual Rules

In all these centuries, there were no rules governing football. There were no set rules on how to play it, when to play it, and how long it was to go. Moreover, the were no rules for the size or the weight of the ball. Thus, and with the growing interest in the game, there was a growing need for football rules.
Rules are an integral part of football.

In 1884 a meeting was held at Cambridge to try and set these rules. Apparently, there were no clear rules yet that were set to govern the game. The need for rules grew, and another meeting was held in 1863 in London. As a result, the first Football Association was born. After this, it was clear that players were not to use their hands—[Even at this time, the goalkeeping role was not well defined]. Officials then defined the standard ball size and weight; at that time. Consequently, there was a clear distinction between Eton’s football style [modern football] and Rugby’s.

Officials also solved the issue of the number of players on the field and the wearing of uniforms. It was still amazing that players would wear their caps, and officials did not clearly define the header. With the game growing, two playing modes were evident and grew ever more apparent. The English mode, where players would run with the ball, and the Scottish mode, where individual players would dribble and pass the ball. The formation of football associations later led to the combination game.

Some cultures call the game football while others prefer ‘soccer.’

The Formation of Football Clubs

At this time, almost everyone was aware of the game. With the spread of the game and interest from Britain, India, and South America, there was a need for the formation of teams and clubs. At this time, a team was typically comprised of former school students. They would come together from teams and play. In 1855, the first-ever official club was formed in Sheffield.

After 1885, professional football was official, and in the year 1888, the first official football league was formed, comprised of only 12 clubs. At all the games, the British clubs would emerge winners but occasionally find it hard to beat Budapest and Sienna. For all of history till the 17th century, there was no football for women. This changed in 1888 in Inverness, where the first official women’s football game was played. With the formation of clubs came the Football Association Challenge Cup in 1871, marking the beginning of association football.

The first serious competition for the cup was played in 1872, where the first two national team matches were held at Hamilton Crescent. The game between England and Scotland ended 0-0. In 1883, the first-ever international match was held. This consisted of four teams; England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Britain boasts a rich football history.

The Formation of FIFA

In the year 1904, The Federation Internationale De Football [FIFA] was formed. Most of the British countries did not join the federation. Perhaps they felt that they invented football, and there was nothing new in FIFA. They did not join and missed out on the 1950 FIFA World Cup. At this time, football had grown to the extent that the Olympics Committee included it in the Olympics in 1908. All this time, women did not get a chance to play football in the Olympics until 1996.

The Modification of Football Rules

The Corner Kick

Officials made the corner kick part of football in 1872. The kick was never made and went straight to the goal kick until 1924. History has it that the first-ever corner goal was scored by Cesareo Onzari when Argentina was playing against Uruguay. This can vividly explain why Messi is so good at making curved scores, runs down Argentina’s blood, perhaps! The goal of its own kind grew popular and was termed ‘el gol olimpico’. Since then, corner kicks have evolved to be an important part of soccer.


Taking penalties, as a rule, was made in 1891. Perhaps officials did not define the circumstances by then, as every Manchester United fan knows today. The penalty area was not clearly marked until 1902. The first-ever penalty shootout with real markings was out of a match that drew Hull City against Manchester United. Now this explains the bond between Manchester United and Penalties. The first-ever penalty in the World cup was in 1982, in a game pitting West Germany vs. France.

Penalties are used to decide fateful matches.

The Introduction of Referees to the Game

There were no referees in Football until 1871, and the respective teams’ captains were responsible for the in-field regulation of the game. It was a gentlemen’s game. However, there was a need for one, and this led to officials introducing the whistle. Today they have even introduced VAR, a Video Assistant Referee, to help the referee give penalties and cards.


Goalkeeping was not clearly defined until 1909. Since then, the goalkeeper in a football match was required to have a shirt of a different color. Goalkeeping rules became official in 1911, and only the goalkeeper would be allowed to touch the ball but only in his/her box.

A football team is only as good as its goalkeeper.

The football you played back then or the football you still play today has taken major steps to get to what it is today. From that rock-like or even hair and leather ball to a 68-70 cm ball in circumference with a weight of up to 450g. From football being played in cities and occasionally causing death and damage to it now being played on a pitch of 50 by 100 yards. Additionally, from a point where there were no referees to today, where we have VAR. This is football. Visit our football page for the latest stats and fixtures.