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The History of Football

The earliest known references in history to football come, like so much else, from China. ’Tsu chu’ or ‘cuju’ (‘kicking a ball made of leather with your foot’) was physical exercise for children in China as early as 250 BC, while Europe was still in the ‘Dark Ages’. In England during the Roman period football emerged as a game for mobs of young men from different villages to spend hours struggling to kick a ball to the opposition’s territory. This Shrove Tuesday tradition which existed throughout Europe, became so violent that it was banned in England in 1314 by King Edward III, on the grounds that it distracted young men from practising their military skills. This traditional form of football still survives today in the English town of Ashbourne, where every Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday the game is played for eight hours between goals that are 3 miles apart. Shops in the town centre are boarded up as those born one side of the river try to force the ball, by pushing the opposition crowd, to the ‘goal’ of those born on the other side. There is no set number of players on a team, and hundreds of spectators follow the game all day.

The modern game of football was first written down in the form of rules in 1863 when the English Football Association was formed. Before that there had been more local rules, such as the Cambridge Rules and the Sheffield Rules (which had allowed a ‘kick through’ player to stand permanently near the opponents’ goal, and which had introduced crossbars, half time and free kicks). In 1863 a number of English gentlemen living in Paris organised a football club, and the international spread of football began.

The first ever international match took place between England and Scotland in London in 1870, and ended in a draw. The first football league was founded in 1888 in England. The twelve clubs that took part that season still exist today: Blackburn Rovers, Burnley, Bolton Wanderers, Accrington, Everton, and Preston North End from Lancashire; and from the Midlands, Aston Villa, Derby County, Notts County, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers. (There were no clubs from London, Manchester or Liverpool in the original English Football League, and the first champions were Preston North End, who did not lose a match.)


By the start of the 20th Century there were more and more international matches being arranged, so the need arose for an international governing body. FIFA (The Fédération Internationale de Football Association) was formed in Paris in 1904 as the only body that could organise internationals. UEFA (The Union of European Football Associations) was founded much more recently in 1954 to run European national and club competitions, and now has its headquarters in Switzerland. There are six such continental confederations making up FIFA.
The first FIFA World Cup was held in 1930 in Uruguay and won by – Uruguay. Since then there have been 18 World Cups, won by eight different nations. Brazil has won five times, Italy four times, Germany three times, Argentina and Uruguay twice, and England, France and the current champions, Spain, once. The next World Cup venues that have been decided are Brazil (2014), Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022).

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