Football is the word given to a number of similar team sports, all of which involve (to varying degrees) kicking a ball with the foot in an attempt to score a goal. The most popular of these sports worldwide is association football, also known as "soccer" and most commonly just "football". The English language word "football" is also applied to "gridiron football" (a name associated with the North American sports, especially American football and Canadian football), Australian football, Gaelic football, rugby football (rugby league and rugby union), and related games. Each of these codes (specific sets of rules, or the games defined by them) is referred to as "football".
These games involve:
In most codes, there are rules restricting the movement of players offside, and players scoring a goal must put the ball either under or over a crossbar between the goalposts. Other features common to several football codes include: points being mostly scored by players carrying the ball across the goal line and; players receiving a free kick after they take a mark/make a fair catch.
Peoples from around the world have played games which involved kicking and/or carrying a ball, since ancient times. However, most of the modern codes of football have their origins in England.
Documented evidence of an activity resembling football can be found in the Chinese military manual Zhan Guo Ce compiled between the 3rd century and 1st century BC. It describes a practice known as cuju (蹴鞠, literally "kick ball"), which originally involved kicking a leather ball through a small hole in a piece of silk cloth which was fixed on bamboo canes and hung about 9 m above ground. During the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), cuju games were standardized and rules were established. Variations of this game later spread to Japan and Korea, known as kemari and chuk-guk respectively. By the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618–907), the feather-stuffed ball was replaced by an air-filled ball and cuju games had become professionalized, with many players making a living playing cuju. Also, two different types of goal posts emerged: One was made by setting up posts with a net between them and the other consisted of just one goal post in the middle of the field.
The Japanese version of cuju is kemari (蹴鞠), and was developed during the Asuka period. This is known to have been played within the Japanese imperial court in Kyoto from about 600 AD. In kemari several people stand in a circle and kick a ball to each other, trying not to let the ball drop to the ground (much like keepie uppie). The game appears to have died out sometime before the mid-19th century. It was revived in 1903 and is now played at a number of festivals.
There are a number of references to traditional, ancient, and/or prehistoric ball games, played by indigenous peoples in many different parts of the world. For example, in 1586, men from a ship commanded by an English explorer named John Davis, went ashore to play a form of football with Inuit (Eskimo) people in Greenland. There are later accounts of an Inuit game played on ice, called Aqsaqtuk. Each match began with two teams facing each other in parallel lines, before attempting to kick the ball through each other team's line and then at a goal. In 1610, William Strachey of the Jamestown settlement, Virginia recorded a game played by Native Americans, called Pahsaheman. In Victoria, Australia, indigenous people played a game called Marn Grook ("ball game"). An 1878 book by Robert Brough-Smyth, The Aborigines of Victoria, quotes a man called Richard Thomas as saying, in about 1841, that he had witnessed Aboriginal people playing the game: "Mr Thomas describes how the foremost player will drop kick a ball made from the skin of a possum and how other players leap into the air in order to catch it." It is widely believed that Marn Grook had an influence on the development of Australian rules football (see below).
Games played in Central America with rubber balls by indigenous peoples are also well-documented as existing since before this time, but these had more similarities to basketball or volleyball, and since their influence on modern football games is minimal, most do not class them as football.
These games and others may well go far back into antiquity and may have felt the growing pains of the elected officals also influenced which later affected football games. However, the main sources of modern football codes appear to lie in western Europe, especially England.
These forms of football, sometimes referred to as "mob football", would be played between neighbouring towns and villages, involving an unlimited number of players on opposing teams, who would clash in a heaving mass of people, struggling to move an item such as an inflated pig's bladder, to particular geographical points, such as their opponents' church. Shrovetide games have survived into the modern era in a number of English towns (see below).
The first actual reference of modern football appeared in 1652. The credit for the design of the modern football is generally given to Solomon Sohn.
The first detailed description of football in England was given by William FitzStephen in about 1174–1183. He described the activities of London youths during the annual festival of Shrove Tuesday:
Most of the very early references to the game speak simply of "ball play" or "playing at ball". This reinforces the idea that the games played at the time did not necessarily involve a ball being kicked.
The earliest reference to a ball game that involved kicking comes from 1280 at Ulgham, Northumberland, England in which a player was killed as a result of running against an opposing player's dagger. A similar episode occurred in Shouldham, Norfolk, England in 1321: "[d]uring the game at ball as he kicked the ball, a lay friend of his... ran against him and wounded himself".
In 1314, Nicholas de Farndone, Lord Mayor of the City of London issued a decree banning football in the French used by the English upper classes at the time. A translation reads: "[f]orasmuch as there is great noise in the city caused by hustling over large foot balls [rageries de grosses pelotes de pee] in the fields of the public from which many evils might arise which God forbid: we command and forbid on behalf of the king, on pain of imprisonment, such game to be used in the city in the future." This is the earliest reference to football.
In 1363, King Edward III of England issued a proclamation banning "...handball, football, or hockey; coursing and cock-fighting, or other such idle games", showing that "football" — whatever its exact form in this case — was being differentiated from games involving other parts of the body, such as handball.
King Henry IV of England also presented one of the earliest documented uses of the English word "football", in 1409, when he issued a proclamation forbidding the levying of money for "foteball".
In 1424, the Parliament of Scotland passed a Football Act that stated it is statut and the king forbiddis that na man play at the fut ball under the payne of iiij d - in other words, playing football was made illegal, and punishable by a fine of four pence.
There is also an account in Latin from the end of the 15th century of football being played at Cawston, Nottinghamshire. This is the first description of a "kicking game" and the first description of dribbling: "[t]he game at which they had met for common recreation is called by some the foot-ball game. It is one in which young men, in country sport, propel a huge ball not by throwing it into the air but by striking it and rolling it along the ground, and that not with their hands but with their feet... kicking in opposite directions" The chronicler gives the earliest reference to a football field, stating that: "[t]he boundaries have been marked and the game had started.
Other firsts in the mediæval and early modern eras:
In the 16th century, the city of Florence celebrated the period between Epiphany and Lent by playing a game which today is known as "calcio storico" ("historic kickball") in the Piazza della Novere or the Piazza Santa Croce. The young aristocrats of the city would dress up in fine silk costumes and embroil themselves in a violent form of football. For example, calcio players could punch, shoulder charge, and kick opponents. Blows below the belt were allowed. The game is said to have originated as a military training exercise. In 1580, Count Giovanni de' Bardi di Vernio wrote Discorso sopra 'l giuoco del Calcio Fiorentino. This is sometimes said to be the earliest code of rules for any football game. The game was not played after January 1739 (until it was revived in May 1930).
By 1608, the local authorities in Manchester were complaining that: "With the ffotebale...[there] hath beene greate disorder in our towne of Manchester we are told, and glasse windowes broken yearlye and spoyled by a companie of lewd and disordered persons ... That same year, the word "football" was used disapprovingly by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare's play King Lear contains the line: "Nor tripped neither, you base football player" (Act I, Scene 4). Shakespeare also mentions the game in A Comedy of Errors (Act II, Scene 1):
"Spurn" literally means to kick away, thus implying that the game involved kicking a ball between players.
King James I of England's Book of Sports (1618) however, instructs Christians to play at football every Sunday afternoon after worship. The book's aim appears to be an attempt to offset the strictness of the Puritans regarding the keeping of the Sabbath.
The earliest evidence that games resembling football were being played at English public schools — mainly attended by boys from the upper, upper-middle and professional classes — comes from the Vulgaria by William Horman in 1519. Horman had been headmaster at Eton and Winchester colleges and his Latin textbook includes a translation exercise with the phrase "We wyll playe with a ball full of wynde".
Richard Mulcaster, a student at Eton College in the early 16th century and later headmaster at other English schools, has been described as "the greatest sixteenth Century advocate of football". Among his contributions are the earliest evidence of organised team football. Mulcaster's writings refer to teams ("sides" and "parties"), positions ("standings"), a referee ("judge over the parties") and a coach "(trayning maister)". Mulcaster's "footeball" had evolved from the disordered and violent forms of traditional football:
In 1633, David Wedderburn, a teacher from Aberdeen, mentioned elements of modern football games in a short Latin textbook called "Vocabula." Wedderburn refers to what has been translated into modern English as "keeping goal" and makes an allusion to passing the ball ("strike it here"). There is a reference to "get hold of the ball", suggesting that some handling was allowed. It is clear that the tackles allowed included the charging and holding of opposing players ("drive that man back").
A more detailed description of football is given in Francis Willughby's Book of Games, written in about 1660. Willughby, who had studied at Sutton Coldfield School, is the first to describe goals and a distinct playing field: "a close that has a gate at either end. The gates are called Goals." His book includes a diagram illustrating a football field. He also mentions tactics ("leaving some of their best players to guard the goal"); scoring ("they that can strike the ball through their opponents' goal first win") and the way teams were selected ("the players being equally divided according to their strength and nimbleness"). He is the first to describe a "law" of football: "they must not strike [an opponent's leg] higher than the ball"
English public schools also devised the first offside rules, during the late 18th century. In the earliest manifestations of these rules, players were "off their side" if they simply stood between the ball and the goal which was their objective. Players were not allowed to pass the ball forward, either by foot or by hand. They could only dribble with their feet, or advance the ball in a scrum or similar formation. However, offside laws began to diverge and develop differently at the each school, as is shown by the rules of football from Winchester, Rugby, Harrow and Cheltenham, during in the period of 1810–1850.
By the early 19th century, (before the Factory Act of 1850), most working class people in Britain had to work six days a week, often for over twelve hours a day. They had neither the time nor the inclination to engage in sport for recreation and, at the time, many children were part of the labour force. Feast day football played on the streets was in decline. Public school boys, who enjoyed some freedom from work, became the inventors of organised football games with formal codes of rules.
Football was adopted by a number of public schools as a way of encouraging competitiveness and keeping youths fit. Each school drafted its own rules, which varied widely between different schools and were changed over time with each new intake of pupils. Two schools of thought developed regarding rules. Some schools favoured a game in which the ball could be carried (as at Rugby, Marlborough and Cheltenham), while others preferred a game where kicking and dribbling the ball was promoted (as at Eton, Harrow, Westminster and Charterhouse). The division into these two camps was partly the result of circumstances in which the games were played. For example, Charterhouse and Westminster at the time had restricted playing areas; the boys were confined to playing their ball game within the school cloisters, making it difficult for them to adopt rough and tumble running games.
William Webb Ellis, a pupil at Rugby School, is said to have "with a fine disregard for the rules of football, as played in his time [emphasis added], first took tha ball in his arms and ran with it, thus creating the distinctive feature of the rugby game." in 1823. This act is usually said to be the beginning of Rugby football, but there is little evidence that it occurred, and most sports historians believe the story to be apocryphal. The act of 'taking the ball in is arms' is often misinterpreted as 'picking the ball up' as it is widely believed that Webb Ellis' 'crime' was handling the ball, as in modern soccer, however handling the ball as the time was often permitted and in some cases compulsory, the rule for which Webb Ellis showed disregard was running forward with it as the rules of his time only allowed a player to retreat backwards or kick forwards. The boom in rail transport in Britain during the 1840s meant that people were able to travel further and with less inconvenience than they ever had before. Inter-school sporting competitions became possible. However, it was difficult for schools to play each other at football, as each school played by its own rules. The solution to this problem was usually that the match be divided into two halves, one half played by the rules of the host "home" school, and the other half by the visiting "away" school.
Apart from Rugby football, the public school codes have barely been played beyond the confines of each school's playing fields. However, many of them are still played at the schools which created them (see Surviving public school games below).
In 1845, three boys at Rugby school were tasked with codifying the rules then being used at the school. These were the first set of written rules (or code) for any form of football. This further assisted the spread of the Rugby game. For instance, Dublin University Football Club — founded at Trinity College, Dublin in 1854 and later famous as a bastion of the Rugby School game — is the world's oldest documented football club in any code.
In Europe, early footballs were made out of animal bladders, more specifically pig's bladders, which were inflated. Later leather coverings were introduced to allow the ball to keep their shape. However, in 1851, Richard Lindon and William Gilbert, both shoemakers from the town of Rugby (near the school), exhibited both round and oval-shaped balls at the Great Exhibition in London. Richard Lindon's wife is said to have died of lung disease caused by blowing up pig's bladders. Lindon also won medals for the invention of the "Rubber inflatable Bladder" and the "Brass Hand Pump".
In 1855, the U.S. inventor Charles Goodyear — who had patented vulcanized rubber — exhibited a spherical football, with an exterior of vulcanized rubber panels, at the Paris Exhibition Universelle. The ball was to prove popular in early forms of football in the U.S.A.
The code was responsible for many innovations that later spread to association football. These included free kicks, corner kicks, handball, throw-ins and the crossbar. By the 1870s they became the dominant code in the north and midlands of England. At this time series of rule changes by both the London and Sheffield FAs gradually eroded the differences between the two games until the adoption of a common code in 1877.
The invention of Australian rules football is usually attributed to Tom Wills, who published a letter in Bell's Life in Victoria & Sporting Chronicle, on July 10, 1858, calling for a "foot-ball club" with a "code of laws" to keep cricketers fit during winter. (Official sources which include Wills' cousin, H.C.A. Harrison, as a founder of the code are now generally believed to be incorrect.)
Wills had been educated in England, at Rugby School and had played cricket for Cambridge University. The extent to which he was influenced by the various British and Irish football games is a matter of controversy, but there were similarities between some of them and his game. Australian football also has some similarities to the Australian Aboriginal game of Marn Grook (see above), which he reportedly witnessed as a child in western Victoria.
On July 31, 1858, Wills and people responding to his letter met and experimented with various forms of football. On August 7, Wills was one of the umpires at a game between Melbourne Grammar School and Scotch College, which took place under modified Rugby School rules.
Melbourne Football Club was founded on May 14, 1859, and is the oldest surviving Australian football club, and on May 17, 1859, at the Parade Hotel, East Melbourne, members of the club drew up the first set of laws for Australian rules football. The drafters included Wills, W.J. Hammersley, J.B. Thompson and Thomas Smith. Their code also had pronounced similarities to the Sheffield rules, most notably in the absence of an offside rule, this could be due to Henry Creswick who emigrated from Sheffield and may have been a relative of Nathaniel Creswick. A free kick was awarded for a mark (clean catch). Running while holding the ball was allowed and although it was not specified in the rules, a rugby ball was used. The club shared many members with the Melbourne Cricket Club, which was based at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and cricket ovals — which vary in size and are much larger than the fields used in other forms of football — became the standard playing field for Australian rules. The 1859 rules did not include some elements which would soon become important to the game, such as the requirement to bounce the ball while running.
Australian rules is sometimes said to be the first form of football to be codified but, as was the case in all kinds of football at the time, there was no official body supporting the rules, and play varied from one club to another. By 1866, however, several other clubs in the Colony of Victoria had agreed to play an updated version of the Melbourne FC rules, which were later known as "Victorian Rules" and "Australasian Rules". The formal name of the code later became Australian rules football (and, more recently, Australian football). By the end of the 19th century, the code had spread to the other Australian colonies and other parts of the world. However, rugby football would remain more popular in New South Wales and Queensland.
During the early 1860s, there were increasing attempts in England to unify and reconcile the various public school games. In 1862, J. C. Thring, who had been one of the driving forces behind the original Cambridge Rules, was a master at Uppingham School and he issued his own rules of what he called "The Simplest Game" (these are also known as the Uppingham Rules). In early October 1863 another new revised version of the Cambridge Rules was drawn up by a seven member committee representing former pupils from Harrow, Shrewsbury, Eton, Rugby, Marlborough and Westminster.
At the Freemason's Tavern, Great Queen Street, London on the evening of October 26, 1863, representatives of several football clubs in the London Metropolitan area met for the inaugural meeting of The Football Association (FA). The aim of the Association was to establish a single unifying code and regulate the playing of the game among its members. Following the first meeting, the public schools were invited to join the association. All of them declined, except Charterhouse and Uppingham. In total, six meetings of the FA were held between October and December 1863. After the third meeting, a draft set of rules were published. However, at the beginning of the fourth meeting, attention was drawn to the recently published Cambridge Rules of 1863. The Cambridge rules differed from the draft FA rules in two significant areas; namely running with (carrying) the ball and hacking (kicking opposing players in the shins). The two contentious FA rules were as follows:
At the fifth meeting it was proposed that these two rules be removed. Most of the delegates supported this, but F. W. Campbell, the representative from Blackheath and the first FA treasurer, objected. He said: "hacking is the true football". However, the motion to ban hacking was carried and Blackheath withdrew from the FA. After the final meeting on 8 December, the FA published the "Laws of Football", the first comprehensive set of rules for the game later known as football (later known in some countries as soccer).
The first FA rules still contained elements that are no longer part of association football, but which are still recognisable in other games (most notably Australian football): for instance, a player could make a fair catch and claim a mark, which entitled him to a free kick, and; if a player touched the ball behind the opponents' goal line, his side was entitled to a free kick at goal, from 15 yards in front of the goal line.
In Britain, by 1870, there were about 75 clubs playing variations of the Rugby school game. There were also "rugby" clubs in Ireland, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. However, there was no generally accepted set of rules for rugby until 1871, when 21 clubs from London came together to form the Rugby Football Union (RFU). (Ironically, Blackheath now lobbied to ban hacking.) The first official RFU rules were adopted in June 1871. These rules allowed passing the ball. They also included the try, where touching the ball over the line allowed an attempt at goal, though drop-goals from marks and general play, and penalty conversions were still the main form of contest.
As was the case in Britain, by the early 19th century, North American schools and universities played their own local games, between sides made up of students. Students at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire played a game called Old division football, a variant of the association football codes, as early as the 1820s.
The first game of rugby in Canada is generally said to have taken place in Montreal, in 1865, when British Army officers played local civilians. The game gradually gained a following, and the Montreal Football Club was formed in 1868, the first recorded football club in Canada.
In 1869, the first game played in the United States under rules based on the FA code occurred, between Princeton and Rutgers. This is also often considered to be the first US game of college football, in the sense of a game between colleges (although the eventual form of American football would come from rugby, not football).
Modern American football grew out of a match between McGill University of Montreal, and Harvard University in 1874. At the time, Harvard students are reported to have played the Boston Game — a running code — rather than the FA-based kicking games favored by US universities. This made it easy for Harvard to adapt to the rugby-based game played by McGill and the two teams alternated between their respective sets of rules. Within a few years, however, Harvard had both adopted McGill's rugby rules and had persuaded other US university teams to do the same. In 1876, at the Massasoit Convention, it was agreed by these universities to adopt most of the Rugby Football Union rules. However, a touch-down only counted toward the score if neither side kicked a field goal. The convention decided that, in the US game, four touchdowns would be worth one goal; in the event of a tied score, a goal converted from a touchdown would take precedence over four touch-downs.
Princeton, Rutgers and others continued to compete using soccer-based rules for a few years before switching to the rugby-based rules of Harvard and its competitors. US colleges did not generally return to soccer until the early twentieth century.
In 1880, Yale coach Walter Camp, devised a number of major changes to the American game, beginning with the reduction of teams from 15 to 11 players, followed by reduction of the field area by almost half, and; the introduction of the scrimmage, in which a player heeled the ball backwards, to begin a game. These were complemented in 1882 by another of Camp's innovations: a team had to surrender possession if they did not gain five yards after three downs (i.e. successful tackles).
Over the years Canadian football absorbed some developments in American football, but also retained many unique characteristics. One of these was that Canadian football, for many years, did not officially distinguish itself from rugby. For example, the Canadian Rugby Football Union, founded in 1884 was the forerunner of the Canadian Football League, rather than a rugby union body. (The Canadian Rugby Union was not formed until 1965.) American football was also frequently described as "rugby" in the 1880s.
By the 1870s, Rugby and Association football had started to become popular in Ireland. Trinity College, Dublin was an early stronghold of Rugby (see the Developments in the 1850s section, above). The rules of the English FA were being distributed widely. Traditional forms of caid had begun to give way to a "rough-and-tumble game" which allowed tripping.
There was no serious attempt to unify and codify Irish varieties of football, until the establishment of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in 1884. The GAA sought to promote traditional Irish sports, such as hurling and to reject imported games like Rugby and Association football. The first Gaelic football rules were drawn up by Maurice Davin and published in the United Ireland magazine on February 7, 1887. Davin's rules showed the influence of games such as hurling and a desire to formalise a distinctly Irish code of football. The prime example of this differentiation was the lack of an offside rule (an attribute which, for many years, was shared only by other Irish games like hurling, and by Australian rules football).
In England, by the 1890s, a long-standing Rugby Football Union ban on professional players was causing regional tensions within rugby football, as many players in northern England were working class and could not afford to take time off to train, travel, play and recover from injuries. This was not very different from what had occurred ten years earlier in soccer in Northern England but the authorities reacted very differently in the RFU, attempting to alienate the working class support in Northern England. In 1895, following a dispute about a player being paid broken time payments, which replaced wages lost as a result of playing rugby, representatives of the northern clubs met in Huddersfield to form the Northern Rugby Football Union (NRFU). The new body initially permitted only various types of player wage replacements. However, within two years, NRFU players could be paid, but they were required to have a job outside sport.
The demands of a professional league dictated that rugby had to become a better "spectator" sport. Within a few years the NRFU rules had started to diverge from the RFU, most notably with the abolition of the line-out. This was followed by the replacement of the ruck with the "play-the-ball ruck", which allowed a two-player ruck contest between the tackler at marker and the player tackled. Mauls were stopped once the ball carrier was held, being replaced by a play-the ball-ruck. The separate Lancashire and Yorkshire competitions of the NRFU merged in 1901, forming the Northern Rugby League, the first time the name rugby league was used officially in England.
Over time, the RFU form of rugby, played by clubs which remained members of national federations affiliated to the IRFB, became known as rugby union.
One proposed change was a widening of the playing field. However, Harvard University had just built a concrete stadium and therefore objected to widening, instead proposing legalisation of the forward pass. The report of the meetings introduced many restrictions on tackling and two more divergences from rugby: the forward pass and the banning of mass formation plays. The changes did not immediately have the desired effect, and 33 American football players were killed during 1908 alone. However, the number of deaths and injuries did gradually decline.
During the second half of 20th century, the rules changed further. In 1966, rugby league officials borrowed the American football concept of downs: a team could retain possession of the ball for no more than four tackles. The maximum number of tackles was later increased to six (in 1971), and in rugby league this became known as the six tackle rule.
With the advent of full-time professionals in the early 1990s, and the consequent speeding up of the game, the five metre off-side distance between the two teams became 10 metres, and the replacement rule was superseded by various interchange rules, among other changes.
The laws of rugby union also changed significantly during the 20th century. In particular, goals from marks were abolished, kicks directly into touch from outside the 22 metre line were penalised, new laws were put in place to determine who had possession following an inconclusive ruck or maul, and the lifting of players in line-outs was legalised.
In 1995, rugby union became an "open" game, that is one which allowed professional players. Although the original dispute between the two codes has now disappeared — and despite the fact that officials from both forms of rugby football have sometimes mentioned the possibility of re-unification — the rules of both codes and their culture have diverged to such an extent that such an event is unlikely in the foreseeable future.
The name "soccer" (or "soccer football") was originally a slang abbreviation of the word "association" from "association football" and is now the prevailing term in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand where other codes of football are dominant.
Of the 45 national FIFA affiliates in which English is an official or primary language, only three (Canada, Samoa and the United States) actually use "soccer" in their organizations' official names, while the rest use football (although the Samoan Federation actually uses both). However, in some countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, use of the word "football" by soccer bodies is a recent change and has been controversial. The governing body for Rugby Union in New Zealand changed its name from "New Zealand Rugby Football Union" to "New Zealand Rugby Union" in 2006.