A Brief History of the Sport of Soccer


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When it comes to the history of soccer, there is evidence of ancient games in Asia and Central America which were similar to today’s sport.  The modern game, however, dates to the mid-1800s in England. There, the “schoolboys” of institutions like Brighton, Eton and Harrow started playing ball-oriented games with two teams, goal-lines, and few rules. These games used many ways to propel the ball, including carrying with the hands and kicking with the feet.

Old Etonians vs Blackburn Rovers c.1871

Old Etonians vs Blackburn Rovers c.1871

Over time, two distinct groups evolved with different opinions about how the ball should be moved. The first group advocated the continued use of carrying the ball with the hands. The rules that they adopted ultimately became known as “Rugby Football.” The second group advocated using the feet to dribble the ball. Due to a formal gathering of this second group, the rules that they adopted ultimately became known as “Association Football.” It is commonly accepted that the word “association” was first abbreviated to “assoc” which then became “soccer.” “Soccer” is the common term for the game in the United States. The majority of the rest of the world refers to the game as “football.”

The modern sport of soccer is governed throughout the world by the Federation Internationale de Football Association or “FIFA” (fee-fuh) (www.FIFA.com). Translated from the French, where the adjectives follow the nouns, this is the International Federation of Association Football. The international “Laws of the Game” of soccer are controlled and published by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) (www.TheIFAB.com) and implemented by FIFA.  Every four years, FIFA conducts the largest, single-sport, international competition in the world. Known as the FIFA “World Cup,” every country on earth with a FIFA-recognized soccer governing body is eligible to apply for entry to this competition in order to determine the best national team.

The FIFA-recognized governing body for soccer in the United States is the United States Soccer Federation or “USSF,” also known as U.S. Soccer (www.ussoccer.com). The USSF is sub-divided into groups for adults and youths and further sub-divided into State and local Associations. In addition to the USSF, there is a proliferation of organizations in the United States which share an interest in soccer. Each of these organizations has its own purpose and even sets its own rules for the conduct of the game. These organizations include the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the National Federation of State High School Associations, local recreation departments, and independent clubs. In most cases, there are also parallel organizations which provide referees.

As an historical footnote, at the same time soccer was evolving in England, an American cousin was growing up on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. First known as “gridiron,” and now known as “American Football” by the rest of the world, the common origins of both soccer and American football can be recognized by the use of similar terminology. Both sports continue to use the terms “fullback,” “halfback,” “center,” “offside,” “punt,” “kick-off,” “goal-line,” “pass,” “referee,” “offense,” “defense,” “tackle,” and others.

For the FIFA history of the sport, please visit:  http://www.fifa.com/classicfootball/history/index.html

For additional information, please visit Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about soccer, answered by CoachingAmericanSoccer.com.

© Copyright, John C. Harves