There are several conflicting views regarding ancient soccer and who invented association football as we know it today. Most of the world refers to this popular sport as football, and it is undeniably one of the most popular today. Let’s explore how soccer developed and spread throughout history.
Soccer is thought to date back to as far back as 2500 BC.C. The Greeks, Egyptians, and Chinese are all believed to have played games using a small ball and their feet.
The Oldest Form Of Soccer
In most of these games, hands, feet, and even sticks were used to control a ball. For example, Harpastum, in Roman times, was a ball game based primarily on retaining possession of the ball for as long as possible. A similar game, Episkyros, was also played by the Ancient Greeks. Both of these pursuits were governed more by rugby rules than the modern soccer game.
The Chinese game Tsu Chu (Tsu’Chu or Cuju, meaning “kicking the ball“) is arguably the most relevant of these ancient games to our modern-day “Association Football.” The game may have been created as a training exercise for soldiers during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). “One Hundred Children in the Long Spring” by Su Hanchen depicts the Chinese game Cuju.
In Tsu Chu (or Cuju for short), a small leather ball is kicked into a net of bamboo poles. Players could not use their hands, but they could use their feet and other parts of their bodies. Tsu Chu differed from modern soccer primarily by the height of the goal, which hung about 30 feet above the ground.
According to legend, Liu Bang (the founder of the Han Dynasty) loved the ancient soccer game. However, having moved from the countryside to the Imperial Palace with his father, he missed playing the game. He, therefore, built a special field near the Palace and invited some of his hometown’s most talented players to play on it. As a result, the game Tsu Chu gained popularity during the Han Dynasty.
The Han Dynasty Emperor Wudi (156-87 BCE) was a great fan of the game. His first order was to move all good ball players to the capital so that he could watch them play. It was not uncommon for Emperor Wudi to spend many a day watching a game of Tsu Chu, and quite often, he would also play a few games!
Historical records mention other forms of Tsu Chu. The game’s different versions are listed below:
‘Five A Side’ – In the five-a-side style, the walls were rectangular, and twelve semicircular holes were drilled through them. There were six goals for each team! A goalkeeper was also involved in each goal, making a total of 12 in total! The first to score won the game because it was so hard!
‘Keepy – Uppy’ – A version in which the ball is kept in the air for as long as possible.
‘Gladiator- style’ – During military training, players would be attacked by 3-4 other players while still trying to keep the ball in the air and score through the net.
As a result of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), solid balls were replaced with hollow balls filled with air. During this time, women also became interested in kicking the ball.
Aristocrats and ordinary people enjoyed Tsu Chu, which Western Football eventually replaced during the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911). The game of Tsu Chu has recently been gaining popularity in China.
The Offical Game
The Ming Dynasty saw it fade from popularity. However, FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) recently declared the game and its roots as the official ancient soccer. The ball was made of leather just like a soccer ball we use today but stuffed with feathers.
The spread of soccer-like games began with the introduction of Tsu Chu. People in many cultures use their feet for various activities, including Kemari’s tournament in Japan today. In Native American culture, Pahsaherman was played in Indigenous Australia, Marn Grook, and New Zealand Maori culture, Ki-o-Rahi.
Ancient Soccer In Central America
The fireball game was played both for medicinal purposes and for sporting fun by the Tuscarora Native Americans – and it is still observed today. In this game, balls are made by wrapping numerous cloths and cords, finishing them with rope (or, in modern times, wire) to retain their shape.
It is then coated in a flammable fluid until the entire surface has been saturated and set alight. The ball is approximately the size of a soccer ball. After this, the players use this ball to play ancient soccer for an average of 20 minutes. The winning team scored the most goals during that time. The game Sepak Bola Api is similar and is played in Indonesia.
Ancient Soccer Game In Japan
Kemari, a Japanese ball game similar to the Chinese Tsu Chu, is played with a small deerskin ball filled with grains during the Heian period.
It was considered a game that originated for aristocrats and bore similarities to hacky-sack and football, as the aim is to keep the ball up in the air as long as possible, scoring goals along the way. The classic story The Tale of Genji describes Kemari as a boisterous and rough ball game that dates back to the 11th Century.
Ancient Soccer In South America
Aztec games such as Tlachtli usually played on temple grounds, blurred the lines between ceremonial and sporting activity. A small, natural rubber ball was used, and two teams were selected. Players were forbidden to use their hands. The hardball was kept aloft with mainly their heads and feet.
The ball must be passed through a hoop on the other side of the field to score points. Penalties were given if the players’ hands touched the rubber ball or the ball accidentally touched the ground.
According to this theory, the rewards for the Tlachtli winners and losers depend entirely on where the game took place. For example, in some areas of South America, winners were sacrificed to the Aztec gods for being the shining stars of humankind. IIn other cultures, the losers were sacrificed for having disappointed their gods.
Ancient Times In England
From the medieval period onwards, the ancient form of soccer began to develop in modern Europe. During the 9th century, whole towns in England would kick a pig’s bladder around like a football.
In periods of Britain’s early history, the sport was banned as it was seen as a nuisance. There were several forms of what is now known as folk football.
There were some British games where two massive mobs faced each other. There was no rectangular field, just used landmarks as goals. Although the English are credited for transitioning the sport, high tackles and shin kicking were permitted at this time and they would play for hours.
Although many other ancient cultures had an involvement in the formation of the sport today, Tsu Chu is the closest form of ancient soccer. FIFA publicly confirmed this back in 2004.