Soccer (better known as “football”) is, without doubt, the most popular sport globally, boasting an estimated 4 billion followers. Its global nature is evident in the quadrennial FIFA World Cup, attracting billions of viewers worldwide. The sport’s universal appeal lies in its simplicity, requiring minimal equipment and being accessible to people of all ages and skill levels. So one question that is always asked… who invented soccer?
Where Did Soccer Start?
As mentioned earlier, ancient forms of a ball game resembling soccer have been recorded in numerous cultures. For instance:
- China: A game called “cuju” was popular during the Han Dynasty, around 200 B.C., which involved kicking a leather ball through a hole in a piece of cloth.
- Greece: The Greeks played a game called “episkyros,” which involved passing a ball among players without it touching the ground.
- Rome: The Romans had a game known as “harpastum,” similar to episkyros but more aggressive.
Despite these ancient variations, modern soccer’s roots are firmly planted in England, where it evolved from various medieval ball games.
Who Invented Soccer?
So the invention of soccer (football) occurred when the rules were established and written down. Thus, the contemporary rules and the formal codification of soccer can be traced back to England.
In 1863, the Football Association (FA) was formed in England, which created a standardized set of rules known as the “Laws of the Game.” These rules were a pivotal moment in the evolution of the sport. (It was held at the Freemasons’ Tavern in London)
Before the FA’s foundation, different establishments had their own set of rules, leading to inconsistencies when teams from different regions played against each other.
The establishment of the FA and the subsequent codification of the “Laws of the Game” helped to differentiate soccer from other versions of football, most notably rugby. One of the major debates of the time was whether to allow the use of hands in the game. The decision to only prohibit the use of hands by the goalkeeper led to the divergence of football and rugby.
The FA’s rules have been foundational to the modern game of soccer and have influenced the development of the sport worldwide.
Today, the FA oversees all professional and amateur soccer in England, including the national teams, the FA Cup competition, and grassroots development.
Who is Ebenezer Cobb Morley?
Ebenezer Cobb Morley was a key figure in the early history of soccer (football) and is often referred to as the “Father of Football.” Born on 16 August 1831 in Hull, England, Morley made significant contributions to the sport’s formalization in the 19th century.
- Formation of the Football Association (FA): Morley was one of the founding members of the Football Association in 1863. The FA is the oldest football association in the world and still governs the sport in England to this day.
- Drafting the Original Laws of the Game: Morley is particularly credited for drafting the first official rules of soccer, which came to be known as the “Laws of the Game.” His proposal for a standardized set of rules led to a meeting of representatives from different football clubs. This meeting resulted in the formal codification of the rules, distinguishing soccer from other similar sports like rugby.
- Club Affiliation: He was associated with the Barnes Club and served as its captain. The Barnes Club was one of the founding members of the FA.
- Legacy: Morley’s efforts in the codification and formalization of soccer rules have left an enduring legacy. The sport has grown exponentially since the 19th century, and many of the rules he helped establish remain at its core.
When Did Soccer Come to America?
Soccer made its way to America in the late 19th century, primarily introduced by European immigrants. The American Football Association, a predecessor to today’s U.S. Soccer Federation, was founded in 1884. However, soccer struggled to gain mainstream popularity in the U.S. for many decades, overshadowed by sports like baseball, American football, and basketball.
Soccer’s Rising Popularity in the U.S
Historically, the “Big 4” sports in the U.S. have been:
- American Football (primarily the NFL and NCAA)
- Basketball (NBA)
- Baseball (MLB)
- Ice Hockey (NHL)
It wasn’t until the late 20th and early 21st centuries that soccer began to gain significant traction in the U.S. Several factors contributed to its growing popularity:
- Hosting the 1994 and upcoming 2026 FIFA World Cup: The U.S. hosted the World Cup in 1994, which was instrumental in igniting interest in the sport. And they will be co-hosting with Canada and Mexico, the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
- Establishment of Major League Soccer (MLS): Founded in 1993, MLS has played a crucial role in elevating professional soccer in the U.S.
- Performance of the U.S. Women’s National Team: The U.S. women’s team has been instrumental in popularizing the sport. They are 4x winners of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
- International Soccer: Televised matches from top European leagues. Such as the English Premier League, La Liga, and the Bundesliga have seen growing viewership numbers in the U.S. Also, international tournaments like the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA Champions League attract significant attention.
- Youth Participation: Soccer is one of the most-played sports at the youth level in the U.S. Many children are introduced to soccer at an early age. Which will hopefully translate to a more significant following in the future.
In conclusion, while soccer’s roots stretch back millennia and across continents, its modern incarnation began in England. So who invented soccer (Football)? Throughout history, people have been playing soccer or similar sports with their own set of rules. However, the true origin can be attributed to the formation of the Football Association.