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A History of Soccer

Soccer, Football, Footie...Whatever the name, the game's been the same worldwide since the 1800s. But the history of soccer is anything but static. Did you know that the game was so violent that it was outlawed by three kings and a queen? Read on for excerpts from an exciting soccer history that dates back thousands of years.

The Ancient History of Soccer


From at least 2500 BC onward, men in ancient China played a form of soccer called tsu-chu or cuju. The object was to kick a ball into a goal between posts that were 30 feet high. The game was traditionally played for the various Chinese emperors’ birthday celebrations. Mention was also made of the sport in a Chinese military training manual from the second and third centuries BC.

Pacific Islands

Pacific Islanders developed soccer-like games. They used coconuts, large oranges and animal bladders as soccer balls.


A game like soccer was played in the 600s in Kyoto. Kemari,  which is reminiscent of both soccer and hackey sacking, is still played in Japan today.

Ancient Rome and Greece

The Romans and Greeks trained their soldiers for war with a grueling game reminiscent of modern soccer. 

Soccer in the Ancient Americas

  • A game sometimes called ulama flourished across South America and Central America before the arrival of European conquerors. Aztecs developed a five to eight pound rubber ball for the game. Anthropologists believe that the game was seen as a battle between a god and goddess. The Aztecs were also known to gamble heavily on the games. 
  • The Mayans also played a type of soccer game. Ancient courts measuring up to 459 feet by 114 feet have been found. This game had religious significance and sometimes involved human sacrifices.

Here’s a video of the old Mayan game being played in Mexico:

Soccer in Ancient England

Soccer wasn’t always known for its athletes acting as if minor scrapes were life-threatening. The game used to be brutal – so brutal that it was occasionally outlawed. King Edward, who reigned in the early 1300s, especially detested the sport and made it illegal. King Henry IV and Henry VIII also passed laws to prevent the violent competition. Queen Elizabeth I ordered jail time and church penance to those caught playing the game.

The Spread & Standardization of Soccer

The modern rules for association football are based on standardization efforts from the mid-18th century.  It seems that the young blokes playing at English schools had too many versions. Soccer had been played in London and various English hamlets since at least the eighth century. Different versions had plenty of time to develop.

The Standardization of Soccer Rules

The Cambridge Rules were written at Cambridge University in 1848 with input from representatives of various schools. These weren’t adopted universally across England though. Over the next decade public school students formed many new soccer clubs and wrote their own rules. One prominent example comes from John Charles HYPERLINK ""Thring in 1862. 

The growing interest led to the creation of the FA or Football Association in 1863. It was formed in a pub and fell apart after a long series of meetings. The treasurer withdrew his club from the FA in a disagreement over rules. For one thing, he wanted players to be able to run with the soccer ball in hand. People who agreed with him branched off to form the Rugby Football Union in 1871. The eleven clubs that remained in the FA ratified the original 13 rules of soccer. It eventually absorbed rules put forth earlier by the Sheffield Football Association.

Meanwhile, very similar rules for soccer or football were being developed in Australia. Soccer spread throughout the British Empire to eventually reach most parts of the world

Today the laws of soccer are set by the International Football Association Board  or IFAB. This board dates back to 1886. It was the outcome of a meeting between the FA, the Irish Football Association, the Scottish Football Association and the Football Association of Wales.

The use of yellow and red cards was standardized in 1970.

The History of Soccer in the USA

Soccer quickly spread worldwide because of the power of the British Empire. The first British colony that’s known to have soccer is in America. Colonists played an English version of soccer in Jamestown in 1609.

Soccer was discouraged in many North American communities because it was rather violent. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that it became distinguished from rugby, a game that allows for plenty of aggression. It gained steam again in the early 1890's in Denver, Cincinnati, Cleveland San Francisco and Los Angeles.

You can read lots more about the history of soccer in the US at the Soccer for Parents website.

The History of the FA Cup and Football Leagues

  • The oldest national football competition is the FA Cup. The first international football match also took place that year. England played Scotland in Glasgow. C. W. Alcock was an instrumental figure behind both of these accomplishments.
  • England is also home to the world’s first modern football league. It was founded in Birmingham in 1888 and included 12 clubs from northern and central England.
  • FIFA was formed in Paris in 1904. Its founding members were France, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. FIFA adopted the rules of the FA.
  • The International Football Association Board was established in 1913. The board currently consists of four representatives from FIFA and one representative from each of the British football associations (the FA, the Irish Football Association, the Scottish Football Association and the Football Association of Wales).