The Evolution of Football

 “There is no way to describe it, it is truly the beautiful game.”

That is what all time great and three-time world cup winner Pele answered when asked to describe football. Football is the most popular and well-known sport in the world, being watched by millions of people on a daily basis. Football has evolved from a game based on kicking the ball into the opposing team’s net, to something much bigger that unites people from different countries, races and religions. Everyone can play and enjoy the game no matter their age, colour or nationality. It is the sport that has united countries from all over the world despite their differences or conflicts. It is truly the world’s game.

The rise of football

Football as we know it today, emerged in England, but several different countries claim that the sport originated from their lands. For example, In ancient Greece there was a team game known as ‘episkyros’ which was known to exist in the 4th century BC. Similarly, a Roman game by the name of ‘Harpastum’ was very popular during the same time, and the idea was borrowed from the greeks. Although these games share some similarities with modern football, but there is a key factor that refutes their claim to modern football, as both of these traditional sports forms involved players running around with the ball in their hands trying to throw it over to the opponent’s side beyond a marked territory rather than kicking it to the post. Around the third century, the Chinese had developed a game called the ‘Cuju’.The core idea of the game was to kick the ball through an open net without the use of hands. Although ‘Cuju’ was very similar to modern football, the rules were still very different. There are many other accounts of similar games being played around the world, for example by the Eskimos of Greenland, the Native American people, all the way to the indigenous population of Australia, but the real game as we know it today originated in England and developed into what it is today. The first form of football in England was mob football in the 9th century which was a rather large and crude version of football, where two towns or villages would contest against each other in a football match. In order to win, one village will have to get the ball across the church of another village, the only difference it carries with today’s football is ‘mob football’ was played with hundreds of people rather than two teams. There were no specific rules to the game, except two, players will not be involved involuntary manslaughter and murder. It was absolute madness, and for the next few centuries, this form of football was banned by the likes of King Edward the III and King Henry the VI. During the 16th century, private schools in Britain thought about experimenting with this sport to enhance the feelings of teamwork, despite not changing suddenly. With time, vital components such as lines, referees, coaches, rules about fouls and other aspects got integrated into the game to pave its way into becoming an international sport. It was in 1848 that football and rugby were finally separated by rules defined by Cambridge which made the game more kicking based rather than a hand-thrown sport, it is the same time that the off-side rule was created to make sure that fair play could have more prominence. In 1851 Richard Lyndon and William Gilbert came up with their new round and oval-shaped balls at the great exhibition in London, these were the first footballs with rubber bladders, finally in 1857 the first football club, Sheffield FC was formed, and the rest could be said to have “Kicked off”.

The evolution of football competitions on a club level

The first ever football competition was founded in 1988 and was called ‘The Football League’. 1888-89 was the first edition of the Football League, which ran from the autumn of 1888 until the spring of 1889. The Football League was formally created and named in Manchester during a meeting on 17 April 1888. The creation of the football league in England was followed by the founding of many different league’s in several European countries such as Italy, Spain, Germany, and Portugal, as well as non European countries such as Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia, as football was very popular in South America. As a matter of fact the first continental cup was the ‘Campeonato Sudamericano de Campeones’ or ‘South American Championship of Champions’ kicked off in 1948 after years of deliberation and organisation had set into motion the antecedent of the ‘Copa Libertadores’.  French sports journalist Jacques Ferran became fascinated with the 1948 South American idea of a continental club champions league, and he wanted to implement the idea in Europe. The UEFA document on the history of the European cup confirms that Jacques Ferran and Gabriel Hanot, journalists for the French sports newspaper L’Equipe, were the founding fathers of the European cup. The first European cup was played in Paris in 1955 and saw Spanish club Real Madrid defeat Reims  4-3 starting their 5 year long dominance in the European cup where they won the cup all 5 times. In fact, Real Madrid is by far the most successful team in the European cup winning it 13 times in total.

 The evolution of football competitions on an international level

The first national cup, the ‘Copa America’ known until 1975 as ‘Campeonato Sudamericano de Fútbol’ was played in 1916 and is the oldest international football competition. The ‘Copa America’ is the third most watched football competition, and the competition determines the champions of South America. In Europe the first international trophy created is called the ‘Euro’ and it was created in 1958 with the first winners being the Soviet Union in 1960. However, the most prestigious international competition of them all is the ‘World cup’ which includes countries from all over the world. The first world cup was held in Uruguay in 1930 with Uruguay coming out victorious. The world cup is the second most popular sports event in the world, with 3.57 billion views for the 2018 world cup.

The evolution of football players

Football players are the most important part of the sport, as there is no game without the players that play the game. Therefore, as football and its rules evolved, the footballers also evolved from regular players to global icons recognized by millions all over the world. In modern football, footballers influence and affect millions of lives everyday, stars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are looked up to and idolized by kids all over the world. Some footballers have even been involved in politics, for example former AC Milan star George Weah who became the president of Liberia in 2018, and Chelsea legend Didier Drogba who helped stop a civil war in his home country of Ivory Coast in 2006.


This is how football developed and evolved from a simple game into the global sport that it is today, but football will never stop changing and improving, the fans will never stop cheering for their teams, and there will always be new and exciting players to support., so it doesn’t matter if football is played in the grandest stadium in the world, or on the street. It doesn’t matter if the players are world-class professionals, or children. As long as there is a ball to be kicked, the game will live on. This is why football is truly “the beautiful game”.

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