The Origins of Football

Do you ever wonder how American Football evolved to become the sport we watch on television today?  You might be surprised to know that football, in one form or another, existed centuries before the modern variant with helmets and shoulder pads.  In fact, modern football can be traced back to ancient sports that were played with with the foot, and – you guessed it – a ball.

There are a number of similar team sports today that can be grouped under the generic name of “football.”  These sports, which vary from region to region, are all alike in that  they typically involve kicking a ball with the foot to score a goal.  The most popular of these sports worldwide is known as association football, or soccer.  Several other variants enjoy popularity in different countries around the world: gridiron football in the U.S.A. and Canada, Australian football, rugby football and Gaelic football.

These “football” games typically involve between 11 and 18 players, a clearly demarcated field or playing area, scoring points by moving the ball to opposite ends of the field, the goal or line being defended by the opposing team, players required to move the ball and goals as the result of putting the ball between two goal posts.

Early variants of the sport were developed by the Romans and Chinese.  The Chinese played a game known as cuju (“kick ball”), which initially involved kicking a leather ball through a small hole in a piece of silk cloth affixed to a tree or branch.  By the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), air-filled balls replaced feather balls, and cuju became a professionalized game.  Many Chinese players made a living playing cuju.

In medieval and early modern Europe, football is believed to have arrived in England as a result of the Norman Conquest.    The earliest reference of a sport in which the ball was kicked solely with the foot was chronicled in England in 1280.

Many rule establishments and convergences led to the formation of rugby football.  It has been said that the first ever rugby football game was played in Canada in 1865, when British Army officers played local civilians.  The first occurrence of rugby football in the United States occurred during a game between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869.  It is widely known that North American football evolved from rugby, not football.  American football evolved when the forward pass was officially suggested as a rule change in 1908.

To this day, there is still debate over the actual meaning of the term “football.”  Football refers to different sports, so the meaning of the word differs depending on which country it is spoken.  The name “soccer” was originally derived as a slang abbreviation of the word “association” from “association football.”  Currently, only the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand use the term “soccer,” since these countries play their own version of “football.”