Billed as the greatest game on earth, football has over 265 million people actively involved today. When we hear the term ‘football’, we usually think of famous clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United. Big name players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are household names all over the world. What many of us don’t know much about is the history of football. When asked what we know about the history of football, common answers would be Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ in 1986 or simply saying Pele was the greatest footballer who ever lived. In retrospect, the history of football is so much more than just these famous moments in history.
Although many countries including China and Greece have claimed that they were the original founders of the sport over 2000 years ago, it was the British that revolutionized the game into modern football. 1863 was the year the first Football Association was formed in England, creating the first rules and steps towards modern football. These steps included the foundation of football which was simply the exclusive use of feet to touch the ball and no hands were allowed. By the late 1800s, spectator numbers at these games reached up to 30000 and ticketing systems were implemented, taking the game to a professional level.
Despite these, professional football in those years was still far from the modern sport we see today. The 1863 English FA’s set of football rules included goalposts without crossbars and throw-ins were one handed. Over the years, rules were revised and new ones were added. 1873 marked the first year corners were taken and 1891 saw the introduction of penalties in the 12 yard box (Although unmarked at the time). Football’s most contentious rule, even in modern day football, is the offside rule. Throughout the history of football, there have been numerous changes to this disputable but important rule. In 1866, the offside rule allowed for passes to be made as long as there were at least 3 defenders between the ball and the goal. The lack of goals scored because of this rule led to more changes in the 1900s to allow attackers more freedom.
By 1904, football had expanded to other countries in Europe and South America. These countries, comprising France, Denmark, Spain, Switzerland, Netherlands and Sweden, formed the Fédération Internationale de Football Association also known as FIFA. Over the subsequent years, numerous countries from the Americas and Europe would join the federation. From 1908 to 1930, football was included in the Olympics and was regarded as the most prestigious footballing competition. In 1930, the first World Cup was held in Uruguay with 13 teams participating. Although far less than the 32 teams in today’s World Cup Finals, the 1930 World Cup marked a key milestone in the history of football. Uruguay would go on to beat Argentina in a replay of the 1928 Olympic football final, clinching their first ever World Cup trophy.
The World Cup plays a significant role in the history of football. It’s one of the reasons why football is a powerful unifying force around the world. Football gives people a common topic regardless of race, language or religion. In the second edition of the World Cup, 16 teams qualified and participated in Italy 1934. The inclusion of Egypt meant that Africa had sent its first nation to the World Cup. In just the second edition of the World Cup, 4 continents were involved in the competition. After the 1938 World Cup in France, World War 2 brought football to a halt and the next time the World Cup was played was in 1950. Italy took part in the tournament despite the 1949 Superga Air disaster which killed many Italian national team players. The 1950 World Cup Final in Brazil saw Uruguay clinch the title for the second time in front of a record high 200,000 spectators at The Maracanã Stadium.
The 1954 World Cup in Switzerland was the first televised World Cup and Brazil won its first World Cup in Sweden 1958. Brazil would famously go on to win a total of 5 World Cups. The 1958 World Cup also saw the debut of 17 year old Pele. The legendary footballer would go on to help Brazil lift its next 2 World Cup trophies. Brazil’s triumph at the 1970 World Cup, the last of Pele’s career saw him score six goals in six matches during the qualifiers, four during the World Cup and he capped it off with the title of Player of the Tournament.
Following a highly competitive 1978 World Cup Qualifying stage, the 1982 World Cup in Spain was expanded to 24 teams. The original 16 teams in 1978 meant that 95 teams competed for the 14 available spots after Argentina and West Germany automatically qualified as hosts and Cup holders respectively. This meant that countries such as Hungary, who topped their European group, still had to play against Bolivia for a spot in the World Cup. England failed to qualify despite winning 5 out of their 6 qualifying games. Hence, the 1982 World Cup saw the first expansion of the World Cup to 24 teams.
One of the most famous matches in football history undoubtedly came in the 1986 World Cup. During the quarter final between England and Argentina, Diego Maradona scored twice. The first was the infamous ‘Hand of God’ where Maradona used his fist to knock the ball past English goalkeeper Peter Shilton. The goal was given and Argentina took the lead. Barely 4 minutes later, Maradona scored a second goal; which was dubbed the goal of the century. In a 60-yard dribble, Maradona got past 5 English players to slot the ball home into an empty net. Argentina went on to win the 1986 World Cup with Maradona crowned player of the tournament.
In more recent football World Cup history, Zinedine Zidane’s head-butt against Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final made headlines worldwide. One of the most infamous moments in footballing history, Zidane’s head-butt and Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ are two incidents all football fans should know.
Football as we know today is a result of history and these incidents have moulded it into the most popular sport in the world. From 6 nations forming FIFA in 1904 to 211 members today, modern football has come a long way. Football has come a long way and it will stay for many years to come.