The Origins of Soccer

Ts'u chu roughly translates to "kicking with feet the ball made of leather" and is viewed by many as the genesis of today's soccer. (Image: via Wikimedia Commons)
Ts'u chu roughly translates to 'kicking with feet the ball made of leather,' and is viewed by many as the genesis of today's soccer. (Image: via Wikimedia Commons)

In England as in the United States and most Spanish-speaking countries, football is known by the name soccer, but how did it get this name? The word soccer is a reference to Association Football, which was the name given to the sport to differentiate it from Rugby Football. The term soccer was a colloquialism that caught on in the United States and is a term usually used in countries that play both sports.

With the World Cup underway, another interesting question is where did soccer originate from?

To answer this, we have to go back to China’s Han Dynasty 2,200 years ago. The game was called ts’u chu and consisted of kicking a ball toward a small net. One variant of the game involved the player having to overcome the attacks of his rivals. This game was used for military training, and spectators would even bet on the results.

During the medieval period, ts’u chu influenced a game played in Japan called kemari. Skill replaced the brute force that characterized the Chinese game. In this new sport, princes and courtiers gathered in a courtyard that served as a playground, with the goal being to cooperatively keep the ball in the air using any body part except the hands. In Korea, a very similar game called chukkuk emerged 1,500 years ago.

During the Roman Empire, harpastum was played between two teams with a small ball, and a rectangular field divided in half by a line. The goal was to send the ball to the opposite field. Despite having been introduced to the British Isles between the years A.D. 700 and A.D. 800, it is not credited as being the predecessor to today’s soccer.

What we know as today’s soccer was first played in English schoolyards in the 17th century, but the first formal regulations were penned in Cambridge in 1846, while the first Football Association appeared in London in 1863. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was created in Paris in 1904.

Translation by Oscar Suarez

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