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Origin of soccer

The colorful history of a fascinating game
More than 2000 Years of Football

By Dr. Wilfried Gerhardt
Press Officer for the German Football Association, Frankfurt/Main, Germany.

The very earliest form of the game for which there is scientific evidence was an exercise of precisely this skilful technique dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries B.C. in China.

A military manual dating from the period of the Han Dynasty includes among the physical education exercises, the "Tsu'Chu". This consisted of kicking a leather ball filled with feathers and hair through an opening, measuring only 30 - 40 cm in width, into a small net fixed onto long bamboo canes - a feat which obviously demanded great skill and excellent technique.

A variation of this exercise also existed, whereby the player was not permitted to aim at his target unimpeded, but had to use his feet, chest, back and shoulders whilst trying to withstand the attacks of his opponents. Use of the hands was not permitted. The ball artistry of today's top players is therefore not quite as new as some people may assume.

Another form of the game, also originating from the Far East, was the Japanese Kemari, which dates from about 500 to 600 years later and is still played today. This is a type of circular football game, far less spectacular, but, for that reason, a 'more dignified and ceremonious experience, requiring certain skills, but not competitive ' in the way the Chinese game was, nor is there the slightest sign of struggle for possession of the ball. The players had to pass the ball to each other, in a relatively small space, trying not to let it touch the ground.

The Greek game "episkyros", relatively little of which has been handed down, was much livelier, as was the Roman game "Harpastum". The latter was played with a smaller ball with two teams contesting the game on a rectangular field marked by boundary lines and a centre-line. The object was to get the ball over the opponents' boundary lines. The ball was passed between players and trickery was the order of the day. Each team member had his own specific tactical assignment and the spectators took a vociferous interest in the proceedings and the score. The role of the feet in this game was so small as scarcely to be of consequence. This game remained popular for 700 or 800 years, but, although the Romans took it to England with them, it is doubtful whether it can be considered as a forerunner of contemporary football.

The same applies for hurling, a popular game with the Celtic population, which is played to this very day in Cornwall and Ireland. lt is possible that influences were asserted, but it is certain that the decisive development of the game of football with which we are now familiar took place in England and Scotland.
The game that flourished in the British Isles from the 8th to the 19th centuries had a considerable variety of local and regional versions - which were subsequently smoothed down and smartened up to form the present day sports of association football and rugby football.

One other possible theory regarding its origin is that when the aforementioned "mob football" was being played in the British Isles in the early centuries A.D., a very similar game was thriving in France, particularly in Normandy and Brittany. So it is quite feasible that the Normans brought this form of the game to England with them.

Quite apart from man's natural impulse to demonstrate his strength and skill, even in this chaotic and turbulent fashion, it is certain that in many cases, pagan customs, especially fertility rites, played a major role. The ball symbolised the sun, which had to be conquered in order to secure a bountiful harvest. The ball had to be propelled around, or across, a field so that the crops would flourish and the attacks of the opponents had to be warded off.

A similar significance was attached to the games between married men and bachelors that prevailed for centuries in some parts of England, and, likewise, to the famous game between married and unmarried women in the Scottish town of Inveresk at the end of the 17th century which, perhaps by design, was regularly won by the married women. Women's football is obviously not so new as some people think.

Scholars might have conflicting views on the origins of the game and the influences that certain cults may have had on its evolution, but one thing is incontestable: football has flourished for over a thousand years in diverse rudimentary forms, in the very region which we describe as its home, England and the British Isles.

The passion for football was particularly exuberant in Elizabethan times. An influence that most likely played a part in intensifying the native popularity for the game came from Renaissance Italy, particularly from Florence, but also from Venice and other cities that had produced their own brand of football known as "Calcio". lt was certainly more organised than the English equivalent and was played by teams dressed in coloured livery at the important gala events held on certain holidays in Florence. It was a truly splendid spectacle.

By Dr. Wilfried Gerhardt
Press Officer for the German Football Association, Frankfurt/Main, Germany.
Posted on 06 Dec 2005 by coachgianni
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