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History of Soccer - An Essay

The score is tied 1-1. It’s you and the goalie with ten seconds left. You dribble left, then right, you shoot . . . GOOOAAALLL!!! "Association Football", "football" or, in this age, "soccer" is considered an international pastime. It is played in more towns, cities, and countries than any other sport in the world. Millions share the love for this sport. Comparable to baseball in the US, or hockey in Canada, soccer enjoys the same reputation in the countries of Europe and South America. The sport’s popularity is swiftly growing in America. So what is it about this sport that attracts more and more participants every year? What is it that invites crowds of a hundred thousand fans and sparks these crazed fans into an uncontrollable rage and a sudden state of chaos? Something that has captivated the rest of the world is beginning to gain a foothold in the US. However, soccer did not enjoy a successful beginning.

It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that a man by the name of William McGregor introduced the FA Cup and international matches, which saved the game from obscurity. The earliest forms of soccer were played three centuries ago and quite rapidly evolved into a game radically different from its origins and thus flowered the irresistible spectacle still recognizable so many years later.

Soccer is the name commonly given in North America to a form of football played with a spherical ball. It is the most widely played team game in the world and the most popular spectator sport, followed avidly by hundreds of millions of fans. Originally called association football (the name soccer is a corruption of the word assoc derived in turn from association), (Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia) soccer is distinguished from American or Canadian football and Rugby in that it is primarily played with the feet. It also differs from these games in that, soccer being speedier, players must improvise their tactics as play proceeds, constantly shifting their positions to receive or intercept passes. Teams of 11 players play on a field no more than 130 yd x 100 yd and not less than 100 yd x 50 yd. The basic objective of the game is for one team to force the ball, by kicking it or using the chest or head, past the goalkeeper and into the goal. The ball is a leather-covered sphere 27 to 28 in. in circumference and weighing 14 to 16 ounces. The game is played in two 45-minute halves. The team scoring the most goals wins the game.

All that is needed to play soccer is a ball, goals, and, for those who want, uniforms consisting of shorts, socks, cleats. It can even be played barefoot. This simplicity and informality is a chief reason for the worldwide popularity of the game. Because tackling is not as violent as in other forms of football and the round ball is more easily controlled than an oval one, soccer is especially suited to younger players.

Soccer has been a part of my life since I was five years old. I have been playing now for twelve years. My experiences in soccer have changed from the first games where 11 players ran in a bunch following the ball, to where now we use a complex system of passing using triangles. Some fans have told me that our system seems difficult to learn and play but when broken down, it is very simple. I have learned a lot about the sport. When I started to play higher levels of soccer I had to make a commitment. As a member of this year's varsity soccer team I spend close to 24 hours a week on the soccer field. My coach played semi-pro soccer in Scotland. Nearly every coach in Utah knows him. He trains us harder than any other coach I have ever had. When I played with him several years ago our team went 16-0-1. We were ranked #1 in the state. With commitment and hard work our team hopes to continue our coach's winning tradition.

In 12th century England the most primitive forms of soccer were played on the battlefield. Stories tell of using the enemy's skull as a ball. Another tells of a brave village defeating a Roman team and running them out of town in 217 AD. They took over their whole town including houses, shops, fields and livestock (gives a new meaning to the old saying, "Winner takes all"). Twelfth century soccer was a violent sport with little or no rules. (Origins of the Game)

Native Americans used to play a game called Pasuchuakohowog meaning, "They gather to play ball with the foot." Beaches, a half-mile wide with goals one-mile apart, served as playing fields for as many as 1000 people at a time. Games were often rough, resulting in broken bones. No one could be identified because players disguised themselves with ornaments and warpaint making retaliating close to impossible. It was common for games to be carried over from one day to the next with a feast for all at the conclusion of the match. (Origins of the Game)

It is important to understand that "football" began to be used specifically to describe association football in Europe some time after the Football Association was formed in London in 1863. The Football Association was not set up with the intention of creating a "new" game. The wealthy young Britons who formed the Association had all attended exclusive schools, each fanatically proud of their own traditions and each with their own soccer rules. Now, the Football Association, with their universally acceptable rules for one game only, came into being to provide a game overseen by gentlemen for young gentlemen. It was some years before the world game of today became faintly recognizable. (1000 Years of Football Trivia)

The world's first league was formed in April 1888. The driving force was William McGregor, a Scottish shopkeeper, teetotaler, and deeply religious chairman of the Aston Villa club in Birmingham, which later became the world's first "super club." The league came just in time for soccer, which was struggling to find its true role yet again after the legalization of professional teams in 1885. The forces of amateurism, then represented by the public schools and universities and their powerful position in British society, still saw paid play as an evil. However, strictly organized weekly league competition proved to be the foundation stone of the professional game. The so-called "Baines cards," an amazing series of printed paper cards, were the first brilliant commercial project to spring from popular sports with mass appeal. International matches also helped to revitalize the game. The first international match was played between England and Scotland. A new side of the game was added with these international matches. Players were now playing teams they knew nothing about. They knew nothing about their style of play, their abilities, or their strengths and weaknesses. (1000 Years of Football Trivia)

The evolution of soccer has also meant that rules had to change to keep up with the level of competition. Some of the major alterations over the years include:

1580: A certain Giovanni Bardi published a set of rules of the game of "calcio".

1848: The first Cambridge Rules are drawn up.

1877: The associations in Great Britain formed to gain a uniform code.

1886: June 2, first official meeting of the International Football Association Board.

1891: Introduction of the penalty-kick.

1913: FIFA becomes a member of the International F.A. Board.

1925: Amendment of offside rule from three to two players.

1937-38: The present Laws framed in a new system of codification but based on the Laws previously in force.

1997: The Laws revised.


On May 21, 1904 seven countries formed an organization called Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). The countries of France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland assembled FIFA in order to distinguish it unequivocally from "Union Football", or rugby. The split between the two sports occurred in the central English town of Rugby in 1823, when a player of the home team scored a goal by picking up the ball and running with it. The classic version of the game, association football, adhered to the original round ball, while the derivatives, rugby and American football, chose to introduce an oval ball. (http://www.fifa.com/fifa/)

The World Cup is a tournament involving 36 teams. Each team fights for respect, glory, fame, distinction and bragging rights. The atmosphere surrounding this tournament is tremendous. The tournament is held every four years, with the Olympics in between. The first World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930. Thirteen teams competed for the first World Cup victory. In 1958 the sixth World Cup was held, during which the first television transmission of the game was held. The traditional black and white ball was introduced to show up better on the first black and white televisions. In 1994 the United States welcomed the world by staging the World Cup for the first time. Breaking numerous records, World Cup USA, 1994 is heralded as the best World Cup ever. The most successful World Cup team is Brazil. Brazil has won the tournament more times than any other team. Their success has been accredited to Pelé, who led the team to three championships in twelve years.

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, or better known as Pelé, is considered the greatest soccer player of his time. He was born in Três Corações, Brazil on October 23, 1940. Pelé was famed for his powerful kicking and brilliant field strategy. He was an amazing soccer player to watch. Anyone who has ever played the game can't help but hold a tremendous amount of respect for his abilities. He scored 1200 goals in 1253 games making him the only player to score 1000 goals during a career. He began playing as an inside left forward for the Santos Football Club in 1956 and six years later the team won it's first world club championship. He also led Brazil to three World Cup championships in 1958, 1962, and 1970. In 1975 the New York Cosmos signed Pelé for 2.8 million dollars, thus making him the highest paid soccer player ever. He retired after leading the Cosmos to the NASL Championship. Pelé was inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in 1993.

America's role in the development of soccer was minute until the middle part of the 20th century. Our nation was one that long resisted soccer's spread. By 1820, many American colleges played soccer, but there was no intercollegiate competition. The rules were casual and often changed. On November 6, 1869 Princeton University and Rutgers University engaged in the first intercollegiate soccer match in New Brunswick, NJ. The Rutgers team won the match 6-4. Soon immigrants from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales arrived in the US in the metropolitan areas of the East, Midwest and Pacific Coast. Before long, communities with textile mills, shipyards, quarries or mines had a soccer team among its immigrant population. The US Football Association (USFA), now US Soccer Federation, was granted full membership in FIFA in 1914, and in the USA's first international match on August 20 they defeated Sweden 3-0. Despite this first victory the US usually lost to foreign teams. However, on June 29 during the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, a star player named Gaetjen scored the winning goal and the US defeated England 1-0. It was perhaps, the biggest upset ever in international soccer. In 1989 Paul Caligiuri scored the biggest goal in US soccer history since Gaetjens goal against England. On November 19 Caligiuri's 35-yard dipping shot found the net in a 1-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago, in front of 35,000 red-clad Trinidadians, clinching the USA's first appearance in the World Cup in almost 40 years. The US team qualified for the World Cup for the fourth time this year. Their road to the World Cup was not an easy one. They tied a very good Mexico team 1-1. They also had to beat Canada, and El Salvador. The team has very high hopes and a good chance to do well.

Soccer has entrenched itself well in America, not only among men but among women also. The first women's teams were formed in England in the 1880's and participation has expanded dramatically. (1000 Years of Football Trivia) More and more women are playing every year. In America, the women's national team is enjoying much more success than the men. In 1991 the US Women’s National Team captured the first ever FIFA Women's World Championship in China with a 2-1 win over Norway on November 30. This was the only time an American team had ever won a world title. In the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta the women's team won the gold medal. Now more programs are being started for young girls to have their own soccer team to play on. These "feeder" programs help increase the level of play in high school and college. This in turn helps the sport’s popularity.

We have all seen it, heard it, and read it. Soccer isn't a "real" sport. Soccer is boring. Soccer is only for geeky, gym-class kids with pocket-protectors and thick glasses. Soccer is a foreign game for hooligan, drunken psycho-fans. Soccer is just plain un-American. Just before the 1994 World Cup, Mike Barnacle of the Boston Globe described soccer as "a mindless sport where hordes of incomprehensible athletes run aimlessly in a circle until everyone is dehydrated and, finally, some guy uses his skull to score a touchdown." (American Attitudes Toward Soccer) No other sport is treated to such consistent degradation in the press. Tom Weir wrote in USA Today in December 1993, that "hating soccer is more American than apple pie, driving a pickup, or spending Saturday afternoons channel surfing with the remote control." (American Attitudes Toward Soccer) What is it about soccer that generates this degradation? What is often called "soccer bashing" is really based on century-old notions that branded football as the manly, American games, while soccer was either a sport for immigrants or a sport for fitness.

Soccer has survived rule changes and alterations. This sport must have something that no other sport has. What is it? Is it the constant action and fast paced play? Is it the simplicity in getting a game started? Is it the fact that the sport is relatively safe? I think it is a combination of all of these. Soccer is played in every country in the world. In the street alleys of Mexico kids gather barefoot and play with a ball that is thirty years old. Playing soccer to these kids is like bike riding or rollerblading to American kids. These kids don't need expensive equipment, team managers, or any organized play. Yet these players develop into some of the greatest players to ever lay foot on a soccer ball. In order for soccer to finally take its place as a mainstream American spectator sport, we must change the way the game is perceived. First, we must continue to create American soccer heroes like Michelle Akers or Cobi Jones. Second, we must change soccer’s foreign stereotype. Soccer in the U.S. is as old as baseball and is no more foreign than golf. Moreover, many of America's greatest players during those early years were not born in this country. But to change the "ethnic" tag, we must recognize that all of those so-called "immigrants" are also our fathers and our grandfathers. As Sam Foulds, the late historian for the USSF, liked to say, they are "Americans of foreign birth." Just like each one of them, soccer has always been an American game of foreign birth.

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