The story of football

Big fans: More than 3 billion people tuned in to watch the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

After months of lockdown, the Premier League has returned. For the first time, games will be played behind closed doors with no crowds. But what is the history of the world’s favourite game?

  • Who invented football?

    Nobody is quite sure. We know that, in Central America 3,000 years ago, there were team games played with a round rock instead of a ball, while the ancient Greeks had their own version of volleyball. The first known game involving kicking a ball was called Cuju. It is often described as the earliest form of football and was played around 400BC in China.

  • How have the balls changed?

    In Medieval Europe, teams went head-to-head using balls made of stuffed animal bladders. During the Industrial Revolution, the invention of vulcanised rubber meant that footballs could be mass produced. The famous black and white ball most people recognise was designed for the 1970 World Cup, so it would show up more clearly on television sets.

  • How old are the rules?

    The early versions of the game were popular, but had few rules. One, known as mob football, involved teams of entire villages and could be extremely dangerous.

    In the 19th Century, football began to evolve from an entertaining game to an organised sport. Public schools started writing down their own rules, but different teams did not always agree. Then, in 1863, members of several football clubs agreed to set up a formal association of football. The FA was created and, with it, a formal rule book for all teams to use.

  • Are there other versions of the game?

    Although the FA set out the rules, some people continued to play different variations of the sport. Today, there is a whole family of football games, the most popular of which are American Football and Rugby. Another example is Australian rules football, played on a much larger pitch, where players are allowed to pick up and run with the ball.

  • When did the World Cup start?

    The FIFA World Cup is one of the most popular sporting events in the world, with billions of people tuning in to watch. The first tournament was organised in 1930 and took place in Uruguay. The hosts went on to become the first team ever to lift the World Cup trophy. The competition has been held every four years ever since. The first Women’s World Cup was held in 1991, with the USA becoming champions.

  • How has the lockdown affected football?

    The Premier League may be back for the first time since March, but there are several big differences. The only people allowed in the stadium are the players, their coaches, and a small medical team. There are no fans allowed, the stands are empty, and the football grounds are eerily silent. Supporters watching on television listen to false crowd noises to recreate the atmosphere. The changes are not all negative though. Many of the matches are being shown on free television channels, meaning that even more people can enjoy the sport.

You Decide

  1. Does sport divide people or bring them together?


  1. The black and white football was designed for the 1970 World Cup. Design your own football for the next competition in 2022.

Word Watch

Industrial Revolution
A time of rapid economic and technological development in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Vulcanised rubber
Natural rubber can be obtained from trees, but it is not very strong. Vulcanising is a process that strengthens natural rubber, and was invented in 1839.
Mob football
A game played in Medieval England. Villages would compete against one another to kick a ball towards a target.
Public schools
In England, a private, fee-paying school, often with boarders who also live at the school during the week or at term time.
Australian rules football
A game played on an oval pitch like a cricket ground. Teams aim to kick the ball through one of four goal posts.

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