England—The Birthplace of Soccer
Even though games that involved kicking a ball were played in other parts of the world, England is without doubt the birthplace of the game now known as soccer, or Association Football. (Trivia note: the word “soccer” is actually a shortened form of the word “association.”) You can even visit the actual birthplace of modern soccer—the Freemasons Tavern in London. It was here in 1863 that the Football Association was founded, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Ancient England had its own form of a soccer-type game. The earliest English games may have been played to celebrate military victories. Some historians say that after a victory against the Danes, the English played a soccer-type game with the head of defeated prince. The real roots of soccer came not from the battlefields but from the streets of England and Scotland. Games of mob football were played in village streets and squares. Unlimited numbers of men from opposing villages would attempt to kick an inflated pig’s bladder. According to an early handbook, any means short of murder and manslaughter could be used to get the ball across the goal.
In spite of such “rules” these violent street games often did involve the injury and even death of both players and spectators. This led to the game being banned by the King. Even when it was illegal to play, people couldn’t help themselves; they just had to kick the ball. Despite laws and edicts, soccer-type games continued to be played for the next 500 years, particularly by working class men who played on Sundays, the one day each week they took off from the fields and factories.
A School Boy’s Game
In the 1820s, modern soccer began to take shape in the public schools of England. Schoolmasters recognized that the game promoted health and strength and could be “civilized.” So schools including Eton, Harrow, Rugby and Westminster began playing recreational games with a “ball” that was flat on both top and bottom. Each school developed their own rules and defined their own field of play. Before these schools began to organize the sport, matches were played in open spaces without boundaries.