A Brief History of the Beautiful Game In Honor of the 86th Anniversary of the First World Cup

Posted July 12, 2016

I love football. Not "American hand egg," the affectionate nickname my family has given to American football. I mean real football (soccer), the game you play with your feet. By far the most popular sport in the world, the 2014 World Cup boasts 3.2 billion (yes, BILLION!) viewers according to official numbers.1 That is almost half of the world's population!2 And though we Americans have a whole slew of other sports with which to indulge ourselves, soccer has gained in popularity here due to increasing immigrant populations and younger generations becoming bewitched by it's charms.3 Combining my two favorite pastimes, soccer and history, let's take a quick look at the origins of the Beautiful Game.

Modern-day soccer's beginning can easily be linked to 1860's England. In 1863 two separate football groups were formed, distinguishing rugby-style from association-style. With this act, the sport's first official organization was born.4 But many, much earlier cultures had their own styles, with some dating back millenia.5 The origin of the game can be difficult to pinpoint because there were several different versions of football in antiquity.

The ball itself has also evolved throughout time. Predecessors of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo employed such materials as animal skins or organs filled with air, like balloons, while human heads are rumored to have been used by some less hospitable players.6  In time, leather was used to cover the animal bladder until rubber replaced the need for offal in 1862.7 What shape the ball should take had been a tug-of-war between oval and spherical proponents until 1872 when the rounder shape got the nod.8 Fast forward to today where cutting edge technology and design have made the modern day soccer ball one of the sleekest and fastest in history.9

With Copa America and Euro 2016 over now and an agonizing wait for World Cup 2018 ahead, a soccer fan can focus their fanatacism for futbol on the rich history of the sport. For example, Wednesday, 13 July, is the 86th anniversary of the very first World Cup games ever played.10 After soccer was excluded from the lineup of events at the 1932 Olympics, FIFA, soccer's world governing body, and others came together to start this exciting tradition. Uruguay had the honor of hosting the tournament's debut.11 Since then, the World Cup has become the most popular sporting event in the world.12
I know my family excitedly anticipates the summer of the World Cup. Experincing the tourney is like Americans celebrating a month-long World Series while playing against thirty-one other nations' teams. Add decades-old rivalries between countries to the atmosphere and a vuvuzela13 or three and you've got an unrivaled, world-wide party steeped in history. Olé, olé, olé!14

To learn more about the history of soccer, click here or here.

1 FIFA.com, media release. "2014 FIFA World Cup™ reached 3.2 billion viewers, one billion watched final," FIFA.com(http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/news/y=2015/m=12/news=2014-fifa-world-cuptm-reached-3-2-billion-viewers-one-billion-watched--2745519.html: last accessed 12 July 2016), para. no. 1.
2  Wikipedia. "World population," Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population: 5 July 2016, at 20:36: last accessed 12 July 2016), para. no. 1.
3 Johnson, Alex. "Soccer by the Numbers: A Look at the Game in the U.S.," NBCNEWS.com (http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/fifa-corruption-scandal/soccer-numbers-look-game-u-s-n365601: 27 May 2015 article: last accessed 12 July 2016), para. 4 & 9.
4 FIFA.com. "History of Football - The Origins," FIFA.com (http://www.fifa.com/about-fifa/who-we-are/the-game/: last accessed 12 July 2016), para. no. 1.
5 FIFA.com. "History of Football - The Origins," para. 2 & 3.
6 Soccerballworld.com. "The History of the Soccer Ball," Soccerballworld.com (http://www.soccerballworld.com/History.htm: last modified 4 June 2016: last accessed 12 July 2016), para. 1 under heading for Early Ball History.
7 Soccerballworld.com. "The History of the Soccer Ball," para. 3 under heading for Balls in the 1800's.
8 Soccerballworld.com. "The History of the Soccer Ball," para. 4 under heading for Balls in the 1800's.
9  Footyheadlines.com. "Adidas Beau Jeu Euro 2016 Ball Released," Footyheadlines.com (http://www.footyheadlines.com/2015/06/adidas-euro-2016-ball.html: published 12 November 2015: last accessed 12 July 2016), para. 4.
10 History.com Staff. "This Day in History: First World Cup," History.com (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-world-cup: published in 2009: last accessed 12 July 2016), para. 1.
11 History.com Staff. "This Day in History: First World Cup," para. 2.
12 John, Steven. "The World's Top 5 Most Watched Sporting Events: #1," Top5.com (http://sports-facts.top5.com/the-worlds-top-5-most-watched-sporting-events/: published about 2013: last accessed 12 July 2016), number one of five.

13 Lamansky, Todd. "2010 FIFA World Cup: Vuvuzelas, What Is All the Noise About?," Bleacherreport.com (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/405875-2010-fifa-world-cup-vuvuzelas-what-is-all-the-noise-about: published 14 June 2010: last accessed 12 July 2016), slide 1 of 6.
14 Wikipedia. "Olé, Olé, Olé," Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ol%C3%A9,_Ol%C3%A9,_Ol%C3%A9: 4 June 2016, at 18:35: last accessed 12 July 2016), para. 1-4.

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