It seems that football has been around for ever and has come along way to the multi-million pound transfers that we see now. The game has its roots firmly stuck in mid-nineteenth-century England. Earlier versions of the game do exist but are not quite the same as the game that we have all grown to love today. The precursors to what would one day become football originate in Mesoamerican cultures more than 3,000 years ago. The ancient Aztecs used the word “tchatali” to describe the game, which by 1600 BC had spread far and wide across the Americas. Some Mesoamerican cultures conducted elaborate rituals of sacrifice and splendour. In their ancient traditions the football represented the sun, so in order to appease the gods, a sacrifice was made – in most cases the losing team’s captain!
One of the reasons why Mesoamerican culture had such an appetite for football goes far beyond chance. The landscape at the time was covered by vast swathes of rubber trees, which gave the indigenous cultures everything they needed for a sustained exploration into the game. It was only after first contact was made by European colonists that they discovered the staggering benefits of the rubber tree and along with it the football.
Let’s Not Forget China
China has records dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC that detail a popular kicking game. It was called “cuju” and like the Mesoamerican version seemed to have religious and cultural importance. The ball was made out of a type of stitched leather and was generally stuffed with animal fur or feathers. The game consisted of a small square, usually etched onto an elaborately decorated paving stone, with the objective being to “score” a goal. The Chinese Han dynasty is credited with inventing the first goalpost-like openings, providing the basic structure and netting practises we see today.
One of the reasons why European civilisations of the time were not holding football with significant cultural importance is likely because the Ancient Greeks prohibited ball games in their amphitheatres. So the humble ball was banned from the larger arenas and was confined to the back alleys of the burgeoning city of Athens. The problem was the stigma attached to football; the game was seen as a sport for the lower classes. The fall of Ancient Greece saw the rise of Roman dominance in Europe. The Romans had an affinity for football and found the game amusing. They exported the game to Britain, along with much of Europe, who all developed their own versions. Surviving Roman texts and manuscripts speak fondly of the game and described epic matches taking place on palace grounds. These matches are described as lavish occasions with the whole family taking part in the fun. The game would have been played on top ornate mosaic tiles, which depicted the grandeur of the families playing their own versions of ancient football.
Punching Not Kicking
It is more than likely that the first versions of football saw players using their fists to punch the ball. The game saw dramatic development during the 12th century and was most likely played on streets and meadows before a designated pitch would become the norm. Football during this period was a lot more hands-on than it is today. Without many rules, the game often spun into complete chaos, with multiple football-related brawls recorded throughout the ages. The resulting violence of the daily brawls may have been a direct reason why using hands would eventually be outlawed. The lawmakers at the time often associated the sport with drunkenness and tomfoolery, so removed the use of one’s hands to provide some much-needed respite.
Football as we know it today was conceived by Charles Goodyear in 1844, after filing a patent for the invention of vulcanised rubber. For a while, there was no formal difference between football and rugby. This caused a problem for both the football association and the rugby union who wanted clear distinction to be made between the two sports in order for them to happily coexist. The guidelines at this time were sparse, which resulted in several different versions simultaneously hitting the streets of eighteenth-century England. There was a call for proper rules to be developed during a meeting in Cambridge during the winter of 1848. The administration set out to establish the fundamental rules and principles that would go on to govern the game. Everything from ethics, game length, and team size were all discussed, and a uniform structure was agreed upon.
Some of the first bets to take place in England during the 1800s were likely to have been informal in nature. This means that these bets took place between friends, with little or no securities for their wagers. This soon developed into often illegal back-alley bookmakers who would happily take bets on upcoming football matches. Fixed-odds sports betting wasn’t legal during this period and could land you a hefty fine and significant jail time. The football odds and bets we place today, and so love by the way, evolved over time, just as football itself has done over the course of many centuries.
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