Many ancient civilizations played ball games long before soccer became a formal sport. The Greeks played episkyres; the Romans had their own form of the game called harpastum. But these pastimes resembled rugby more than soccer. By 50 A.D. the Chinese were playing tsu chu, which involved kicking a ball toward a square goal. Ball-oriented games developed in Japan and Persia, as well as North America, where the Aztecs played a kicking game called tlatchi.
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In the middle ages, the French played a form of soccer called laSoule ro choule. The game developed in England after the Norman invasion of 1066. Today England is considered the cradle of modern soccer. The early game was essentially a mass of players on each side trying to kick a ball at a specified goal. There were no rules and games often became violent free-for-alls. In 1365, King Edward III banned the game for a time because it was distracting his soldiers from preparing for war.
The modern game of soccer began within the schools and universities of England. In the early 1800s schools played different forms of soccer; each developed its own informal set of rules. It wasn’t until 1845 that the sport of rugby adopted its first written rules. In 1863 members of several schools came together and produced the first widely organized set of soccer rules. They adopted the title of the Football Association and their new game was dubbed association football.
The formation of the Football Association, informally known as the FA, ushered in the modern era of soccer. The adoption of a common set of rules gave birth to leagues, competitions between different countries and tournaments, such as the FA Cup, which began in 1871. The game’s popularity quickly grew among all social classes in England. There were originally 12 members of the FA, most of the school-based clubs. By 1871 that number had increased to 128 as cities and towns formed organizations.
England and Scotland were the first countries to take part in soccer on the international level. The first match between the two took place in 1872 in front of 4,000 spectators in Glasgow, Scotland. In 1904 the Federation International de Football Association was formed as soccer’s international governing body. FIFA included a number of European countries among its founding members; interestingly England and the FA was not among them.
Soccer had a successful run as an Olympic sport, which inspired FIFA to organize a world championship-style tournament. The first World Cup was played in 1930 and hosted by Uruguay, which won Olympic soccer gold medals in 1924 and 1928. The host nation continued its string of success by capturing the first World Cup.