Organized soccer has been played England since the first rules of the game were drawn up at Cambridge University in 1848. Known as football in England, the game is played throughout the country and it has an extensive following among its fans. English soccer leagues are followed with reverence, and the English national team is one of the key players on the international stage.
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The Premier League and Below
English football leagues are played in a hierarchical structure where the 20 best teams play in a grouping called the Premier League. There are multiple levels, and the best teams in lower leagues can get promoted for the following season while the poorer performing teams can get relegated. In theory, the smallest teams from the lowest divisions can get promoted all the way to the top league if they achieve sustained success at every level. This system is known as the football pyramid. There are approximately 140 leagues with 480 divisions and an estimated 7,000 teams in the English football league system.
The World Cup, played every four years to determine world soccer supremacy, began play in 1930. England declined invitations to play in the tournament in 1930, 1934 and 1938, and the tournament was suspended in 1942 and 1946 by World War II. England did not participate in its first World Cup until 1950. England has participated in 13 World Cup tournaments overall. The English soccer team won the World Cup in 1966 when the tournament was played in London. That is the only time the English team has reached the finals. It reached the semifinals in 1990 but it lost that match to West Germany on penalty kicks after the two teams finished regulation and overtime in a 1-1 tie.
1966 World Cup Final
The greatest match in English soccer history was also one of the most controversial. In this match, the English team met the West German team before 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium. The two teams battled to a 2-2 tie during the 90-minute match, with one of the English goals scored by forward Geoff Hurst. To break the tie, the teams played a 30-minute overtime period. Hurst scored a controversial goal to break the tie when his shot appeared to go past the goal line before coming out of the net quickly. He then clinched the game with a spectacular goal in which he dribbled through the German defense before scoring. That is the only time in World Cup history in which a player scored a hat trick -- three goals -- in the final.
Sir Stanley Matthews was the first of England's star players. He was the first winner of Europe's Football Player of the Year Award. Bobby Charlton was a legendary scorer and passer who was known for his accuracy. He was the best player on the 1966 World Cup team. Kevin Keegan may have exceeded Charlton as a scorer. This renowned striker scored 217 goals in 559 matches. Gary Lineker was at his best in the World Cup. He scored 10 goals in two tournaments. David Beckham is England's most famous player. In addition to his spectacular ability to launch curling passes and shots with precision, Beckham is high on the list of international celebrities and is dogged by paparazzi on both sides of the Atlantic.