History of Football – The Origin

When did we begin playing Football? Was it 100 years ago? 1,000 years? Even more? How far does the history of football go? Balls made of linen have been discovered to 2,500 BC by Ancient Egypt.

Who invented Football? Football was invented by Ancient Egypt in 2,500 BC, by Ancient Greeks in 400-375 BC, by China in 400-200 BC, etc. Let’s continue for more on History of Football..

First of all, we should all be prepared that answering such questions is not easy. Of Course, you will get some answers at the end of this article but which one to prefer will be up to you. Let’s jump to the point.

How far does the history of football go?

Answer #1 – 2,500 BC by Ancient Egypt. In Egyptian tombs, balls made of linen have been discovered that were belong to 2,500 BC. Animal intestines or skin were some of the materials used in these balls to increase their bouncing. Based on drawings, scholars theorize that Egyptians played a football-like game during feasts of fertility. They wrapped their balls in bright-colored cloth and kicked them around the ground to celebrate the abundance of the earth.[4] So we may consider this, as the first date(period) for the history of football.

Answer #2 – 400-375 BC by Ancient Greeks(called as Episkyros) and Romans(called as harpastum). Ancient Greeks and Romans are known to have played many ball games, some of which involved the use of the feet which is mentioned by a Greek playwright, Antiphanes (388–311 BC) and later referred to by the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215 AD). These games appear to have resembled rugby football. This is recognized as an early form of football by FIFA.[1], [2]
The rules of this ancient sport were quite simple: Points were awarded when a player would cross a goal line by either kicking the ball, running with it across the goal line or throwing it across the line to another player. The other team’s objective was simply to stop them by any means possible. There was no specific field length, no sideline boundaries, no specified number of players per team, only a glaring lack of rules.[3] It was played by 54 players (27 on each team) whose only aim is to get the ball to the opposing team’s goal. It became so popular that it was included in the early Olympics. Naturally, many players went home injured during that game.
Aside from football played on the field, there was another one played on the streets. Roman orator Cicero noted that it was mostly played by young boys. These boys would run around the town, kicking the ball on the ground. He wrote about an incident where the carelessness of players led to death. It happened because they accidentally kicked the ball towards a barber who was shaving a customer. The barber lost control of his blade and cut the customer’s throat.[4]
This is the history of Football rising from Ancient Greeks and Romans.

Answer #3 – 400-200 BC by China. This Chinese game (called Cuju) is recognized by FIFA, as the first version of the game with regular rules. The ancient Chinese stuffed feathers inside a leather ball which they kick inside a rectangular playing field. To score a goal, they have to shoot it through in a piece of cloth hung between two poles. The game became so popular because it was used by military leaders as a competitive sport to keep soldiers physically fit. Just like today’s soccer, cuju players are allowed to touch the ball with any part of their body except their arms and hands. Referees are present in the game to make sure that players follow the rules. Unlike modern-day football, the number of players who can play cuju is flexible. It could range from two to 10 while in matches sponsored by the royal court, the number is usually around 12 to 16. Not all cuju matches are won by goals. In some tournaments, the games are decided by scores given to players according to how they played the game. For instance, players who make passes that are too short or who kick the ball outside the field’s limits are penalized with point deductions. The team that has the smallest deductions wins.[1],[4] However, some rules are different, this is should be counted on the history of football, too.

Answer #4 – 600 AD in Japan. This Japanese game (called Kemari) is known to have been played within the Japanese imperial court in Kyoto. In kemari several people stand in a circle and kick a ball to each other, trying not to let the ball drop to the ground. The game appears to have died out sometime before the mid-19th century. It was revived in 1903 and is now played at a number of festivals.[1]

Answer #5 – 1200 AD in England. A very popular form of the sport in the mid-14th Century England is called mob football. It was played by an unlimited number of players. At that point, there was still no one who created football rules. Anyone was able to can join the game. Moreover, as mob football had very few rules, it mostly ended in riots. There were no football fields as you guess and playing on the streets was causing trouble to residents and merchants. The rulers and The kings of that time (Henry II and Henry IV) banned the sport. As they said; football was taking away interest from the traditional sports of England, like archery and fencing. However, it has already become so popular that its playing was not stopped at all. By the end of the 14th Century, the game has become deeply embedded in the English culture.[4]

  • The first description of a football match in England was written by William FitzStephen in about 1170. He records that while visiting London he noticed that “after dinner, all the youths of the city go out into the fields for the very popular game of ball.” He points out that every trade had their own football team. “The elders, the fathers, and the men of wealth come on horseback to view the contests of their juniors, and in their fashion sport with the young men; and there seems to be aroused in these elders a stirring of natural heat by viewing so much activity and by participation in the joys of unrestrained youth.”[7]
  • One manor record, dated 1280, states: “Henry, son of William de Ellington while playing at the ball at Ulkham on Trinity Sunday with David le Ken and many others, ran against David and received an accidental wound from David’s knife of which he died on the following Friday.”
  • In 1321, William de Spalding, was in trouble with the law over a game of football: “During the game at ball as he kicked the ball, a lay friend of his, also called William, ran against him and wounded himself on a sheath knife carried by the canon, so severely that he died within six days.”[7]

There are other recorded cases during this period of footballers dying after falling on their daggers. And this is the “early” history of Football in England.

Answer #6 – 1800 AD in England. In the 18th century, football was played by most of Britain’s leading public schools. There is documentary evidence that football was played at Eton as early as 1747. Westminster started two years later. Harrow, Shrewsbury, Winchester, and Charterhouse had all taken up football by the 1750s. According to one student at Westminster, the football played at his school was very rough and involved a great deal of physical violence: “When running… the enemy tripped, shinned, charged with the shoulder, got down and sat upon you… in fact did anything short of murder to get the ball from you.”
In 1857 a group of men established the Sheffield Football Club at Bramall Lane. It is believed to be the first football club in the world. Two former Harrow students, Nathaniel Creswick, and William Prest published their own set of rules for football. These new rules allowed for more physical contact than those established by some of the public schools. In 1862 a new set of rules were established at Cambridge University. This specified 11-a-side, an umpire from each side plus a neutral referee, goals 12ft across and up to 20ft high. The first game under these rules took place between the Old Etonians and Old Harrovians in November 1862. [7]The Football Association was established in October 1863. The aim of the FA was to establish a single unifying code for football. [5], [6], [7]

Do we need a brief conclusion? I think yes…

Before coming to that last point of “Where did everything really start? Who invented football?”, two major points seem to be very outstanding in the history of football.

  1. In very different regions, people were playing with the ball, with different rules and types they play were different as well. So it is not easy to say it was developed from one place to the earth.
  2. “The unstoppable rise of Football”. In every region football being played, there were many courts, laws, soldiers, even kings forbidding football. But the rise of Football remained until today.

Where did everything really start? Who invented football?

It seems that Ancient Egypt is the first region, in known history, that people began to play with the ball, not only with hand but with the foot. They even made balls from animal intestines or skin to improve their bouncing. However, if we had a time machine and had the chance to be there in 2,500 BC, and see people playing with the ball, I am not sure if we would call that football. No rules, dangerous to play, etc.

This situation seems similar till 1200 AD in England. Again if we had a time machine and saw people playing with the ball on that date, without a doubt we would call that football. And continue, “but how weird and tough is it? No technical skills, very very basic rules…” I am sure if someone asks me to play I would say “No, thank you”. Because it is still far beyond we play now.

However, the game (football) in 1800 AD in England, is different than what we play now, it would not be very difficult to play for me. The amateur players, with very few rules and of course a little tough (maybe more than a little). But I would play if I were there (I guess).

Considering the mentioned 5 different regions and times football played, we can say that football did not spread from one place. Even if there were some interactions between cultures, “history of football” can not be understood without mentioning any of the above regions and times.

This article is very short, to the point and indexing one. You can find many articles that deep dives to every specific item I highlighted.


  1. Football – Wikipedia,
  2. Ancient Greek football player balancing the ball – National Archaeological Museum,
  3. A Brief History of the Game – Alameda High School,
  4. Who Invented Football – Football Bible,
  5. The Game – FIFA,
  6. Britain, the home of Football – FIFA,
  7. F History – Spartacus Educational.