Football is the world’s most popular sport. Its success is in its simplicity. With just some land, goal markers and a ball, it can be played just as easily by the working classes as aristocracy.
Since its inception, the game has evolved in different directions throughout the world. Its family includes rugby, Australian Rules, Gaelic and American football. The original game, currently played by an estimated 265 million people, is commonly referred to as ‘soccer’.
Football’s most significant recent development is the growth of the women’s game. FIFA held the first Women’s World Cup in 1991. Japan are the current world champions, beating the USA in Germany in 2011.
Evidence of ball games played with the feet can be found as far back as the third century BC in Ancient Greece and Rome.
Modern football is derived from chaotic and often violent games played in the UK in which whole villages battled across terrain traversing village squares, streets and fields. Rules, if any existed, were vague, and the number of players unlimited.
The rules of football were established in 1863. The first professional football competition, The Football League, was founded in 1888.
One of the world’s most famous football matches took place between opposing forces in the No Man’s Land of the Western front during the 1915 Christmas truce of World War One.
The first FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup took place in Uruguay in 1930. Following a 12-year pause due to the outbreak of World War Two, the World Cup resumed in 1958 and is now held in a different country every four years. The tournament is so popular that over 37 billion people watched the France 1998 championship.
Originally known as the European Champion Clubs’ Cup or the European Cup, the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Champions League is an annual competition for the top football clubs in Europe.
The tournament, first played in 1955, sees up to four teams from Europe’s strongest national leagues progress through several stages over eleven months of the year.
Real Madrid of Spain have won the championship the most times, with a record nine successes. The current champions, Chelsea, are first-time winners of the title.
Winning isn’t just about lifting the trophy – there’s big cash involved too. Teams earn money for each stage in which they participate. Winning the final earns a club a cool nine million euros. Then there’s the television market, which is so powerful that 2011 final losers, Manchester United, actually earned more money from the tournament than winners Barcelona.
The Champions League has its own anthem, written by Tony Britten. It is an adaptation of Handel’s ‘Zadok the Priest’. The chorus contains all three of UEFA’s official languages: English, French and German.
Famous EU Football players
Today, footballers are some of the world’s most well-known celebrities. Of course, some players become more infamous than famous, either for misdemeanours off the pitch, like fighting and drug-taking, or bad behaviour on it - think Maradona’s hand of God and Cantona’s kung fu kick.
Ferenc Puskás scored 84 goals in 85 international matches for Hungary. FIFA now awards the ‘Puskás Award’ for the ‘most beautiful goal’ over the past year.
Franz Beckenbauer is generally regarded as the greatest German footballer of all time and is one of the most decorated players in the game’s history.
In 1999, Dutchman Johan Cruyff was voted ‘European Player of the Century’ in an election held by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, and came second behind Pelé in their ‘World Player of the Century’ poll.
Football Fans and Supporters
Football is not just a game. To many, it is the stuff of life. In some countries, football is part of the national culture: families, friendships and communities are brought together, or forced apart by it.
Community identity is important. Each fan is a part of the team, feeling every victory or loss as keenly as the players and managers. They support their side by wearing the team’s colours or ‘strip’, by singing songs and chants, which can be affectionate or insulting, humorous or cruel.
Football memorabilia such as old strips, match day programmes, fanzines, signed photographs and footballs are hugely collectable and are frequently auctioned for vast sums, often for charitable benefit.
Local derbies, in which two geographically close teams play each other, are often the source of bitter rivalry but can also have the effect of uniting communities. For example, when Liverpool and Everton, who are based less than a mile apart, play each other, blue and red fans sit side by side because single families often include supporters of both teams.