Who Invented Soccer? When Was Soccer Invented?

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. Across the globe, the world’s best athletes grow up wanting to compete in the beautiful game. In most of these countries, the game is called football. 

It is even becoming more popular in countries that have previously preferred other sports, such as the United States and Canada. However, it wasn’t always that way.

When Was Soccer Invented? 

The origins of soccer are complicated. Many countries and empires had similar sports, but none of them led to the creation of the game that today we consider soccer. Instead, soccer had humble beginnings in Great Britain, changing after decades of revisions and rule changes to become the sport it is today. Today, it has reached an unprecedented level of global popularity.

African kids playing soccer

Who Invented Soccer?

This is a complicated question. Unlike popular American sports such as baseball, American football, and basketball, there isn’t one clear founder of the sport. Instead, the creation of soccer was a collective effort that was shaped into the game it is today.

The origins of the sport are fiercely debated, but most people tend to agree on where soccer or football was invented — Great Britain. There had been previous variations, but it was in Britain that it turned into what it is today. The British made it into an organized team sport, brought in referees, and added rules.

Even in Britain, a specific group or person is not credited with creating soccer. There are records going as far back as the 16th century of a similar sport being played in Great Britain, with various people being recognized as key figures for the sport.

The most logical answer to “When was soccer created?” is that modern soccer was created in 1863 with the creation of the Cambridge Rules. This was a groundbreaking moment, as the rules established what was and was not allowed in the sport.  Notably, the rules outlawed carrying the ball rugby-style and catching the ball. 

The committee chair was Robert Burn, an English scholar and archaeologist. One of just nine people on the committee, he played a big role in the foundation of the rules and can be considered one of the men who pioneered soccer.

Evolution of the Soccer Ball

The Cambridge Rules were revised nine years later to add information about a crucial yet overlooked part of the game: the ball. Previously, a soccer ball could be made out of basically anything and be any size. Usually, it was made from an inflated animal bladder. 

However, in 1872, the rules were changed to identify specific weights and the ball’s circumference. The ball was also switched to leather and became easier to kick and lighter.

Another major breakthrough occurred in 1931 when three Argentines (Romano Polo, Antonio Tossolini, and Juan Valbonesi) found a way to make the ball without leather lace. The lace, previously necessary to keep the ball together, often was uncomfortable when heading the ball and sometimes led to major injuries. Its removal made heading the ball significantly safer.

These days, soccer balls are very different. They are no longer made from leather. They are significantly lighter and, overall, more fun to use. Many major companies now try to make the best soccer ball. A bit of trivia: Every single World Cup ball since 1970 has been made by Adidas.

classic soccer match -  historic soccer game

How Old is Soccer?

Soccer-like games such as Cuju — more on that later — have been around for centuries, even dating back to the 3rd–2nd century BC. While no one knows exactly when these games were created, as we mentioned, the modern game was founded in 1863 when the Cambridge Rules were created. It, too, has adapted and changed over time, adding crucial rules along the way.

The Cambridge Rules are the foundation that made the sport more similar to what it is today. Shortly after their adoption, the game incorporated essential elements from the Sheffield Rules. These included corners, free kicks, and the crossbar. Over the next few decades, Football Federations, clubs, and professionalism were added. This allowed players to be paid for the matches they played.

We do know when the first international game was played.  However, in 1872, the first recorded game was played between nations, with England and Scotland facing off in a friendly. The World Cup also has a definite age — the 2030 edition will be the 100-year anniversary of the tournament.

Where Was Soccer Invented?

As previously mentioned, modern soccer was invented in Great Britain, where it was called football. Specifically, it was in Cambridge, England — a university city located just north of London, home of some of the biggest modern-day clubs in the world.

However, the British weren’t the only ones interested in no-hands sports. There were similar versions of the sport worldwide that didn’t garner the same (global) attention.

Many Asian countries, in particular, had sports that closely resembled soccer. During the Han Dynasty, Cuju was played in China. It was quite popular at the time, mainly for important events, and followed the same major rules — you try to score points by using anything but your hands to get the ball into a net.

In Japan, they played Kemari, very similar to what is now known as juggling, or keepy-uppy — players used anything but their arms or hands to keep a ball in the air. This sport is still occasionally played in traditional events in Japan.

Similar games were also quite common in North and Central America. The Mayans, in particular, played soccer-like ballgames, albeit with much higher stakes. However, soccer was not brought to their northern neighbors, later known as the United States of America, until much later.

When Did Soccer Come to America?

The British popularized soccer around the world, often bringing soccer balls with them when they visited foreign ports and countries. When the Pilgrims first arrived in the United States in 1620, legend has it that they played a form of soccer in Massachusetts.

However, the distance between America and Great Britain and the difficult political relationship between the two meant that soccer in America disappeared from the public eye for a while. Games such as baseball and a new version of football — based on rugby, a popular sport in Great Britain — instead became more popular.

The United States played its first international match in 1885, but professional soccer took a long time to arrive. It wasn’t until the American Professional Soccer League was founded in 1921 that America got its first professional soccer league, two years after Bethelem Steel, a Pennsylvania-based soccer team — became the first American team to play in Europe.

Soccer might have been brought to America in 1620 or become professional in the 1920s, but for decades, the sport struggled to remain relevant in America. It wasn’t until the 1990s that soccer truly arrived.

Soccer played in the US. Roosevelt Stadium NJ

In the 1990s, American soccer completely changed thanks to two monumental moments — the foundation of Major League Soccer, or MLS, and hosting the 1994 World Cup. Because of these two events, soccer in the country has finally become viewed as a great sport and become a nationwide sensation.

The Words: Soccer vs. Football

The soccer versus football debate is a frequent source of dispute between Americans and the rest of the world. After all, most other nations use the term “football” for the game, while Americans (and some other countries) say “soccer.”

For over 400 years, the British have used some variation of football — whether it was football, foot ball, or association football. When the Cambridge Rules were invented in 1863, they referred to any games played that used the rules as association football.

In Great Britain, the names of sports were often shortened. For instance, rugby football was shortened to rugger — although it is now more commonly known as rugby. The name association football was also shortened in the 1880s, becoming “assoccer.” This was then shortened again, becoming soccer (or socker).

In the early 1900s, when the sport started to gain popularity again in the United States, a problem emerged. The Americans already had a sport called football, technically gridiron football, which was exclusively popular in the United States.

Instead of changing the name of American football, the Americans just decided to use the word soccer, and they have stuck with it. This is why the word “soccer” is commonly associated with Americans despite the British invention of the word.

Final Thoughts

The sport of soccer has a long, complicated history. It has seen influence from all over the world, changing the way it is played, the rules it uses, and even the name people call it. That is why soccer is the global game — it is a blend of cultures like no other.

Picture of Bryan Coe

Bryan Coe

Bryan is the founder of The Soccer Handbook. He has been playing soccer since he was 8 years old, continues to play, and has also done his share of volunteer coaching over the years. Bryan’s mission is to help coaches coach better and help people enjoy the beautiful game throughout their lives.


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