Soccer has become the most popular sport in the world over the last century. In fact, over a billion people tune in to watch the World Cup every four years. Yet, not many people know all that much about the history of the world’s favorite game.
Let’s find out how much you really know about soccer! Take a look at these 24 unique facts about the history of soccer and how this sport got to where it is today. We promise that you’ll learn at least a few new things by the end of this piece.
However, before we get into the facts that you’ve probably never heard before, let’s go over everything you probably already know. That way, you have something to compare your brand new knowledge to. Here we go!
- Soccer is a team sport that has 11 players from each team on the field at once (10 field players and 1 goalkeeper).
- The sport is played with a round ball that generally weighs between 14 and 16 ounces. The circumference of a regular soccer ball is usually between 27 and 28 inches.
- At the professional level, a soccer game is meant to last about 90 minutes (two 45 minute halves). If you noticed that a soccer game has run much longer than the allotted 90 minutes, it’s because the referees have decided to add stoppage time. This takes into account any time that was wasted as a result of injuries or fouls.
- In terms of international play, FIFA is considered to be the governing body of soccer. This is the organization that runs the FIFA World Cup every four years.
24 Historical Facts About Soccer
Ok, now that we went through some common (and basic) knowledge about soccer, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
- Soccer Was First Played Thousands of Years Ago.
What we now know as “soccer” was once known as “cuju” in ancient China. This was a game that was often used during celebrations and large events, calling for two teams of at least 12 players (a maximum of 16). Unlike soccer, cuju had a single goal set up in the middle of the field. Teams would have to kick the ball (without using their arms or hands) through the goal on their own side to be awarded a point.
- Uruguay won the First World Cup.
The first World Cup was hosted by Uruguay in 1930, with a total of 13 teams participating in the tournament. The final match between Uruguay and Argentina was played in front of over 90,000 fans in a massive stadium. Uruguay clinched the first World Cup championship with a 4-2 victory over Argentina. Uruguay would win its next and final World Cup championship 20 years later in 1950.
- Sheffield F.C. Was the First Official Soccer Club.
In 1855, two players with the Sheffield Cricket Club in South Yorkshire, England, decided to create their own soccer club in their spare time. By 1857, Sheffield F.C. was finally born and recognized as a team. Now, over 150 years later, Sheffield F.C. is the world’s oldest soccer club and has officially been inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame. Today, the club is part of the Northern Premier League Division One East.
- Soccer Made Its Olympic Debut in 1900.
Being only the second Summer Olympics in history, the 1900 Summer Olympics hosted in Paris was less than impressive for soccer fans worldwide. In fact, only three teams participated in the tournament, and no medals were awarded by the end of it. Of the two games that were actually played, Great Britain was eventually determined the winner of the Olympics. The other two teams participating were France (second place) and Belgium (third place).
- The Term “Soccer” Is Only Used by a Few Countries in the World.
The term “soccer” actually comes from an abbreviated version of the term “association football.” English players eventually would shorten the name to “assoccer,” which finally turned into regular old “soccer.” The popularity of this term didn’t travel too far. As of today, the term “soccer” is quite popular in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, among a few other countries in the world.
- Brazil Has Won the Most World Cup Tournaments.
In all the World Cup tournaments that have been played since 1930, Brazil has won an astonishing five world titles (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, and 2002). Brazil has made a total of seven appearances in the FIFA World Cup finals, losing in 1950 to Uruguay and 1998 to France.
- Soccer Is the Undisputable Most Popular Sport in the World.
There’s no doubt about it; soccer is considered the most popular sport in the entire world. The sport has well over 3 billion fans worldwide. In fact, soccer is so popular that more than 40% of people describe themselves as being at least somewhat interested in the sport.
- Soccer Was Once Banned by King Edward III.
In 1349, King Edward III claimed that sports like soccer were keeping a ton of English men away from archery. Given the fact that archery was seen as a defense tactic in the war in the 1300s, King Edward III saw soccer as somewhat of a threat to the nation’s security. Years later, in 1363, King Edward III once again would try to ban soccer. Other kings and queens in English history also attempted to do the same.
- FIFA Was Formed in 1904.
Fédération Internationale de Football Association, also known as FIFA, was first created in 1904 as a response to an increasing number of international soccer games being played. At the time, FIFA had representation from seven nations (Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Sweden, and Spain). Though Germany joined the same day, it’s not considered one of the founding nations of FIFA. Today, FIFA is considered the world’s governing body of soccer.
- Soccer Balls Were Once Made From Pig Bladders.
Before rubber became mainstream, soccer balls were created with the help of inflated sheep or pig bladders. These inflated bladders would then be covered with leather and officially ready for play. These original soccer balls were much smaller and lighter than today’s soccer balls, weighing in at a mere 4.4 ounces and measuring about 5 to 6 inches in diameter. The discovery of vulcanized rubber would change the sport of soccer forever.
- Soccer Is Played in More Than 200 Countries Worldwide.
Soccer’s popularity goes much further than the over 200 members of modern-day FIFA. Over 250 million people play soccer on a global scale, which calculates out to about 4% of the world’s total population.
- The First Modern Soccer Ball Was Created in 1855.
In 1855, the introduction of vulcanized rubber by Charles Goodyear would change the soccer ball as the world knew it. The use of this unique form of rubber completely got rid of the need to use a pig or sheep bladder for the interior of a soccer ball. By 1962, the soccer ball would change again, this time introducing the 32-panel exterior design that we know today.
- Pelé Is Considered By Many the Best Soccer Player Ever.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, most commonly known as Pelé, is a soccer player from Brazil who has proven himself to be the best soccer player in history. In a total of 1,363 games played, Pelé scored an impressive 1,281 goals. Even more incredible is the fact that his professional soccer career started at the young age of 15 in 1956 and continued for 22 years. During his career, he also made appearances in three FIFA World Cups (1958, 1962, and 1970).
- Messi and Ronaldo Are Among the Richest Soccer Players of All-Time.
Both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo make a considerable part of their money in endorsements with multinational brands.
- The Puritans Were Not Supportive of Soccer in the 1600s.
In 17th century England, the Puritans viewed soccer as somewhat of an “evil” game. They believed that chaotic and disorganized sports like soccer should be banned, especially on Sundays. Most importantly, the Puritans thought that soccer ruined the holiness that was supposed to exist on the Lord’s Day. Obviously, this didn’t work too well, as soccer is now undeniably popular in England.
- FIFA Hosted the First Women’s World Cup in 1991.
The 1991 World Cup marks the first women’s World Cup in history, hosted by China. Over 12 countries participated in the games, with over 500,000 fans in attendance. The team from the United States would clinch the title in a 2-1 victory over Norway. The U.S. team included eventual soccer superstars like Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain and set the tone for the future of the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT).
- The World Cup Attracts Over 3 Billion Viewers.
The Super Bowl captures about 100 million viewers on a yearly basis. In recent years, the World Cup brings over 3.5 billion viewers during the tournament. That’s nearly half the world’s population, making the World Cup the most popular televised event in history.
- Penalty Cards Weren’t Introduced Until 1970.
In the final match of the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, referee Ken Aston introduced the yellow and red penalty cards that we know very well today. The purpose of these cards was to help overcome the language barriers between players and referees on the field. By 1992, penalty cards would become a mandatory part of soccer. Today, the penalty cards are just a normal part of soccer as we know it.
- The Highest Scoring Soccer Game of All-Time Ended at 149–0.
In a soccer game between AS Adema and SO l’Emyrne in 2002 in Madagascar, there was an issue with a call made by one of the referees. In a form of peaceful protest, SO l’Emyrne intentionally scored 149 goals on their own net. The team and the coaches involved eventually received punishment for this tactic. The paying fans that were present for this game were less than impressed by this strategy.
- A Post-Game Riot in 1964 Caused Over 300 Deaths in Peru.
As the Peruvian team was making an attempt to qualify for the 1964 Summer Olympics, fans became outraged when the referees dismissed a goal scored by Peru’s team near the end of the game. The stadium, housing over 50,000 fans on that date, stampeded the field in protest. During the riot, police even had to use tear gas in an attempt to contain the crowd. Over 300 fans were killed, and more than 500 in attendance were injured.
- In 1954, the World Cup Was Televised for the First Time.
The very first World Cup to be televised was the 1954 FIFA World Cup hosted by Switzerland. The final game was a matchup between West Germany and Hungary. West Germany would win the world championship with a 3-2 victory. Since this first televised event, every single World Cup has been broadcast on international television. Compared to the lack of impressive coverage during the 1954 World Cup, today’s coverage is much more highly-regarded.
- Major League Soccer in the U.S. Was Created in 1996.
Major League Soccer (MLS) was supposed to begin its first season in 1995, but this was later postponed to the 1996 season. At the time, the MLS only had ten teams in total, and players weren’t allowed to earn more than $192,500 per season. In fact, teams had a $1.2 million pay limit for their entire roster.
- Brazil Has Qualified for the Most Number of World Cups.
Brazil has actually participated in all 21 World Cups that have existed thus far, making them the only team to do so. And, this does take into account the two tournaments that never happened in 1942 and 1946 as a result of World War II. Since Brazil played in its first World Cup, they’ve made seven total appearances in the finals and won 5 championships overall.
- One of the Longest Soccer Games in History Was Over 108 Hours.
In 2016, Heartbeat United FC from the United Kingdom played in one of the world’s longest soccer matches in history. This was considered to be a marathon soccer game that ended up lasting 108 hours and 2 minutes. The team actually split up into two different teams and played against one another over the course of the match. The final score was 1,009-872 and earned the team a spot in Guinness World Record books for the longest soccer game.
All Things Considered
Over the last 4,000 years, soccer has grown from a casual game in ancient China to the most popular sport in the world.
The sport of soccer has seen just about everything, from games with a final score of 149-0 to being banned by King Edward III in the 1300s. Since 1958, billions of people have tuned into the World Cup each tournament to catch a glimpse of the world’s most talented soccer players. Considering soccer’s legendary history, there’s no telling just how far this sport will progress over the next few decades and centuries.