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The Invention of Soccer: Who, Where and When (Complete Guide)

The Invention of Soccer: Who, Where and When (Complete Guide)

It's hard to imagine a world in which football doesn't exist, but in the grand scheme of things, the formalised sport as we know it hasn't been around all that long. While rule changes over the years have slowly altered our understanding of how the beautiful game works, we can trace the game of soccer as we know it back to the public schools and universities of England in the 19th century.

However, football as a sport has been around for much longer than that. The human desire to kick a ball around is unrelenting, with various different ancient civilisations being known to have played activities similar to the modern game of soccer. In this article, we'll guide you through some of those early forms of the sport, sketching out their relationship with our understanding of the game today. 

We'll use those discussions as context for that all-important question: who invented soccer? Taking you through the game's origins, we'll explain the hows, whens, and wheres of the beautiful game's origins, before looking briefly at the earliest forms of international football. But let's start with the basics...

Who Invented Soccer?

You'll see later on in this article that football has been around for centuries; whether it's cavemen kicking a rock to each other, medieval villages fighting each other for possession of a pig's bladder, or citizens of Elizabethan England running around a muddy bog (football was mentioned in two William Shakespeare plays, King Lear and A Comedy of Errors), the desire to kick a ball has been expressed by humanity for further back than historians can trace.

However, the transition from folk games (like the ones mentioned above) into modern soccer came during the mid-late 1800s at England's public schools, where the Laws of the Game were first officially written down. This set of rules, which was in part established as a way of confining the sport to these institutions and excluding outsiders, was laid out by the inaugural English Football Association, to establish a set of laws that could be followed by those playing football at elite educational institutions across the country (up until the establishment of these Laws, different cities, regions and clubs across the country played using a wide array of different rules and regulations).

The invention of football can't be accurately attributed to any one individual; however, one name that repeatedly crops up as possibly the most important architect of association football is Ebenezer Morley, a solicitor from Hull who lived in south-west London and is broadly seen as the 'father' of the English Football Association. The founder of Barnes Football Club, it was his letter to the newspaper Bell's Life that sparked the first meeting of the FA, a historic event in which the Laws of the Game were established.

Where Was Soccer Invented?

The original Laws set out by the FA still form the bedrock of football all over the world, meaning that generally speaking the English are seen as the inventors of association football. However, the English game back then looked extremely different; primarily, it was a dribbling game, in which players on the same team took it in turns to try to individually shimmy their way through opposition defences and into goalscoring positions, with little regard for their teammates.

It was the Scottish, who back then being generally smaller than their English counterparts needed to invent new ways of beating more physically combative opponents, who began to devise a different way of playing that made football what it is today: a passing game.

A wave of Scots who ventured south of the border seeking professional playing opportunities at Northern English clubs helped revolutionise the sport by putting far greater emphasis on team moves and passing play. This phenomenon has led to many people over the years describing Scotland as the nation to have really invented football; and while the sport wasn't formalised there, the argument that soccer as we know it has a lot to thank the Scots for is undeniable.

When Was Soccer Invented?

The fabled first meeting of the FA took place on October 26th, 1863 at the Freemasons' Tavern on Great Queen Street in London. At the meeting, representatives from 12 different clubs helped codify the game of football, kicking off over a century and a half of formal association football in the UK.

It's worth noting that while in histories of the sport it's largely the men's game that is focused on, in England and Scotland women have been playing football for almost as long as men have. The first official organised women's match took place in Edinburgh in 1881, and during the First World War (and in the following years) women's football became extremely popular across the United Kingdom, with famous teams such as Dick, Kerr Ladies drawing crowds of up to 50,000 in the post-war years.

Now, while 1863 is broadly seen as the year that football was "invented" formally, people have been playing similar games for centuries, all over the world. Below are a few examples of early forms of soccer.

Ancient Sports Similar To Soccer

Ancient China

China is seen by many as the country in which a form of soccer originated first (Sepp Blatter once declared that China that invented football, although it's important to take much of what the former FIFA president says with a pinch of salt...). The ancient game in question was called 'Cuju', and it was played during the Han dynasty from 206 B.C .to 220 A.D. According to some reports, this was essentially a highly stylised form of keepy-uppies, with elaborate gear and consistent shows of ritual; although others say that nets were also involved. Translating roughly as "Kick ball", it outlawed the use of the hands, much like the Laws of the Game produced in England centuries later.


English people have a deep-rooted relationship with kicking a football around. In Hallaton, Leicestershire, the ancient game of bottle-kicking saw villagers compete against the neighbouring village of Medbourne each Easter Monday (a tradition that continues today), and across medieval England similar ball-led games were commonplace, with pig's bladders being objects that were typically used in clashes between communities. Early ball sports could get extremely violent, with serious injuries including stabbings not uncommon at all. This led to several monarchs attempting to ban the sport, including Edward III and Henry XIII (who, ironically, played football himself, and even had the world's first pair of football boots, made of Italian leather and specially commissioned by the crown).

Back in those days, people weren't actually kicking the ball very much at all — so why the name "football"? Some people believe that the name originally came from the fact that the sport was being played "on foot" by the masses, rather than on horseback in the style of aristocratic sports. Others attribute the name to there being a kicking code as well as a carrying code, meaning players could both handle and wrestle the ball as well as kicking it with their feet.


Across the border in Scotland, similar folk football games regularly took place; there was the Ba game, a medieval form of mob football played primarily in Orkney and the Scottish borders around Christmas and New Year, and going back much further, there have been carved stone balls found at various sites across the country. The earliest written reference to kicking ball games in Scotland goes back to 1424, when King Hames I of Scotland attempted to ban the playing of "fute-ball".

Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece also played host to a primitive version of the sport, named 'episkyros'. Translating as 'common ball' (and thereby having similar roots to the working class ball games of medieval England), the sport involved two teams of players (with numbers comparable to football) competing with one ball. It's worth noting that this game did allow the use of the hands.


The Ancient Greek sport 'Episkyros' frequently got violent, and the same can be said for an ancient Roman game named 'harpastum'. The fact that the name of this sport literally translates as "carried away" could be a good indication of how rough things sometimes got...

The Oldest Soccer Club In The World

In 1885, the FA gave in to the rise of professionalism, and soccer's transformation from being an amateur game played by the elites to the people's game, deeply rooted in working class communities, was firmly entrenched. Since as early as the 1860s, football clubs had been popping up all over the UK to represent their local people. But what is the oldest club in the world?

The title of world's oldest club has been contested and debated fiercely over the years; given the limited documentation of the sport's early years, it can be difficult to pin down an answer here. Founded in 1862 and predating the Football League itself (it was an original member in 1888), Notts County are widely regarded as the oldest professional association football club in the world. On the outskirts of London, Cray Wanderers are also amongst the oldest clubs around, founded in 1860 (the same year as Sheffield-based Hallam FC).

However, most people accept that the oldest soccer club in the world is Hallam FC, a Sheffield-based club founded in 1857, a remarkable 166 years ago. The non-league side currently play in the Northern Premier League Division One South, and their home ground 'Sandygate' holds the Guinness World Record as the "Oldest Football Ground in the World". 

When Were FIFA Founded?

In the modern era, the governing body of world football, FIFA (which stands for Fédération Internationale de Football Association) plays a vital and often controversial role in not just the organisation of international tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup, but also in the staging of club competitions such as the FIFA Club World Cup. But the organisation hasn't always been at the forefront of people's minds when it comes to the global game.

FIFA were founded in 1904 as a governing body to oversee international competition amongst the national associations of founder members Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Despite being the nation in which the sport was first formalised, England were not amongst the original member nations; however, a year later the country joined, and over a century on from that pivotal moment in the history of soccer, there are now 211 national associations overseen by the organisation, which has its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.

When Was The First International Soccer Game?

The first game to be played between two international teams took place between England and Scotland in 1872. The match wasn't the most fiery or exciting affair, finishing 0-0 and generally being played as a rather genteel, civilised showcase of the newly formalised sport. However, the event represented a pivotal landmark in the evolution of what is now the most popular sport in the world.

When it comes to the questions "Who created soccer?", or "Which country invented soccer?", it's these two nations that will generally be battling it out for the title. But what can't be debated is that both England and Scotland played a vital role in making the beautiful game what it is today.

If you'd like to find out more about football's rich history, there are plenty of amazing books, films, and TV documentaries that tackle the history of the game. Why not check out our guide to 10 of the best soccer documentaries for more information?