Football vs. football, soccer vs. football, football vs. gridiron: However you prefer to say it, the debate between which sport is best or deserves the title of “football” is a topic that is often debated between Americans and, well, the rest of the world. Let’s not forget about rugby, a sport often referred to as more manly than American football due to its lack of pads.
So why do three different sports share the same name, and which sport is the real football? Here’s a mini lesson in the evolution of football that might help clear a few things up and give you something to talk about the next time you study abroad in a football-crazed country.
Association football, or soccer, at its root is such a simple game that it’s hard to say when it was first played or who first played it. The first group of humans to stand erect could have developed a game that involved kicking a round object. However most historians give credit to the Han Dynasty of China, who developed a sport similar to football in the second and third centuries BC. This sport was referred to as Tsu’ Chu and involved kicking a leather ball filled with hair and feathers into a net that spanned between two bamboo sticks standing 30-40 cm apart. Tsu’ Chu was a military exercise, not a national past time. One form of this training involved using any part of a soldier’s body except for hands to avoid attacks from opponents while trying to score.
Rugby an important part of the evolution of football; it’s the link between association football and American football. This sport allows us to make sense of why Americans refer to a game that is largely played with hands as “football”. Just as with association football, it’s hard to know who really developed this sport. There were hundreds of games similar to rugby played throughout the world, but most people believe the sport was developed in England in 1823. Supposedly, a boy named William Webb Ellis was playing association football with classmates at Rugby School when he decided to pick up the ball and run with it. Rather than get angry with him for breaking the rules, William’s classmates liked the idea of playing with their hands. After 40 years of debating whether or not using hands should be allowed, two sports were finally split from one. In 1863, rugby football became an official sport separate from what is now referred to as association football.
American football was developed in 1879 by Yale graduate Walter Camp. Eastern United States universities such as Rutgers and Princeton began playing association football in the 1860s, but rugby football soon became the favored sport. Wanting to adjust the game, Walter Camp was the first to begin writing rules for American football in 1876. He continued making adjustments until his death in 1925. Some of the changes included reducing team sizes from 15 to 11 players, creating a quarterback position, enforcing that one side retained possession and creating the line of scrimmage, the forward pass and the points system. American football was largely a college sport until 1920, when the need for a professional league was met by the formation of the NFL.
Which is best?
While everyone has their own sports preferences, there is one clear winner among the three footballs. Association football, soccer, football–call it what you like, this is the most popular sport in the world. Association football is played in nearly every country. Since the sport doesn’t require much equipment aside from a ball and goal posts, it’s easy for underdeveloped countries to join in on the fun. Association football’s global rank is proven by the popularity of the World Cup, which is the most widely viewed sporting event in the world.
Which type of football are you a fan of?