Soccer is arguably the world’s most popular sport, and with over 240 million registered players, is also a truly international game. It has a very distinct legacy and culture within Italy, home to some of the world’s professional players who have brought home innumerable European championship and World Cup trophies. There’s no doubt that Italy is one of the world’s most famous and fiercest players and supporters of the sport. But where did the game come from, and who invented it?
Historians are unable to pinpoint an exact date and place for the game’s inception, but archaeological findings suggest the idea of a team sport revolving around a ball began in the Mesoamerican cultures some 3,000 years ago. The Teotihuacanos, Aztecs, and Maya may have had various rules for their games, but they all involved hitting a ball, either with a bat, racquet, or even their own body parts.
In the Aztec culture, players bounced a rubber ball back and forth using only their hips and buttocks. Aside from being an entertaining, team sport, the game also had a central part in the religious and warfarin Mesamerican culture, with diplomatic disputes being settled by a high-stakes game. In the Maya culture, the losers of some games were sacrificed to the gods.
The variation of kicking a ball made from stuffed animal hides into a net for sport, however, was created by the Chinese in the third century B.C.. But soccer, or football depending on where you're from, as we know it today was given to us by the English, who formalized the game into a sport in the 19th century. Birthed in prestigious British schools, it was mainly an upper class game that was initially intended to remain amateur. In 1885, the sport grew in popularity when professional players were allowed, and by 1904 it had gained so much traction that it officially went international with the creation of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) which continues to serve as the international governing body of soccer.
Soccer debuted as a sport in the 1908 Olympic Games, and the first FIFA World Cup took place in 1930. Professional soccer flourished from there on out, and professional players began to be seen as national heroes with salaries that ballooned over the decades. Today, the game is firmly entrenched in some country's identities and is seen as a point of reference for communities to bond over – not to mention it's the most widely played and viewed sport in the world.
Asia London Palomba
Asia London Palomba is a trilingual freelance journalist from Rome, Italy. In the past, her work on culture, travel, and history has been published in The Boston Globe, Atlas Obscura, The Christian Science Monitor, and Grub Street, New York Magazine's food section. In her free time, Asia enjoys traveling home to Italy to spend time with family and friends, drinking Hugo Spritzes, and making her nonna's homemade cavatelli.