top of page

Who Invented Football? | Where American Football, Soccer, and Rugby Came From


High shot of an NFL game in a large stadium

Professional football today is a multibillion-dollar industry. It’s become a massive part of American culture, and fans of different teams brawl over simply liking another team. But why is it so popular? Where did football even come from? And why do Americans say soccer and not football?


Football has a long history, and it can be traced back to a medieval game where many of our modern-day sports evolved from...


 

Story Chapters

 

The Different Types of Football

2022 world cup Morocco vs Crotia where a player is shooting a goal

Football (Soccer)

If you’re European, this is probably the most familiar form of football. If you’re American, you’ll probably be more familiar with calling it soccer. Either way, it’s the game where you can only use your feet and kick the ball into a goal to score points.


a player carrying the ball in gaelic football

Gaelic Football

Unless you’re Irish, you’re probably not familiar with this game. It’s a lot like traditional football (eh, soccer). However, the goalposts are H-shaped, and you get 1 point if you hit the ball above the bar and 3 points for scoring under the bar.



You can also hold the ball, but be careful; you can only take four steps. Because of this, players drop the ball and kick it back up to their hands. Despite its similarity to traditional football (again, soccer), Gaelic Football has positions similar to American Football such as cornerbacks, a full back, half backs, three half-forwards, and a full-forward.


rugby player is attempting to tackle the rugby ball carrier

Rugby

You’ve probably heard of rugby, but you probably don’t know what it actually is. Rugby is very simple. All you have to do is get the ball over the opponent's goal line to score 5 points (called a "try"). You can then kick the ball over the bar for another two points.


There’s only one catch. You can only pass the ball backward. This makes the game far more reliant on team strategy than individual players.


football players run out into the stadium with smoke behind them

Gridiron Football (American Football)

What’s "Gridiron" Football? In the early days of football, lines used to be drawn both horizontally and vertically, creating a grid pattern on the field. This is the form of football that American football evolved from.


 

The Origins of Football (Middle Ages-1800s)

Mob Ball

The first evolution of football is a game from the Middle Ages called Mob Ball. It wasn’t a fleshed-out game with set rules. Instead, Mob Ball is a general name given to ball team sports of the Middle Ages.

illustration of medieval mob ball being played out on the streets

These games were played across Europe, and the rules were different depending on where you were. But in general, the game consisted of two teams, usually from opposing villages. Teams were around a handful of players or sometimes the teams would have hundreds of people playing. These teams would then fight for control over the ball to win, typically by taking it back to their village.


In England, the first ball was a skull, but eventually, it changed to a cow’s bladder. That’s all according to legend, though.


Interestingly, the main French version of Mob Ball was called "la soule." A variation of it was called "shouler a la crosse," where people used hockey sticks to play. And that’s where lacrosse comes from.

lacrosse players running

Of course, no one was allowed to kill anyone. Although that might seem obvious, when you have hundreds of men fighting to win control over a ball, serious injuries are probably going to happen. The game would usually last all day, causing people to collapse, and would go out of control really soon.


The games would be so violent that people would try to ban them, most notably the King of England. The violence of these early mob games would continue well into the development of the football we know today.



The Creation of Rugby

Around 1823, a new version of Mob Ball was created and began to catch on. This time, they could pick up the ball and run. Eventually, teams were created, and other rules aside from "not killing anybody" were made between teams.


One day, while playing the game against an opposing team, a schoolboy named Ellis made the mistake of picking up the ball and running with it. The captain of the team apologized profusely, and everyone that day thought it was a mistake.


However, some thought that picking up the ball would be an interesting twist on the game, and so it was added to the game. Legend has it that this variation of "football" came from the small town of Rugby...