ancient football foot wearFootball is undoubtedly “THE” most popular sport in the world with it being played in over 200 countries.

But how many of you know about the origins of modern day football? A sport that almost stayed as rugby if two college teams hadn’t disagreed on its rules.

FIFA (Federation International de Football Association), the international governing body of football has credited the ancient Chinese game of Tsu-Chu otherwise spelled as Cuju as to being the predecessor of the modern day game of football.

Tsu – Chu Chinese Football

Tsu – Chu otherwise spelled as Cuju was said to be a form of Chinese military exercise used to train soldiers as far back as 255 B.C. As it became hugely popular among the soldiers it was eventually taken up as a sporting event.

tsu chu chinese football soccer

Unlike modern day football Tsu-Chu had various version of itself. It was played on a rectangular field surrounded by walls. Several small semi-circular holes are cut in to the wall. A total of six teams could play against each other at the same time. Each team had goalkeepers who would defend his teams post. The game ball used was made of leather stuffed with fur, very much like the modern ball used in the present. Usually the first team to score would be declared the winner as the game was said to be extremely difficult.

The Japanese version of Tsu-Chu was called as “Kemari”

There are certain other versions of the game that have also been recorded. One of these versions involved keeping the ball in the air for as long as possible (ring some bells?), there is also a more violent version of this game where the player will be attacked by a number of other players while he tries to keep the ball in the air and then score (Chinese and their Kung Fu). The uses of hands were prohibited in the game.

japanese football kemari

Here is a full Tsu-Chu football game in video, it´s in Spanish, the only version we could find

Tsu – Chu had been extensively played till early 1900’s after which the popularity of modern day football decreased Tsu-Chu’s popularity.  It’s still being played in certain parts of China but motly as a ceremonial and traditional practice.

Harpastum, Ancient Roman Football

Harpastum was an ancient Roman game which has resemblance to modern day rugby. It was said to be a team sport with a certain degree of violence. It was also known as small ball game as the ball used was small and hard.

Haspartum football being played in Ancient Rome

haspartum football romans

The game was played on a rectangular field of unknown dimensions with teams of somewhere around 12-15 players if not more per side. Each had their own goal to defend while at the same time trying to score by getting the ball past the opposing team’s goal. The uses of hands were permitted.

Video of Haspartum football being played

Episkyros, Acient Greek Football

Episkyros also known as “Ephebike” was an ancient Greek version of football. Two opposing teams of 12-14 players tried to score against each other in a similar fashion to the other versions of the sport. Like Harpastum it was said to be a violent sport which was hugely popular among the men but surprisingly among the women as well. Episkyros might actually be the first football precedent of having female players.

Why it always has to be naked with the Greeks…

episkyros greek football

There are some theories which suggest Harpastum was derived from Episkyros and there might be truth to this fact because the game-play of both was almost identical. And ancient Romans were known to still god ideas from the Greeks… no doubt they stole football as well.

Mural with female players of Episkyros

episkyros woman playing greek football

Pahsaheman, Native Americans played Football as well (not soccer)

Pahsaheman was a primitive form of modern day football said to have been played among the Native Americans with a little spin to the team formation, men would play against women.

Pahsaheman native american football

Each team had their own post to defend while trying to score on the opposition team’s post. To keep things fair the men were only allowed to kick the ball while the women could uses their hands, feet, braids and whatever else they would like to use to get the upper hand. The ball was made of deer fur woven around with deer skin.

Ōllamaliztli, Mayan Football

Ollamaliztli could be a rare mix of racquetball, volleyball and even American Football. 2 to 4 players on each team hit a big heavy rubber ball with only their hips onto a wall. Which ever team let the ball hit the ground more than twice lost and the other gained one point, just like racquetball or volley ball.

mayan football ball game

The Mayan´s preferred to play with their hips

modern mayan ball game


The game, referred to as “The Ball Game”, had several versions. Hitting the wall was the most common gameplay but a level of difficulty was added with 6 meter tall stone rings. Whichever team managed to get the rubber ball through them won the game instantly. But most probably the game was won by regular points.

Can you get the ball through that? Consider its height

mayan ball ring


Check out how hard it really is…

As it was common with the Mayan´s ritual sacrifices were offered during the match, mostly animals were offered to the gods but sometimes human sacrifices were offered. The game has been historically recognized as brutal for the human sacrifices, but this probably didn´t happen as often as we might think, it just impressed the Spaniards. It was a brutal and violent game mostly because the ball was so heavy that it injured severely the half naked players who hit the object directly with their rib cages. In the present the Ball Game is still played in several parts of Central America with variations and it still causes injuries on players.


It is uncertain which ancient culture first started playing football, the only certainty is that it is one hell of a fun sport to play, watch and bet!

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