Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Scots invented soccer!

The English have long claimed to be the inventors of modern soccer. According to an article at The Scotsman (found at, there is strong evidence that it was the Scots — and not the English — who invented modern football! (That is, "football" as known around most of the world, not the version of "football" invented by Canadians and Americans — known as "American football" elsewhere — or the Australian variant known as "Aussie Rules Football".

(I lifted most of this entry from that article, so you don't have to hop their if you don't feel like it!)

Ancestors to the game of football — soccer — date back several millennia. The Chinese had a game called cuju (kickball) about 4,700 years ago, where teams of soldiers tried to kick a ball through a hole in a gate. Two stone balls some 6,000 years old were unearthed in the U.S., and they are similar to those used in soccer-like games played by native Americans.

What separates these antecedents from the modern game is the concept of passing the ball from one player to another. Another major difference is the use of goalkeepers to stop the ball.

The English FA (Football Association) was formed in 1863, and it is this date that Englishmen use to lay claim to the invention of football. Soccer, as defined by the FA at the time, did not mention goalkeepers. It also didn't allow forward passing. It was based more on the rugby model where you could only pass the ball to the side or behind you, and was mostly a free for all with players acting on their own to move the ball forward. (A remnant of the "no forward pass" rule exists in soccer, where the starting kick must be backwards or to the side, not forward.)

David Wedderburn was a teacher and poet at the Aberdeen Grammar School in the early 17th century. In 1633 he wrote, in Latin, a book called Vocabula. In his Vocabula he mentions a ball game involving kicking. What sets this book, and the described game, apart is the use of passing in order to score, and the use of goalkeepers! This was some 230 years before the formation of the English FA.

This is very important to the history of soccer. Until recently it was believed that passing wasn't added to the game until the late 1860s, but here is a game played in Aberdeen that may actually have looked more like modern soccer than what was played by the English FA in the 1860s. Richard McBrearty, curator of the Scottish Football Museum, said, "The original football game that we know about through paintings and descriptions were like folk games — a bit of a free-for-all. But this Aberdeen game is different — the play is structured and it's a passing game with goalkeepers."

The reason history is being rewritten at such a late date is because the book was only recently translated. A 1711 edition of the book lay in the National Library of Scotland, but it was translated for a World Cup exhibition at the Museum fur Volkerkunde in Hamburg, Germany.

The oldest soccer ball known, a 500 year old leather ball, is on display at the World Cup exhibition. It was found in the roof beams of the Queen's chamber in Stirling Castle in the 1970s. It is believed to have belonged to Mary of Guise, the mother of Mary Queen of Scots.

It should also be noted that Scots were instrumental in spreading the game to other parts of the world. Scots introduced the game to Brazil and Mexico.

While England apparently did not invent the game, there is some consolation for English men and women: England is in the World Cup while Scotland is not.

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