‘The Beautiful Game,’ the History of Soccer

Susanne Ramírez de Arellano
 | November 21, 2022

Image courtesy of Nuestro Stories.

Soccer is known as “the beautiful game.” It is the world’s greatest sport because, first and foremost, it is gorgeous to watch. It is a passion for at least 265 million people worldwide

Like life, it is unpredictable and brings people together, no matter where they are from, in a collective fanhood. To watch it is to engage in a delicate dance and see victory snatched from the jaws of failure at the last minute.

The History of Soccer

The history of soccer can be traced back more than 2,000 to ancient China when people enjoyed a game of ball called “tsu chu.” The goal was to drive an animal-skin ball through holes in a net stretched between two poles. 

Similar ball games have been documented in powerful civilizations of the time, namely Egypt, Rome, and ancient Greece. The game known worldwide as Soccer was set in stone in the 19th century in England. 

But what about the pre-Hispanic origins of soccer?

Evidence states that the Mayans, the Aztecs, and the Incas played games of ball which could be the origins of Soccer. 

According to Mary Miller, a professor of history of art at Yale University, the concept of team sport was invented in Mesoamericaa vast region from Mexico to Costa Rica. 

Civilizations flourished in the region way before Christopher Columbus claimed to have “discovered” them (have you ever wondered what we would call it if it had been the other way around?) 

Many people played sports involving a heavy ball made from a resin substance.

It has proven almost impossible to pinpoint where it came from, but what is clear is that the game was popular in Mesoamerican cultures such as the Teotihuacanos, Aztecs, and Mayas. It started about 3,000 years ago, and the names varied — ullamaliztli in Aztec and pok-ta-pok or pitz in Maya. The rules also changed. These included bumping the ball with parts of the body or using racquets or bats. 

It was a sport suitable for everyday playing, but it had another purpose, holding a sacred place in religion and war. 

For example, Aztec kings played it as a substitute for warfare — the game of ball would gain the winning party ruling rights or end diplomatic squabbles. In some cultures, like the Mayan or Veracruz, what one stood to lose was higher. The losers would be sacrificed. 

The history of soccer in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica is so rich and interesting, and it illustrates how the game is part of our culture — no matter if it is also claimed by others. That may be why we play the beautiful game so well — because we have been playing almost since the beginning of time. It lives in us and is part of who we are and how we express ourselves. Just look at Maradona or Pele, and it is clear what this writer means. 


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