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Early ball games

Kick-off: China plays Ts'uh boldly

The Chinese presumably deserve the credit for inventing the first soccer-like ball game. If Chinese legends are to be believed, the mythical Emperor Huang-ti introduced the ball game Ts'uh küh as early as 2967 BC as a training exercise for his soldiers.

In the Ts'uh küh (Ts'uh: to play with your foot; küh: ball) two teams tried to kick a leather ball stuffed with feathers or fabric into a goal about 40 centimeters wide. The players had to keep a certain sequence of shots.

The soldier's drill became a mass sport. From the 6th to the 13th centuries AD, Ts'uh küh was a popular pastime. There were fixed rules, a ball filled with air replaced the massive ball, bets were made, and there is even said to have been a professional league. Later, however, the game was completely forgotten.

About the fight to the game: Greeks and Romans

As in China, ball games were used as military training in ancient Greece. The Greek philosopher Plato (427-347 BC) reported on the Sphairomachia, the so-called "ball battle". This tough game was particularly popular in Sparta, where players pounced on each other to battle for the ball.

Another ball game played by the Greeks was called Episkyros. Two teams faced each other on a field the size of a football pitch.

The Romans presumably took over ball sports from the Spartans. They played the so-called harpastum around 200 BC. This game was also really down to earth. Like the Greek Episkyros, Harpastum was probably more like rugby or American football than today's soccer, as the ball was thrown and caught and not shot.

Due to the Roman army, however, the game spread across large parts of Europe and probably influenced the ball games that developed in England or France in the Middle Ages, for example.

The round has to go round: Central America

Ball game variants are also known from the ancient Central American cultures. The Olmecs played ulama (ball game) as early as 1300 BC, in which two teams had to push a rubber ball through a stone ring that was placed at a height of a good three meters. The Maya and Aztecs continued this mix of football and basketball.

Beautiful play: Kemari in Japan

Kemari was a popular game in Japan in the 7th century AD. Although it probably came to Japan from China, it had little in common with the competitive sport of Ts'uh kuh. Instead of winning, Kemari was more about harmonious movements. Presumably as part of cultic events, the aim of the game was to keep the ball in the air for as long as possible with skillful kicks.

Kemari is still played in various ceremonies in Japan today. In modern football, on the other hand, this holding up of the ball can only be observed during training or warming up before a game.

Pack formation: English folk football

The British are considered the fathers of fair play - but football, which was played on the island in the Middle Ages, had nothing to do with it: entire villages or city districts faced each other in meadows or fields.

There were hardly any rules. Often these games degenerated into wild fights and tumults. In 1314 things became too colorful for the London mayor: in the name of King Edward II he banned football - and with that he mentioned the sport in writing for the first time.

With industrialization, the wild, village folk football, which was also known in France under the name Soule, lost more and more of its importance. When football was played, it was on the streets of the cities. But the step to modern sport as we know it today was not taken here, but behind the walls of British elite schools.

Traditional teams: Calcio in Italy

As early as the Renaissance, a game was played in Florence that gives Italian football its name to this day: the Calcio Storico (historical football), also called Calcio in Costume (football in costumes).

Similar to British folk football, the players of the two teams were allowed to do anything to chase the ball away from their opponents and maneuver it into the enemy goal - regardless of the part of their body. This scenario was more like British rugby, only with no rules. The Italian word "calciare" also means "to step".

At the end of the 15th century, the Calcio became popular as a social event among the Medici. On high public holidays, the game was always an integral part of the program. The love for Calcio went so far that the Medici, who at times even occupied the Holy See, let the game be played in the squares of the Vatican. After the end of the Medici era in the 18th century, however, the game was increasingly forgotten.

Today the Calcio in Florence is a tradition and a tourist attraction. The four historic districts of San Giovanni, Santa Maria Novella, Santa Croce and Santo Spirito face each other in May and June on the Piazza Santa Croce. The game is played on clay and in the historical costumes of the Renaissance. Each team consists of 27 players who have to push the ball into the open net of the opponent.

Author: Christoph Teves