Games revolving around the kicking of a ball have been played in many countries through history. The earliest documented version is the Chinese game Cuju, mentioned in military manuals from the time of the Qin Dynasty (255–206 BCE). Other ancient ball games include kemari in Japan and the Roman game Harpastum. Various forms of mob football were played in mediæval Europe, though rules varied greatly by both period and location.
The rules of football as they are codified today are based on mid-19th century efforts to standardise the widely varying forms of football played at the public schools of England. The first set of rules resembling the modern game were produced at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1848, at a meeting attended by representatives from Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester and Shrewsbury schools, but they were not universally adopted. During the 1850s, many clubs unconnected to schools or universities were formed throughout the English-speaking world to play various forms of football. Some came up with their own distinct codes of rules, most notably the Sheffield Football Club (formed by former pupils from Harrow) in 1857, which led to formation of a Sheffield FA in 1867. In 1862, John Charles Thring of Uppingham School also devised an influential set of rules.
These efforts contributed to the formation of The Football Association (The FA) in 1863 which first met on the morning of 26 October 1863 at the Freemason’s Tavern in Great Queen Street, London. The only school to be represented on this occasion was Charterhouse. The Freemason’s Tavern was the setting for five more meetings between October and December, which eventually produced the first comprehensive set of rules. At the final meeting, the first FA treasurer, the representative from Blackheath, withdrew his club from the FA over the removal of two draft rules at the previous meeting, the first which allowed for the running with the ball in hand and the second, obstructing such a run by hacking (kicking an opponent in the shins), tripping and holding. Other English rugby clubs followed this lead and did not join the FA but instead in 1871 formed the Rugby Football Union. The eleven remaining clubs, under the charge of Ebenezer Cobb Morley, went on to ratify the original fourteen rules of the game. Despite this, the Sheffield FA played by its own rules until the 1870s.
Today the laws of the game are determined by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). The Board was formed in 1886 after a meeting in Manchester of The Football Association, the Scottish Football Association, the Football Association of Wales, and the Irish Football Association. The world’s oldest football competition is the FA Cup, which has been contested by English teams since 1872. England is also home to the world’s first football league, which was founded in 1888 by Aston Villa director William McGregor. The original format contained 12 clubs from the Midlands and the North of England. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international football body, was formed in Paris in 1904 and declared that they would adhere to Laws of the Game of the Football Association. The growing popularity of the international game led to the admittance of FIFA representatives to the IFAB in 1913. The board currently consists of four representatives from FIFA and one representative from each of the four British associations.
Today, football is played at a professional level all over the world, and millions of people regularly go to football stadia to follow their favourite team, whilst billions more watch the game avidly on television. A very large number of people also play football at an amateur level. According to a survey conducted by FIFA and published in the spring of 2001, over 240 million people regularly play football in more than 200 countries in every part of the world. Its simple rules and minimal equipment requirements have no doubt aided its spread and growth in popularity.
In many parts of the world football evokes great passions and plays an important role in the life of individual fans, local communities, and even nations; it is therefore often claimed to be the most popular sport in the world. ESPN has spread the claim that the Côte d’Ivoire national football team helped secure a truce to the nation’s civil war in 2005. By contrast, however, football is widely considered to be the final proximate cause in the Football War in June 1969 between El Salvador and Honduras. The sport also exacerbated tensions at the beginning the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, when a Red Star Belgrade-at-Dinamo Zagreb match devolved into rioting in March 1990.