When the European Championship was hosted by England 20 years ago, the famous anthem of the home team had a unique catchy chorus “It’s coming home… football’s coming home.” But historical artefacts prove China can also claim to be the home of football.
“While England is the birthplace of the modern game as we know it, we have always acknowledged that the origins of the game lie in China,” says Michael Moore, director of the National Football Museum.
England has had very few football highlights since Wembley 1966, but the Three Lions have always comforted themselves claiming it was England who invented the beautiful game that is now played all over the world.
Although England should be given the credit for organising the contemporary game in 1863, according to FIFA’s website, “The very earliest form of the game for which there is scientific evidence was an exercise from a military manual dating back to the second and third centuries BC in China.”
The world’s first football as we know was a leather ball filled with feathers and hair, and the game was known as ‘Tsu Chu’, which means “kicking ball”. However, the players were not permitted to aim at their target without obstructions, but they had to utilise their feet, chest, back and shoulders when trying to withstand the vicious attacks of the opponents.
Use of hands was not at all permitted just like today. China’s own historical archives documented the largely popular game favoured by the people of the Qi Kingdom (319 BC – 201 BC), which was located in the present-day Shantung province in northern China. This ancient game continued to be mentioned in the subsequent dynasties in China.
Some ancient paintings portrayed an all-star Chinese football team in a soccer field which they shared with dogs and birds.
Even Marco Polo mentioned this Chinese game in his travelogue. Interestingly, Marco Polo might have been one of the world’s earliest travel bloggers. Ancient Chinese women also enjoyed the game too.
So any rulebooks? Yes, in the Song Dynasty they used to print books like The Illustrated Rules of Kickball by Wang Yuncheng. This book speaks of two main forms of the game, one with and one without a goal.
The goal was generally 10m high, with a net of coloured rope, and in the middle a hole one foot in diameter.
The two teams used to wear different strips, such as all red vs all green. Captains had hats decorated with little-stiffened wings, it may be the equivalent of the captain’s armband in modern football. Other players had hats with curling wings.
One team used to start the game by passing the ball around until the “assistant ball leader” finally passed it to the “ball leader” or “goal shooter” who had the responsibility to shoot at the hole in the goal’s netting. The other team then took up the ball and started its own round in the same way. There were no goalkeepers.
The team with the most goals won the match. Successful kicks were rewarded with drum rolls, pennants and wine.
After all these historical records, why we are so surprised to see the sudden rise of Chinese football? Well, they may have been the ‘Sleeping Giants’ and the rise of Chinese Super League was about to happen anytime!