Who invented football? Hamburg museum seeks answer
By Iain Rogers
HAMBURG, Germany (Reuters) – Who really invented soccer —
Native Americans? South American Indians? Was it Mexicans,
Florentines, Chinese, Japanese or Eskimos?
As Germany gears up for this month’s World Cup, the
“Fascination Football” exhibition at the Hamburg Museum of
Ethnology seeks the answer to this question by tracing the
roots of the modern game back thousands of years.
Colorful displays of balls, costumes, footwear and other
equipment bring the ancient sports from which modern soccer
evolved to life. Visitors can collect 100 different beer
mat-sized cards detailing facts about the game as they walk
“I’m not a football fan but I am just fascinated by the
variety, all the different things they have brought together
here,” said Lucia Niederwestberg, 57, a teacher from Hamburg.
“It’s nice that I have the chance to find something out
about the game other than just watch the matches on television
with my brother.”
The earliest form of soccer is generally thought to be a
Chinese game called cuju (“kickball”), created some 4,700 years
ago to teach soldiers about cooperation and vigilance.
Two teams would do battle on a rectangular pitch and aim to
shoot a leather ball through a hole high up on an intricately
decorated gate, an example of which can be seen at the
“Fascination Football” also tells of 6,000-year-old stone
balls unearthed in the southwestern United States that are
similar to ones used today by Native Americans in two kinds of
In one, players pick the ball up with the instep and throw
it as far as they can, while in the other — so-called football
races — the ball is slung with the instep in a race over
distances as long as 30 km (19 miles).
The exhibition also features a pair of black and red
ankle-length boots which were used in Japan from the seventh
century by emperors, courtiers and samurai in the game kemari.
A team of eight players would kick the ball to each other
and try to prevent it from touching the ground. The goal was to
move as little as possible and the soles of the kemari shoes
were not supposed to be revealed.
The exhibition also details a Mexican game called ulama
dating back 1,500 years BC, a version of which is still played
today. Players have to strike the ball through stone rings with
A walrus skull and tusks decorate a display explaining how
Eskimos believe that the Northern Lights shine when their
ancestors are playing football with a skull.
Eskimos typically like to play on ice pitches in
temperatures of minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 degrees
Fahrenheit) and traditionally welcome guests by challenging
them to a match to help warm up together.
The first inter-continental soccer match apparently took
place in Greenland in 1586 between an English explorer John
Davis and his crew and the inhabitants of Godthab.
One of the most striking displays shows the origins of the
Florentine “calcio storico,” a game that has similarities with
modern rugby that has been played since the 16th century.
Many of the basic rules and structures of modern soccer
were first laid down in the Tuscan city, such as the halfway
line, the wearing of team colors, referees and referees
assistants and specific playing positions.
While the English created the world’s first football
association in London in 1863, Scotland is presented as a
cradle of modern soccer and the museum has borrowed several
pieces from the Scottish football museum in Glasgow.
These include a refreshment stall from the stadium of
Edinburgh club Hibernian, selling such delights as Scottish
steak and gravy pie and fruit pastilles.
Records show a match took place in Aberdeen in 1633 which
included goalkeepers and man-to-man marking, while the world’s
first soccer club, Edinburgh’s John Hope Football Club, was
founded in 1824.
A corner of the museum entrance hall has been turned into a
replica Scottish pub, honoring the place where soccer fans have
traditionally enjoyed the “third half” and alcohol-fuelled
discussions of the match take place.
The exhibition recounts how brewers and pub landlords have
played their part in the development of football.
Brewer John Henry Davies rescued a club called Newton Heath
in 1902 and renamed it Manchester United, while Tottenham
Hotspur’s stadium, White Hart Lane, is named after the pub that
stood next to the property.
Anton, a seven-year-old from Hamburg, said his favorite
display was the “holy turf,” a small section cut from the pitch
that was used for the first ever international match, between
England and Scotland in Glasgow in 1872.
There were no soccer pitches in Scotland at the time and
the match was played at the West of Scotland Cricket Club.
There were 4,000 spectators and it ended in a goalless draw.
“I also liked the big football in the entrance hall and all
the trophies,” Anton said.