2500 BC - 1600 AD: The Early Millennia

2500 B.C. The ancient Egyptians played a game involving kicking a ball. It is believed that the balls were typically made from seeds wrapped in linen and that the games were part of fertility rituals involving a very large number of participants.

2500 B.C. The Chinese game of Tsu Chu (or Cuju) is documented in military manuals of the Han Dynasty which started in 206 B.C., although many historians believe it may have originated several centuries early. Tsu translates as "to kick the ball with feet" and Chu as "a ball made of leather and stuffed." The game involved two teams trying to kick the ball through an approximately 12” diameter hole in silk nets strung between two 30 foot tall bamboo poles. Use of hands was not allowed.

1600 B.C. Discovered in Mexico, the oldest Mesoamerican ball court dates back this far. The Mayans adopted the earlier game of Pitz as Pok-A-Tok, which involves trying to get a rubber ball through a small vertical stone hoop approximately 23 feet in the air without the use of hands. After a game, the captain of the winning team was sometimes beheaded. The ritual sacrifice was a highly desirable and honorable goal, and possibly served as a shortcut to heaven.

1000 B.C. Australian Aborigines have played the game of Marngrook for a long time, although no one has a clear idea of just how long. The game involves trying to catch a kicked ball.

500 B.C. The rules of the ancient Greek game of Episkyros are unclear, but it apparently allowed the use of hands. Some suggest it may have been similar to Rugby. Two teams played on a field and it involved a ball. Another ancient Greek game, Harpaston, was played on a field with a center line and end goal line. The object of the game was to pass, kick, or run the ball past the opposing team's goal.

50 B.C. The Roman game of Harpastum likely evolved from the similarly named Greek predecessor. The word means "the small ball game". The object of the game was to pass the ball, either by hand or by foot, across the opposing team’s goal line. Another version involved a team trying to keep the ball on its half of the field as long as possible. Tackling was allowed. Julius Caesar utilized the game for military training. Harpastum remained popular into the 6th century A.D. It may have influenced subsequent ball games throughout Medieval Europe.

300 A.D. The Japanese game of Kemari was a non-competitive sport using a ball made of deerskin stuffed with sawdust. Players tried to keep the ball from hitting the ground by juggling it with their feet and passing it from one to another. The playing field, Kikutsubo, was marked at the corners by four different trees: cherry, maple, willow and pine.

1100 Of the various medieval ball games that developed in the areas that would eventually become Great Britain, the especially violent Mob Football was the most popular. It was typically played between neighboring villages, with each team’s town square essentially serving as the goal. Each team/mob tried to force the ball into the opponent’s village center.

1314 King Edward II of England issued the first ban of football. Several subsequent kings also tried to ban it. The game was considered to be unchristian and it distracted people from the traditional sports of fencing and archery.

1527 The first documented reference to Celtic football (Caid) was found in the Statute of Galway, which allowed the playing of football and archery but banned hurling and handball. The field version of Caid, as opposed to the cross country version, involved kicking a ball through a goal formed by two tree boughs. Caid may have derived from the Welsh game of Knappan, which may have descended from the Viking game of Knattleikr.

1600 Native North Americans played a kicking-game / mock-battle called Pasuckuakohowog, which translates as "they gather to play ball with the foot." The game often included hundreds of participants, playing on a mile long field or beach with goals at each end.