Soccer fans are incredibly passionate about the sport, but what are the reasons behind this devotion to the game?
1. The Game Has a Long History
The history of soccer is as rich as the game itself. The earliest known version of soccer, cuju (literally “kick ball”), was played by soldiers during the Han Dynasty around 200 BCE.
Over the years, similar versions sprang up in various regions around the world. The ancient Egyptians played a game with a ball made of seeds or hair wrapped in linen, while the Greek version included elements of wrestling and rugby. From Italy to Japan, various cultures discovered soccer and interpreted the game in their own way.
Soccer as we know it began in England in 1863 with the formation of The Football Association, which established the rules that became the foundation for the sport. From its humble and diverse origins, soccer has evolved into a universally recognized sport that continues to capture the imagination of people across the globe.
2. You Can Play Soccer Anywhere
Unlike sports that require specially designed courts or stadiums, soccer can be played on nearly any flat surface. On grass, dirt, or concrete, indoors or outside, you can play soccer anywhere so long as you have enough room to move around effectively.
Professional soccer fields range anywhere from 90 to 120 meters in length and between 45 and 90 meters wide. However, these dimensions are designed for professional games. So long as you have enough space, you can get a game going in a much smaller area.
Moreover, while a regulation soccer match features teams of 11 players each, you can organize a game with as many or as few players as you like. Whether you’re playing with a group of friends or just practicing drills by yourself, it's easy to play soccer wherever you are.
3. It’s Inexpensive
One of the main reasons soccer is so popular is that it has very few barriers to entry. Almost anyone can afford to play soccer, and the few costs there are can usually be shared across a group.
In addition to being flexible in terms of space, soccer has next to no equipment costs. Even if you don’t have a regulation soccer ball, you can easily make do with any object at hand, be it a volleyball, plastic bottle, or soda can.
While a normal soccer field has freestanding goalposts, all you really need is a pair of objects to mark the goal. You can achieve this with a few rocks, some sticks, or just some lines on the ground. You don’t even need proper soccer shoes, as many people choose to play in sandals or barefoot, especially on sand.
4. The Rules Are Simple
Just because a game is more complex doesn’t mean it’s more enjoyable. In fact, some games get so bogged down in rules that they become inaccessible to casual fans or players.
Soccer is one of the simplest team sports to play and understand. Unlike basketball, where points vary depending on where they are scored, a goal in soccer is always worth one point. Similarly, while cricket and rugby feature multiple variations that affect the rules of the game, the goal of soccer is always the same—kick the ball into the other team’s goal more than they kick it into your goal.
Although rules become increasingly more complex at competitive levels of play, the game at its core is simple enough for a young child to understand. The plethora of youth soccer leagues are a testament to the game’s appeal and ease of play.
5. Games Are Simultaneously Intense Yet Graceful
Compared to other sports, soccer feels fast-paced and fluid. A regulation soccer match lasts about two hours, including a 15-minute halftime and stoppages for penalties. Meanwhile, baseball and American football games frequently take three to four hours, while cricket matches often last eight hours or more.
Soccer players are always moving, passing, and dribbling, and there are few stoppages in play, save for when the ball rolls out of bounds or there is a penalty review. This makes soccer feel more intense than other sports, as the action only ceases momentarily before picking up again.
Soccer’s fast-paced structure also lends to its sense of style. There are few scripted plays in soccer, with the movement of the ball depending entirely on an individual’s skill. A player’s ability to thread the ball through a sea of defenders is what lends the game its air of enchantment, and is why it’s often called “the beautiful game.”
6. Anyone Can Play
Many sports attract specific athletes—basketball and volleyball players are usually tall, while rugby and American football players are typically strong. These sports tend to select from a small number of qualified athletes who possess the physical attributes required to play the game, even at an amateur level.
On the other hand, you don’t have to be particularly tall or strong to play soccer. For example, Lionel Messi, who is considered by many to be the greatest living soccer player, is 5’7 and has a slim build.
The greatest players possess a combination of skills, including excellent dexterity, agility, speed, and vision. However, anyone can learn to dribble a soccer ball with enough practice, and you don’t need to be the fastest or most skilled player to jump into a game and have fun.
7. The Level of Talent Is Outstanding
While almost anyone can play soccer, it’s also likely that soccer features the highest number of talented individuals in any sport. FIFA reports that there are roughly 3,903 professional soccer clubs scattered throughout 201 recognized nations across the globe. With each having an active roster of up to 30 players, that means there are around 100,000 professional soccer players worldwide.
According to some estimates, nearly 240 million people play soccer regularly, and nearly 4 billion actively follow the sport. Given this massive player base, the chances of becoming a professional soccer player are incredibly slim.
Players face stiff competition simply to become a professional, let alone play in the most prestigious leagues such as the Premier League, La Liga, or Bundesliga. Those who manage to secure a spot on the best teams rank among the world’s greatest athletes.
8. There Are Many Great Rivalries and Teams to Root For
Soccer matches often feel like a battle between two armies. Opposing teams vie for control of the field, attacking, counterattacking, and defending, each trying to catch the other off balance.
Given the level of competition, it’s not surprising that a number of heated rivalries have developed over the years. Some rivalries, such as the one between Glasgow clubs Celtics FC and Rangers FC in Scotland, or north London clubs Tottenham Hotspur FC and Arsenal FC in England, occur due to physical proximity.
Others, such as the rivalry between Club Deportivo Guadalajara and Club América in Mexico, or Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona in Spain, stem from the respective teams’ success and popularity. The competition fuels not just the players but the fans watching in the stadiums and at home, many of whom support their favorite teams with great passion.
9. It’s an International Sport
Most sports competitions occur between clubs in leagues. These leagues are normally based in a single country, and tournaments are restricted to the top teams within the same league playing against each other.
Soccer is one of the few sports that hosts a number of international competitions. The UEFA Champions League pits the best teams in Europe against one another, while the Copa América and African Cup of Nations do the same in South America and Africa, respectively.
However, no competition compares to the most famous and popular tournament of them all, the FIFA World Cup. This international competition features teams from 32 nations and draws more viewers than any other televised event. During the 2018 World Cup, nearly 3.5 billion people tuned in to watch a match at some point during the competition.
10. Marketing Makes Soccer Even More Popular
Soccer’s popularity is enhanced by its clever marketing. Companies vie to win coveted sponsorships of the top teams, with some businesses shelling out tens or hundreds of millions to attach their brand to a popular team or competition. Coca-Cola, Adidas, Barclays Bank, Chevrolet, and Emirates Airlines are just a few of the brands that have invested heavily in marketing through soccer sponsorships.
Marketing also extends to other forms of media, including video games. The FIFA video game franchise allows you to play as your favorite team or create a custom team made of current and past players. The franchise is easily the most popular sports video game of all time, with around 335 million copies sold since the release of the first FIFA game in 1994.
Soccer may only continue to grow in popularity. While it has lagged behind other sports in the United States—the largest sports market in the world—soccer has seen an increase in interest over the past few years, and now ranks third in terms of US viewership behind only American football and basketball. The next World Cup or up-and-coming superstar athlete may push the sport to even loftier heights, and catapult it to the status of the undisputed king of sports.