History of Soccer – Globalization

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England may have created soccer – its germination helped along by industrialization – but its current popularity illustrates that it appeals to more than just the English sentiment.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries soccer became yet one more British export. While Fútbol for Gringos (working with David Goldblatt’s The Ball is Round) cannot hope to cover the breadth of reasons for the game’s globalization, we can offer two key trends present wherever it became popular:

1. Upper-class foreign involvement – generally expatriates creating an athletic club, though some countries’ natives brought the game back from English schools

2. Sociological conditions accelerating or stunting soccer’s acceptance

Using these two principles, here’s a synopsis of soccer’s origins in a few countries and a brief analysis of two locations where it didn’t immediately catch on:


1. An obsession with all things English induced Dutch parents to send their sons to English schools and caused the young men to return with pieces of British culture, culminating in the formation of multitudinous cricket and soccer schools in the late 1800s.

2. As with England, soccer in the Netherlands was helped by a 19th century labor movement, securing “considerable advances in working hour and wages which in turn made working-class participation in football considerably easier.”


1. A Scottish schoolteacher, Alexander Watson Hutton, created a Buenos Aires high school using a Victorian syllabus, one that naturally had physical education, ie soccer, as part of its core.

2. Argentina’s desire for industrialization was contrasted by its inability to plunder its own resources, resulting in a wave of Britons who came to provide the technical know-how and capital to develop the country. The incoming engineers, railroad workers, and businessmen formed their own athletic clubs where soccer was king.


1. Charles Miller, born in São Paulo to an English father and Brazilian mother, was sent to England for an education and returned “with two leather footballs, some playing kit and the bug.” He encouraged members of the São Paulo Athletic Club to switch from rugby to soccer, and their conversion, coupled with a few like-minded organizations, kick started the Brazilian soccer craze.

2. Sport was an important part of the Rio aristocrat’s social life, and a soccer stadium’s pavilion became an ideal location to house the “pre-match teas and post-match dinners” that supplemented the traditional “social round of weddings, receptions, soirees and dances.”


1. Bilbao, a port city in the iron-rich Basque region, was invaded by “specialist miners from Sunderland (who) commonly played football among themselves on the banks of the River Nevron.” In addition, one of Spain’s most successful clubs, Barcelona FC, was started by Hans Kamper, a Swiss accountant.

2. The fractious nature of Spain’s various subcultures turned each soccer club into de facto representatives of a given region and gave increased importance – and a higher cash flow – to each match. To this day Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao, and Real Madrid are not just bitter sports rivals, but representatives of the Catalan, Basque, and nationalist dispositions.


1. During the Meji era, Japan sought out Western specialists across a wide variety of disciplines, hoping the resultant Japanese education would lead to further westernization.

2. The very westernization that brought soccer also imported baseball, which quickly became Japan’s dominant sport. The hierarchical structure of America’s pastime may have been the main factor for its popularity over soccer, particularly when contrasted with the latter’s fluidic nature.


1. A number of expat populations developed Italian soccer, but the Swiss were omnipresent, even creating one of Italy’s most successful clubs, Inter Milan.

2. Catholicism’s national sway held soccer in check for much of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Church supported sport, though only gymnastics and its “discipline of repetitive (movement) – the calisthenic equivalent of saying the rosary” was acceptable. Soccer, as a Protestant creation, could not be tolerated in the Catholic schools and athletic clubs.

Soccer in the Anglo World

Soccer’s rousing success in much of the globe was countered by ambivalence in English-speaking countries. The obvious reason for its rejection would appear to be a resistance to the former master’s culture, but two examples demonstrate that it was a bit more complex.


Soccer never caught on in Australia because it simply arrived too soon. Its 1850s appearance occurred “before the rules had been settled in England.” The ensuing proto-soccer varieties created a distinctly Australian version, Australian Rules football, whose 1859 codification occurred “four years in advance of the FA rules drawn up in London in 1863.”

United States

The earliest instances of American soccer echoed Britain’s: intra-collegiate competition, with the first recorded match an 1869 meeting between Rutgers and Princeton. As with Australia, soccer in the States struggled to find a single form, but Harvard’s prestige caused other universities to eventually adopt its version, which incorporated fundamentals of football – “down and yardage, blocking and scrimmaging” – and subsequently found itself swallowed by the gridiron behemoth.

In non-collegiate areas, soccer was confronted by baseball’s already nationwide popularity and competition with basketball for ‘third’ sport status. There was one bright spot, though – the American Soccer League. Preceded by a few abortive leagues, the ASL existed from 1921-1933 and at one point even drew 46,000 to a match. This East Coast league started its demise by butting heads with the US Football Association (the contemporary governing body of US soccer) after the USFA refused to alter its official tournament schedule. The schism resulted in two leagues and diluted “the quality of play and the attention of the sport’s audience.” It would be 35 years before another major league was formed. By that time basketball was a key part of the national consciousness and even hockey had carved out a niche role.

Soccer in the United States fell victim to that most famous of American institutions: capitalism.

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