Understanding Soccer: The origins of the game

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Editor's Note: This is the start of a monthly series on soccer, and how to understand the game

My passion for soccer began when I was an eighth grader. I was told that I could not play junior varsity football until the following year, so Skippy, my friend from the baseball team, suggested that I go out for soccer to stay in shape. When I mentioned that I knew nothing about soccer, he replied, "Go out for goalkeeper. You don't have to know anything."

During the first week of practice I learned that Skippy was correct — you did not have to know much to be a goalkeeper. But my first save was like a touch made in heaven. It was the beginning of my 10-year goalkeeper career, including four years starting for Lehigh University and several years with a semi-professional team. I stopped playing just when I was beginning to really learn the position.

Over the next 50 years my interest in soccer continued to grow, but mostly from the sidelines as I had an all-consuming job running a small business which left no time to play.

My soccer career had a rebirth when my wife and I moved to the Berkshires in 2006. I became a volunteer high school goalkeeper coach, and since January 2015 I have been the owner/coach of a local goalkeeper training academy.

I tell my students the same thing that Skippy told me, "goalkeeping is easy." However, I added that "it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to be good."

During the 2010 Men's World Cup, many Osher Lifelong Learning Institute friends asked me to explain what was happening in the games, which I did during the four-week tournament.

I was asked to teach an OLLI "Understanding Soccer" course during the 2011 Women's World Cup the following June. I followed the same "learn as you go" approach by explaining the 17 Laws of Soccer, and pointing out what to look for during a game.

As I had never played any other position, my approach was to have the class look at things through the eyes of a goalkeeper.

One thing I learned was that my lifetime involvement with soccer was just a mere blip in soccer's over 3,000-year history.

Its beginnings go back to the ancient Greeks and Romans who used "football" games to sharpen warriors for battle. The Chinese played similar games over 3000 years ago. Japanese, Italian, Persian, Viking and many more societies played long before then.

The first football (soccer) games played in Britain were between the locals of East England in the 700s. The legendary game involved kicking around the severed head of a Danish prince who was defeated in war. These were violent games where injury and death were not uncommon. Laws were passed to curb the violence.

Soccer in the U.S. has been played continually since 1913. Interest has grown steadily over the years, but it accelerated in the 1990s.

A major boost came when the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) made creating a professional entity, Major League Soccer, a condition for the United States to host the 1996 Men's World Cup. By 1999, the Women's World Cup had viewership of over 90,000 fans at the USA-China final at the Rose Bowl.

In just 16 years, the world's most popular sport has climbed to become America's third highest spectator sport. The NFL leads with an average attendance of 67,000 per game, MLB averages 30,334 and MLS averages 18,733. Television viewing is also on the rise.

As the popularity of soccer in the United States has grown, the question of why the rest of the world is so "crazy" about the game is often asked. Whatever has caused the urge for humans to kick a ball around with their feet, it began a very long time ago.

Next month: How to watch and enjoy the game of soccer?

Alan Rubin is the owner/coach of Just4Keepers of West MA, and is the Massachusetts State Director at Just4Keepers USA. He can be reached at airubin13@gmail.com, his website is www.understandingsoccer.com.


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