Why is football the most popular sport in the world?


Football in its official form spans more than 100 years – its origin stemmed from England in 1863.  The Football Association was formed in England when rugby football and association football branched off from each other.  However, if you track the family trees of rugby and football back through time, then you could argue that people have been kicking a ball around for thousands of years.  In England, there is evidence of football being played in medieval times, as early as 1170.

The first football club was Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first major competition was in 1871 – with the FA Cup.  Scotland and England played the first international match in 1872 and the first national league in 1888.  There are now 40000 football clubs in England – and 29000 in Brazil – so it is a truly global sport.

If longevity were a sign of popularity – then football is indeed one of the most popular sports in the world.  What other answers can be found to suggest that mean it is the most popular sport?

It is accessible to all

At its most basic, the game is a cheap sport.  All you need is a plastic ball and a few coats for posts, and you have yourself a football match.  Your kid can set up a game with his mates at the local park, and it can cost nothing but the original price of a five quid ball. Hours and hours of fun with all the camaraderie and no need for specialist and often expensive equipment.

If you look at the niche sports in the world, the ones that don’t dominate, it is because they require a massive investment of cash from parents.  Formula One and Golf should dominate the world of sport – but they don’t really.  They are popular without being the most popular – and this is because the young kid can’t just pick it up and play.

The reason for football’s popularity is the belief that anyone can play it.  You can dream the dream of being picked up by a scout at your local youth game.  It is not that everyone can play it at weekends, though this is important.  It is that literally everyone feels at some point they could have made it to the big times, if only.

Of course, football can soon become ridiculously expensive – just ask the person paying the Man City weekly wage bill.  Or, maybe you should just ask the mum who must buy the latest release of jersey, hoodie, shorts, boots, guards and more.  However, the fandom around the teams is just a manifestation of the passion the fans feel and a symbol of its superiority amongst sports.

Easy to learn but difficult to master

Another reason football is accessible is that you can play a match of football without knowing that many of the rules and without knowing that much about technique.  Get 10 of your mates together, divide into two 5-man teams and start kicking the ball and aiming at the goals.  Simple.  It is just a team game to get the ball in the opposition’s goal.

However, just because it is easy for anyone to play doesn’t guarantee its popularity.  It is actually the complexity in mastering the beautiful game that makes it so unique.  Anyone that has sat down and tried to explain the offside rule knows how difficult it can be to understand all the rules.  Anyone that has sat and listened to pundits discussing a two-minute period of play with passion and depth knows how much thought can go into the action.

It is a game that can take five minutes to learn but never truly be mastered.  This is a powerful secret ingredient in the popularity of football.

The greats are artists

We wanted to give a separate section to the greats of the game.  Sure, the artistry that some of the masters show falls under the idea that the game is hard to perfect.  However, some of the moves and some of the vision of the great footballers in the world defy learning.  The movement of Ronaldo, for instance, when he is moving the ball the length of the pitch, dribbling the ball so tightly to his feet, dancing over and around and sending it through the legs of a defender.  This is nothing short of ballet on grass.

If you ever watch Messi play and believe he is all about the finish – then you do not honestly know the game.  Watch Messi for the whole match and notice how he uses space and angles to create opportunities that just did not exist in a mortal’s world.  This is the painting of a Renaissance master on the football pitch.

Fast-moving continuous play

If we move away from the poetry for a moment, let’s get a bit more real, and say that we love football so much because it is a fast-flowing game.  The action moves from end-to-end with only limited breaks in the play.  You need to continually watch the movement of the teams and the tactics and strategy they are deploying to break down the opposition and win the game.

Other sports like cricket and American Football are fine – but too often you are watching standing around in transition from one part of the play to the next.  At its best, football is a breathless 90 minutes of skill, energy and controlled aggression.

In short

If you ask most young kids, they will tell you at some point they have thought a little bit about being a professional footballer.  It is a sport that demands passion and commitment and desire.  People will travel the entire globe to offer support to their team – even if their team is bobbing along at the bottom of the lowest league in the land.

A football match is about jumping up and down with your mates when you score; it is about shouting at the ref at a decision gone the wrong way, and it is the lukewarm pie and beer at half-time on a freezing cold January Saturday afternoon.  This is why football is so popular.

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