Football is a sport that incites so much passion we more often than not end up arguing over it. Still, we love it. It is quite fitting then that there are several schools of thought regarding exactly where it began. Some trace its history as far back as 5th century BC China; others believe it originated in Nottinghamshire in the 15th century. Whichever the case, and there seem to be elements of truth in all of the different explanations and theories. The modern game as we enjoy it today – one that is watched by an estimated 3.2 billion people around the world – started to really take shape when rules were first written down in Cambridge in 1848. Since then it has gradually evolved into the game that’s beamed into the nation’s lounges and pubs on an almost daily basis.
As football grows more popular than ever, football-related ads are surely to grab the audience’s attention. Most of us remember 2000’s action-packed Nike ad, in which a team of players fight off samurais and ninjas to save a football, or even Beckham, Totti and Ronaldinho in the medieval football battle featured in Pepsi’s football warriors advertisement. A recent advert by internet sportsbook BetStars details some of the game-changing incidents and occurrences in our favourite game, as a starting point to introduce its Spin & Bet product. BetStars is thus joining the ranks of Nike, McDonalds and Pepsi in creating video ads that incite excitement in the football lover in all of us, speaking to us directly. It seems a great idea, a set of reference points to plot the history of the beautiful game by way of these gamechangers. Some have changed it for good, others only temporarily, but all had a very real impact on the product that is played on the millions of pitches throughout the world, and have transformed it into a game where brands from Coca Cola and McDonalds through to Nike and Adidas are queuing up to show their affiliation with it. Let’s explore some of these gamechangers.
Probably one of the biggest points of contention in almost every game that’s been played since it was introduced in 1925 is the offside rule. This rule has shaped the game perhaps more than anything else, its tactics and even the positions we see today. Endless tinkering in recent years hasn’t helped its reputation, but the rule – implemented to stop “goal hanging”, the blight of the school playground game – is essential, and not just useful for endless rounds of post-game analysis. There have been several other changes to the rules over the years, the outlawing of the back pass in 1992 being the last major one.
Other rule changes are subtler. Tackling from behind is no longer allowed and the momentum shift away from the defender to the forward has been increased further over recent years with refs’ interpretation of what is legal and what not, making contact more and more a thing of the past. Watch any game from the 1970s and you’ll find a staggering number of challenges that today would be blown up. Though it did see a raft of red cards at first – there were regularly 60 plus red cards a season in the Premier league – a look at the stats shows that that number has tailed off, and has been coming down of late.
Skills and tricks on the field are of course nothing new. Cruyff was performing his turns and Puskas his pull backs before Ronaldo or Robinho were even born, but the tightening of the tackling laws mentioned above have meant that those players with the ability to do something special with the ball are given more opportunity to do so on the pitch without the threat of two sets of studs flying at them at shin height. The Rabona for example was first seen in the 1940s, but has only come an (almost) regular feature of the game in recent years, as everyone from the weekend park player to the pro wants to transfer skills learned on the practice pitch onto the game itself and then ultimately onto Youtube.
The Art of the Celebration
Maybe it’s a result of nostalgia-tinted glasses, but the ’82, ’86 and ’90 World Cups seem to us to have been so much better than those served up today. Back then they really were a festival of football. Don’t forget that back then, live football was restricted to the FA final, and England internationals. It’s no surprise then that it was a time when a whole month with live games seemed almost too good to be true. Regardless of anything else, the one thing that those world cups did show us, was how to celebrate. With passion.
Today’s choreographed performances after the ball has found the back of the net are a far cry from the firm handshake of the early days of the game. One can be forgiven for thinking as much time and effort has gone into them as it has for the set pieces. Still, remember these World Cups and it’s not long before several images spring to mind, from Marco Giordelli’s and Falcao’s pure unadulterated joy and raw emotion in their celebrations to the sheer happiness on the face of Gary Lineker as he jumps onto David Platt after that volley against Belgium. I challenge any football fan with blood in his veins not to get goosebumps watching such footage.
Deep down, every manager believes they are a tactical genius who understands the game and how it needs to be played more than anyone else walking the earth. Occasionally – if they are lucky and if a modicum of that is actually true, – the world will buy into that belief as well. As a result, their style of play is lauded, written about, analysed, copied and bastardised until it is ultimately rejected, sometimes even mocked.
Tiki Taka is a perfect example of that. It originally begun by Cruyff during his tenure at Barcelona (1988 – 1996), and continued by fellow Dutchmen Frank Rijkaard and Louis Van Gaal (something Man U fans suffering through his current reign may find hard to believe). It came to prominence through Pep Guardiola’s teams, where passing and possession statistics became seemingly as crucial as the score line. It will be fascinating to see what style his team adopts when he takes over at the blue half of Manchester next season.
When the Russian billionaire took over Chelsea in 2003, it greatly impacted the world of football – well certainly the European world of football – in a profound way. It has never been the same again. There had always been disparities in the wealth and spending powers of clubs, but these were ones that had grown organically. Suddenly, there was a new man in town who was able to outbid everyone else without second thought. The old guard cried foul, but suddenly Chelsea shirts could be seen in playgrounds up and down the country. Two years later (with losses of £140 million) Chelsea FC won its first title in 50 years. Two decades later and mega-rich foreign owners are the norm, and not just in the Premier league.
The increase in spending power described above, along with the increasing strength of the Premier League brand meant that suddenly everyone wanted to play in this league and the managers and board could afford to bring them over. Since the start of the 1992-93 season, there have been 1,717 foreign players in the UK hailing from a total of 99 countries.
This had a dramatic effect on the English game on many levels, the full impact of which is still being debated. There are certainly pros and cons, and it will probably be many years before we are able to say if it was ultimately a positive or negative development on such things as our home-grown player development, national team and the game in general.
Over football’s recent history there are dozens of other things that have had an impact on the game, and there is little doubt there will be big and small important developments happening over the coming years. Spotting them at the time of their introduction is intriguing but incredibly difficult, as the impact they have on the game often only becomes apparent with the crystal-clear view of hindsight. One thing is for sure, though: This game is getting more and more exciting and multi-faceted, and we’re better off for it.