Soccer is one of the most popular and widely acclaimed sports in the world. Robert Charlton once said: “some people tell me that we professional players are soccer slaves. Well, if this is slaver, give me a life sentence.” There is no doubt that professional players work hard and play ever harder, but they do it for the love of the game. People all over the world come together to appreciate this spectacular sport, and as a soccer lover, it is evident that there is a lot of heart in the game. Because of this, soccer is known as the second most popular sport in the USA. I, myself, follow it quite closely. Whether it’s the World Cup or simply inter-club matches, you can bet I’m watching. To understand the essence of the game, it would be beneficial to go over a brief history of the sport.

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Though soccer has been around long before the first World Cup, the creation of FIFA made soccer reach its zenith in popularity. A game similar to modern day soccer can be traced back to the Tsin Dynasty in China, sometime around 255-260BC. Most cultures around the world had some form of foot controlled ball game at this point. In 18th century Britain, the game began to really become something familiar to us. Then in 1863, a comprehensive list of rules was created. The first official soccer match occurred in London shortly later. In 1875 the Football Association Cup was introduced, and in 1888 a Football League was created. Soccer quickly spread across Europe. FIFA was formed in 1904, bringing all of these European nations together and agreeing on standardized rules. The first FIFA World Cup was hosted in Uruguay in 1930.

Though soccer may seem to be a predominantly male sport, women’s soccer has a culture all of its own. Women did not start to seriously play in Europe until the 20th century. A monumental game occurred in 1920 on Boxing Day in Liverpool. The game had over 53,000 attendees and had to turn many fans away. After World War II, many other European countries began to start up women’s leagues. In the United States however, organized play did not really start to form until the 1970’s. The Title IX legislation passed in 1972 making it mandatory to have equal sport opportunities for both genders. The first national league in the US was still not formed until 1995.

The women’s and men’s varieties both operate based on standardized rules. Soccer must be played on a green field of either grass or artificial grass. The dimensions of which are 90 to 120 meters by 45 to 90 meters. There are two teams of 11 players, including a goal keeper. Jerseys, shin guards, and cleats are required to play. Additionally, there is a referee on the field who makes calls and disciplines players. A game consists of two 45-minute halves. The kick off is decided by a coin toss at the beginning of the game. Free kicks, yellow cards, and red cards are issued when players refuse to play by the rules or attempt to—or do—hurt or injure an opponent.

Soccer has become a part of popular culture thanks to the exposure of the World Cup. Since its inception in 1930, the World Cup has grown quite a bit. The very first one involved only 13 teams, and very little interest from European countries. Of course now, nearly all countries aim to participate and fans from all over the world band together to tweet, Instagram, and write Facebook statuses in support of their teams.

The presence of this social media has allowed stars to emerge. Certain soccer players are considered celebrities in their own right. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are prime examples of this. Both with impressive stats and an ongoing rivalry where fans debate on who is the best of the best. In the 2014-2015 season so far, Messi has 6 goals and 7 assists compared to Ronaldo’s 14 goals and 1 assist. Entire websites are dedicated to this debate of merits. Soccer players have become a popular talking point and a big component of pop culture.

Soccer has long been an international game and a dominant sport for both women and men. Soccer has a strong historical base in Europe, but has only begun to take off in the US. Soccer has become a staple in pop culture, with big celebs as well as references to an archetypal “soccer mom”. In my opinion, with its rich history and ever-growing popularity, soccer is the best sport in the world today.