So you’re a football fan? Which football? Here’s our quick dash through the great games that share the name.
The most popular form of football globally is association football, or “soccer” (from “assoc.”) – the main kicking form of the game, where only the goalkeeper may use his hands. The World Cup, held every four years, rivals the Olympic Games (in which it is, incidentally, also currently the only football code played) as one of the biggest sports events in the world.
In the US, football also has 11 on the field, but this is more of a running and throwing game. The top-level National Football League has a relatively short season, culminating in the Super Bowl – a huge global TV event to determine the sport’s “world champion” team. Indeed TV coverage has encouraged the game’s spread around the world, though no league outside the US gets close to the standard of the NFL.
Its close cousin in Canada has 12 players on the field and distinct rules, though visually and historically it is closely connected to the US game. The top league, the Canadian Football League‘s season culminates in the Grey Cup.
Canadian football in particular has close historic links with rugby football. In fact, the CFL emerged from the Canadian Rugby Football Union, as the sport developed. Rugby football is named after the English school, which (like many other private schools in the 18th and 19th centuries) had its own football game.
Rugby School’s rules had a broad appeal, and many football clubs in England and Wales adopted the game in preference to the many others available. For the past century, there have been two codes of rugby football – rugby union (15 in a team, possession contested at each tackle) and rugby league (13 in a team, and possession changing hands after a series of six tackles – compared with four “downs” in US football and three in Canada).
For various reasons – historic, social and commercial (which we may explore in a future post) – rugby union is played more widely around the globe. Rugby league, a less complicated and arguably more entertaining game, has struggled to spread in any meaningful way beyond industrial northern England, and Australia and New Zealand.
As well as being the world’s leading rugby league (and a powerful rugby union) nation, Australia also has its own football. This version of the game has 18 on the field, and involves handling and running with the ball, points are scored by kicking between posts.
It has similar characteristics with Ireland’s own version of football, sometimes called “Gaelic football”. The Irish game has 15 on a team and uses a round ball, instead of the oval-shape used in Australia. Governed by the Gaelic Athletic Association, the top-level competition leads to the annual All-Ireland final.
Irish and Australian teams sometimes meet in a sport known as International Rules Football, under a compromise set of rules. Both sports are also played mainly among ex-pats around the world.
We’ve doubtless missed out many other versions of football, and certainly many individual school codes have been confined to history. There are variations of most – futsal and soccer six from soccer; sevens from rugby union; nines from rugby league; arena football, and many others.
We’ve enjoyed watching all and playing some. Football is a great game(s).
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