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soccer, outdoor ball and goal game, also called association football or simply football. The first recorded game probably was that on a Shrove Tuesday in Derby, England, part of a festival to celebrate a victory over a contingent of Roman troops (A.D. 217). By 1175 the Shrove Tuesday soccer game was an annual event.

The sport remained popular for centuries in England under the name football. But the advent of rugby (1823) as a variant led to confusion. The London Football Association was formed (1863) to further the game that emphasized the kicking of the ball. This became known as association football and then, through abbreviation, as soccer. It was rapidly adopted in continental Europe, where it still generally goes under the name football. Other related sports called football are popular in countries including Ireland and Australia.

Soccer is the most popular international team sport, followed by vast, emotional audiences and associated at times with such events as the 1969 “Soccer War” between El Salvador and Honduras and oubreaks of mass hooliganism, notably by British supporters. It has long been secondary in the United States, though, where American football, a descendant primarily of rugby, dominates. Since the 1970s, American soccer has grown at many levels, from childrens' to collegiate; professional soccer, however, has achieved only sporadic success, with the birth and decline of several leagues as fan interest generally lagged. The most recent U.S. and Canadian professional league, Major League Soccer, played its first season in 1996 and now has 26 clubs.

International competition is regulated by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA; founded 1904), which sponsors the quadrennial (since 1930) World Cup competition and whose membership is larger than that of the United Nations. Soccer has been an Olympic event since 1900. The first Women's World Cup, in 1991, was won by the United States, where women's soccer has won more attention than men's; the women's competition was added to the Olympics in 1996. Sparked by these successes, a U.S. professional women's soccer league consisting of eight teams recruited from the best players worldwide began play in 2001, but it folded two years later. Subsequently, a series of U.S. women's leagues have been organized. Women's soccer leagues also exist in other countries, particularly in Europe.

The game is played on a grassy field usually 120 yd by 75 yd (110 m by 70 m). Centered on each end line is a goal, 8 yd (7.3 m) wide by 8 ft (2.4 m) high, backed with netting. A team consists of eleven players—traditionally a goalkeeper, two fullbacks, three halfbacks, and five forwards. Recent variants on these positions include the striker, a forward who remains close to the opponents' goal, and the sweeper, a roving defender. Play is continuous through two 45-min periods, and substitutions are severely limited. Overtime is played in case of a tie, and if no further scoring occurs, the match may be resolved with a series of alternating penalty kicks.

The object of the game is to advance an inflated spherical leather ball—about 28 in. (71 cm) in circumference—into the opponents' goal. The ball is kicked (often dribbled with short kicks) or advanced with other parts of the body, but only the goalkeeper may use the hands. Each goal counts one point. Penalties are various types of free kicks, depending on the infraction; a player may be ejected (without replacement) for a flagrant foul. Perhaps the greatest soccer player of all time is Brazil's Pelé; other modern notables have included David Beckham (England), Franz Beckenbauer (Germany), Diego Maradona (Argentina), and Zinadine Zidane (France).


See B. Glanville, Soccer (1968); T. Smits, The Game of Soccer (1968); A. Clues and D. Jack, Soccer for Players and Coaches (1980); J. Lever, Soccer Madness (1983).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(also football or association football), a team sport in which the ball is advanced by individual players or passed from teammate to teammate using the feet or any other part of the body except the hands and arms, the object being to propel the ball through the opponents’ goal posts as many times as possible within an allotted period of time. The soccer team consists of 11 players, including the goalkeeper. The playing field is a specially marked-off rectangular area, usually with a grass surface. For official matches it must measure 100–110 m × 69–75 m. The circumference of the ball cut across the diameter is 680–710 mm, and its weight is 396–453 g. Playing time is 90 minutes, consisting of two halves of 45 minutes each, with an interval lasting ten to 15 minutes.

Soccer differs from other ball games in that the players are forbidden to touch the ball with their hands and arms; this does not apply to the goalkeeper when he is in the penalty area or to the other players when it is necessary to throw the ball back into play from across the touchline. The offside rule has a considerable effect on the game’s play and tactics: a player who is on the opponents’ half of the field has the right to take the ball from a teammate only if there are two or more opposing players (including the goalkeeper) between them and the goal line. In case of infractions of the rules, a free kick is awarded to the opposing team; players of the penalized team may be no closer than 9 m to the ball. For infractions in the penalty area the officials award an 11-meter direct free kick (penalty kick) at the goal; the ball may be stopped only by the goalkeeper, who stands on the goal line. In some soccer competitions, overtime or a series of penalty kicks can be added to determine the winner in the case of a tie. For children’s and young people’s matches the time limit and size of the field are reduced.

Modern soccer can be traced back to various ball games played in the countries of the ancient Orient, ancient Greece, and ancient Rome. During the Middle Ages, games similar to soccer were played in what are now Great Britain, France, and Italy. By the 17th and 18th centuries, such games were played in a number of other European countries as well.

In the mid-19th century the first soccer club in history was established in England, Sheffield United, which existed from 1855 to 1857. In 1863 the first national soccer association was organized, also in England. On Dec. 8, 1863, in Cambridge, the basic rules of the game were agreed upon, and a definitive distinction was made between the existing variations of the game—soccer proper and rugby. The oldest national soccer tournament, the English Challenge Cup game, was first held in 1871, and the first “international” championship of Great Britain was held in 1884, between teams of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. A professional soccer league was created in England in 1888, and professional clubs were later organized in most capitalist countries, where soccer has become part of the spectator sports industry, a branch of show business.

Since the late 19th and early 20th centuries national championships have been held in many countries of Europe and Latin America, and national soccer leagues have been organized. In 1904 the Internation Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) was founded. In 1976 it comprised the national federations of more than 140 countries. Other international federations include the South American Football Confederation (founded 1916), the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA,. 1954), the Asian Football Confederation (1954), the African Football Confederation (1956), the North and Central American and Caribbean Football Confederation (1961), and the Oceania Football Confederation (1966).

The first international soccer matches were held in 1902, between Austria and Hungary and Argentina and Uruguay. Since 1900 soccer has been part of the program of the Olympic Games, with the exception of 1932. South American championships have been played since 1916, and competitions for the Mitropa Cup have been held among the strongest club teams of Central Europe since 1927. World competitions were first held in 1930, and are now referred to as the World Cup Competition for the Jules Rimet Trophy, named after the first president of the FIFA. The European Champion Clubs Cup (European Cup) was first awarded in 1955. Competitions for the European Cup Winners Cup and for the European Nations Cup were initiated in 1960. In 1971 the first UEFA Cup games were held.

The greatest number of Olympic victories in soccer have been won by teams of the socialist countries, namely, the Republic of Hungary (championship in 1952, 1964, and 1968), the USSR (championship in 1956, bronze medals in 1972 and 1976), the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1960), the People’s Republic of Poland (1972), the German Democratic Republic (1976), and the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (1980). Olympic championships have also been won by Great Britain (1908, 1912), Uruguay (1924, 1928), Italy (1936), and Sweden (1948). World championships have been won by Brazil (1958, 1962, 1970), Uruguay (1930, 1950), Italy (1934, 1938), the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG; 1954, 1974), Great Britain (1966), and Argentina (1978).

European championships have been won by the USSR (1960, second place in 1964 and 1972), Spain (1964), Italy (1968), the FRG (1972, 1980), and the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (1976). The South American championship has been won most often by Argentina.

Teams that have been victorious more than once in continental cup tournaments for club teams include Real Madrid (Spain); Benfica (Portugal); Ajax (The Netherlands); Bayern Munich (FRG); Santos, Flamengo, and Botafogo (Brazil); Nacional and Peñarol (Uruguay); and Independiente and Boca Juniors (Argentina).

The world’s most prominent soccer players have included Pelé (E. Arantes do Nascimento), M. F. dos Santos (“Garrincha”), and Didi (W. Pereira) of Brazil, A. di Stefano and E. O. Sivori of Argentina; S. Matthews, R. Moore, W. Wright, and R. Charlton of Great Britain; J. Fontaine and R. Kopa of France; A. Mazzola, G. Rivera, and G. Facchetti of Italy; F. Beckenbauer and G. Müller of the FRG; Eusébio (F. da Silva) of Portugal; R. Zamorra of Spain; F. Planička and I. Masopust of Czechoslovakia; J. Bozsik, G. Grosics, and N. Hidegkuti of Hungary; K. Deina and W. Lubański of Poland; D. Džajić and R. Mitić of Yugoslavia; J. Cruyff of The Netherlands; and I. P. Netto and L. I. Iashin (Yachine) of the USSR.

The first soccer teams in Russia were organized in the late 19th century. Competitions were first held in the 1897–98 season, among them the first intercity contests between teams from St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, Kharkov, Kiev, Tbilisi, Riga, Nikolaev, Tver’, and other cities. In 1912 the All-Russian Soccer League was founded and accepted into the FIFA. Also in 1912 the first Russian championship was held, with the St. Petersburg team the victors. Russian soccer players competed unsuccessfully in international tournaments.

In the USSR, soccer has become one of the most popular of amateur sports. In 1924 the All-Union Football Section (now the Football Federation of the USSR) was formed. Beginning in the early 1920’s, first place in the country was determined by games between teams of the cities and the republics; the Moscow soccer team was three-time champions. The best players of those years included P. V. Batyrev, M. P. Butusov, K. M. Zhiboedov, P. S. Isakov, P. A. Kanunnikov, S. V. Leuta, I. V. Privalov, F. I. Selin, N. E. Sokolov, and N. P. Starostin. In 1936 national championships and play-offs for the USSR Cup were initiated. The most successful teams in these competitions were Spartak, the Moscow and Kiev Dynamo teams, the Central Sports Club of the Army, and Torpedo.

The Spartak team of Moscow won the championship in the autumn of 1936, 1938, 1939, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1958, 1962, and 1969. The team held the USSR Cup in 1938, 1939, 1946, 1947, 1950, 1958, 1963, 1965, and 1971.

Dynamo Moscow won the championship in the spring of 1936, 1937, 1940, 1945, 1949, 1954, 1955, 1957, 1959, 1963, and the spring of 1976. It won the USSR Cup in 1937, 1953, 1967, and 1970.

Dynamo Kiev won the national championship in 1961, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1974, and 1975. The team held the USSR Cup in 1954, 1964, 1966, and 1974.

The Central Sports Club of the Army won the championship in 1946, 1947, 1948, 1950, 1951, and 1970 and held the cup in 1945, 1948, 1951, and 1955.

Torpedo Moscow, champions in 1960, 1965, and the autumn of 1976, held the cup in 1949, 1952, 1960, 1968, and 1972.

Championships have also been won by the Tbilisi Dynamo team (1964), Zaria (Voroshilovgrad, 1972), and Ararat (Yerevan, 1973). Cup holders have included Lokomotiv (Moscow, 1936 and 1957), Zenit (Leningrad, 1944), Shakhter (Donetsk, 1961 and 1962), Karpaty (L’vov, 1969), Ararat (Yerevan, 1973 and 1975), and the Tbilisi Dynamo team (1976). In 1975, Dynamo Kiev won the European Cup Winners Cup.

Outstanding athletes who contributed to the victories of Soviet teams in all-Union and international matches of the 1930’s and 1940’s included A. M. Akimov, N. T. Dement’ev, P. T. Dement’ev, G. I. Dzhedzhelava, S. S. Il’in, I. A. Kochetkov, B. S. Paichadze, M. V. Semichastnyi, V. N. Sokolov, Al. P. Starostin, An. P. Starostin, V. A. Stepanov, N. A. Trusevich, G. I. Fedotov, K. V. Shchegotskii, K. I. Beskov, V. M. Bobrov, A. N. Gogoberidze, A. G. Grinin, V. T. Demin, V. A. Nikolaev, A. S. Ponomarev, S. S. Sal’nikov, V. D. Trofimov, and A. P. Khomich.

The best players of the 1950’s and 1960’s included Iu. N. Voinov, V. K. Ivanov, K. S. Krizhevskii, S. K. Metreveli, M. Sh. Meskhi, V. V. Ponedel’nik, N. P. Simonian, E. A. Strel’tsov, M. K. Khurtsilava, A. A. Shesternev, and L. I. Iashin (Yachine). In the 1970’s, the best-known players included O. V. Blokhin, E. S. Lovchev, and V. F. Muntian.

The establishment and development of modern soccer were greatly aided by such physical-culture and sports figures as M. S. Kozlov, V. V. Moshkarkin, G. M. Pinaichev, M. D. Romm, S. A. Savin, An. P. Starostin, N. P. Starotin, M. P. Sushkov, and M. D. Tovarovskii. Coaches for the Soviet teams in international competitions included B. A. Arkad’ev, G. D. Kachalin, V. A. Maslov, N. P. Morozov, and M. I. Iakushin.

In 1976, approximately 4 million people in the USSR played soccer, including 1.5 million athletes with official ratings and approximately 500 masters of sport. In 1976 soccer players included 190 honored masters of sport, 36 honored coaches of the USSR, and 110 all-Union-class officials.

Every year all-Union competitions are held for the USSR Cup for physical-culture groups, the Golden Spike Cup (for rural teams), and the Youth Cup. Special competitions are held for young people’s teams, children’s competitions for the Leather Ball prize, and competitions and cup tournaments in the Union and autonomous republics, krais, oblasts, and sports societies. Special soccer schools have been opened for children and young people; in 1976 there were approximately 1,000 such schools, with a total enrollment of more than 100,000.

Many Soviet soccer referees have received recognition abroad. K. Iu. Andziulis, T. B. Bakhramov, P. N. Kazakov, N. G. Latyshev, V. N. Morgunov, E. Iu. Saar, N. Kh. Usov, and N. N. Chkhatarashvili have been designated international-class referees in the FIFA.

The Football Federation of the USSR has been a member of the FIFA since 1946; the vice-president of the FIFA is V. I. Koloskov. The federation has also belonged to the UEFA since 1954.

In the countries of Western Europe and Latin America, national championships and various international competitions have been held for women’s soccer teams.

In the early 1970’s, a game called indoor soccer became popular. This is an independent variation of soccer, played with simplified rules by two teams of six players, on an indoor field measuring 60 m × 20 m.


Vse o futbole. Moscow, 1972.
Vse o sporte: Spravochnik. I. Moscow, 1972.
Kulzhinskii, I. P. Slovar’ liubitelia futbola. Rostov-on-Don, 1969.
Starostin, N. P. Zvezdy bol’ shogo futbola. Moscow, 1969.
70 futbol’nykh let. Leningrad, 1970.
Starostin, A. P. Povest’ o futbole. Moscow, 1973.
Esenin, K. S. Moskovskii futbol. Moscow, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a. a game in which two teams of eleven players try to kick or head a ball into their opponent's goal, only the goalkeeper on either side being allowed to touch the ball with his hands and arms except in the case of throw-ins
b. (as modifier): a soccer player
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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