History of Football: Cuju

Adam BarrCorrespondent IAugust 1, 2009

HANGZHOU, CHINA - JULY 26:  Ryan Giggs (L) of Manchester United in action during a pre-season friendly match between Hangzhou Greentown and Manchester United as part of the club's Asia Tour 2009 at Huang Long Stadium on July 26, 2009 in Hangzhou, China.  (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

We all know the football we watch and discuss and support today. However, the emergence of the modern rules of the game happened relatively recently (in the late 1800s).

However, leading up to this there were a myriad of different games that have clear links to football stretching back throughout history. In this article, I am going to explore one of these games and analyse its links to the modern game we love.


Inevitably, it seems the first games in whichย the main technique involved kicking a ball originated in China. The game of Cuju was also played in Korea, Japan and Vietnam and dated back to the fourth century BC.

The literal translation of Cuju was "kick the ball with the foot." At first it was used to keep military troops fit however variations were played at royal courts as a form of entertainment but developed into a bona fide national sport.

There were different ways to play Cuju and the game itself evolved through history. Originally the ball was stuffed with feathers but eventually they moved on to a ball similar to what we have today, an air filled ball.

The goal posts went through a similar transformation but eventually two forms developed. One was a single post stuck in the middle of the pitch which had to be hit to score the goal and the other...was two posts with a net strung in between them.


During the Song dynasty (960 to 1279AD) Cuju became wildly popular in all walks of life. Having started out as a military training exercise and courtly entertainment it developed into a national pastime.

Female clubs also developed where women could play up against each other and men. Often the women were more skillful at the game than the men and it is said that one time a 17-year-old girl beat a full team of soldiers on her own.


What is interesting about the Song period of Cuju is that the sport itself developed a commercial aspect. Professional Cuju players developed who were paid solely to play and teach the sport. Amateurs who wanted to play had to contribute some money to their local clubโ€”which supported the professionals.

As the game evolved it moved away from what we know as the modern game and took on more of a penalty kick style gameโ€”the aim to hit the stick by kicking the ball at it.

Eventually the idea of goals was taken out completely and a game based around appeared. Points would be deducted if the ball didn't reach the player or if it overshot. Points were awarded for judging the passing distance right or getting a first time pass.

By the time of the Ming dynasty (1368-1664 AD) Cuju dropped out of favour in the royal court and due to neglect and active discouragement the game slowly died out.

Sources: wikipedia.org, fifa.com, features.cultural-china.com


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