From a ball of feathers to a multi-billion dollar industry

Eight thousand indigenous sports and sporting games exist, according to the World Sports Encyclopaedia (2003). Yet football takes the crown in the popularity ranking, adored by both men and women of various nationalities.

The World Cup is the most widely viewed sporting event, with an estimated 700 million tuning in to live broadcasts during the 2010 final alone.
The football industry is worth 19.5 billion Euros (approximately S$34 billion), according to a study by a global management consulting firm, A.T. Kearney in 2009.

The success of the game stems from humble beginnings. In Asia, observations of an early formal form of football were made about 3000 years ago in Ancient China. Balls were made from animal skins stuffed with hair or feathers, and kicked between poles several metres high. It was thought to be used as a lighter form of military training, as well as to entertain the Emperor.

The history of football, therefore, dates back longer than most sports. The sport was easily exportable – all it requires is a ball and the primal instincts of kicking and running. From the 9th century, the sport began gaining popularity in Europe.

From the 16th century, public schools in Britain began refining and codifying proper game play, and by the18th century, football clubs had emerged, playing matches against each other. In 1863, a set of accepted rules was compiled by the Football Association, and the very first official match took place in Battersea Park, London. Under international spotlight, it only gets better. Amongst the top players, everything from passing, dribbling, possession, pitch formations, tackles, attack and counterattacks and savings all demonstrate skill, tactic and careful strategising. Little wonder that fans enjoy watching it again and again.

The pub/coffee shop culture
Fans of the competing teams gather for a quick bite and drink at pubs near the stadiums, and connect with each other while listening for the outcomes
of the match. So popular is this trend that pub owners installed televisions for their patrons. In Singapore, we also have the coffee shop culture, where mostly middle-aged and elderly men gather in front of the telly to support their team.

Dramatic celebrations
Match day atmosphere is infectious, with singing, chanting, horn blowing, waving of handmade flags and banners and hearing the roar of the crowds. It is always fascinating to look at the spectator stands, with fans resplendent in interesting costumes and face paint in tribute to their team. It gets wilder when a team wins or loses a crucial game or goal.

Popular Media
Due to the complicated nature of the football culture, with notable issues from significant historical events to club rivalries to racism, violence and much more, many books have been dedicated to these subjects. Several popular athletes have celebrity status; they get endorsement deals for a wide range of products from sports drinks to shampoo, and are guest-of honours at star-studded events.

Even the women want it
While David Beckham, Christiano Ronaldo and the Italian Football team are among the main reasons some women got into watching the game, football has indeed grown in popularity among female athletes in recent years.

Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) honours the women players each year alongside their male counterparts with the prestigious Golden Ball, Golden Boot and Golden Glove awards. The FIFA Women’s World Cup is the variant of the World Cup for the fairer sex, and considered the most important International competition in women’s football.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.