The 2,000- to 3,000-year-old Chinese game Cuju (or Tsu’ Chu) is the earliest incarnation of the beautiful game, according to FIFA. It involved kicking a ball – animal skins stuffed with hair or feathers – into a net, with no hands allowed.
It was probably used for military training, and was more sophisticated than the European mob-football popular in medieval times, which involved unlimited numbers of players using pretty much any means necessary to get an inflated pig’s bladder to a marker at the end of town.
Nor was Cuju the only such game to precede modern football, and their rules – insofar as we know them – feature varying levels of teamwork, cooperation and violence. The Japanese had Kemari, the Greeks had Episkyros and the Roman had Harpastum, to name a few.