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Matches with sacrifices and the ball “hovering” in the air, or How different nations of different eras played football

The World Cup forced to follow this game even those who are indifferent to it at the usual time and do not understand the subtleties of the rules. What can we say about the fans who do not miss a single match of their favorite team – they now can not even think about anything else. And in this, we, the people of the 21st century, are not too different from those who lived in earlier epochs, including the most ancient ones. Ball games have been popular at all times, though, at times, ancient football looked quite different.

Great honor for the winners
The first to start such games were the Indians of South and Central America – long before the Europeans came to their lands. Which is not surprising – it was they who had the opportunity to make jumping balls from natural rubber. Different Native American tribes played with such balls in different ways: sometimes they were thrown to each other, including through some obstacle, which made the game remotely similar to modern volleyball, and sometimes they kicked them, like in football. At the same time, the balls were not at all as light as they are now, they were solid rubber balls, without air inside, very heavy and hard. And games with them were not just entertainment – the Indians thus developed their muscles and trained in strength and endurance. Thanks to such training, they then had enough strength to hunt or to battle with the neighboring tribes.

And the Indians of the Mayan and Toltec tribes gave the ball game also a ritual meaning, which made their matches not only the most spectacular, but also the bloodiest on both American continents. In this game, the rubber balls had to be thrown into the rings, so that they resembled basketball the most. At the same time, the entire match, usually held on the occasion of some holiday, was accompanied by sacrifices: before it began, some of the fans could be sacrificed to the gods, and after the game this fate awaited one of the teams as a whole. Moreover, historians for a long time could not agree on which team went to the Indian gods – the loser or the victorious. Modern fans, indignant at the loss of their favorite team, might have approved the first option, but, most likely, the ancient Indians still sacrificed the winners, since “to please the gods” in that society was considered very honorable.
Fortunately, this bloody custom did not live up to our days – otherwise there would be few people wishing to participate in sports competitions. Now, the championship winners risk being strangled in the arms of their joyful fans.

Spanking for losers
Rubber trees did not grow on other continents, and the ancient inhabitants of these places were not familiar with the rubber equivalent, but they also had ball games. Balls for them were sewn from leather and stuffed with grass, feathers, or some other loose material. They were not particularly bouncy, but they could still be thrown at each other or kicked into the nets with holes.

That is how they played the ball in ancient China: the playing field was blocked off by a silk net with a hole stretched at a certain height, and two teams were to score a leather ball into this hole. This mixture of volleyball with football was called “Zhu-ke”, and this sport was dangerous not for the winners, but for the losers. No, they were not sacrificed, but could have been flogged openly – modern fans would probably approve of this too. The winners were given gifts and treated to various delicacies, and the most skilled players could get a promotion or a new military rank.

Ball “hovering” in the air
In Japan since ancient times, there was a game “Kemari”, preserved in our days, for which a leather ball filled with sawdust is used. Players in it should hold this ball in the air for as long as possible, throwing it up with their feet and not letting it touch the ground. Kemari was so popular that even some Japanese emperors took part in it, and there is a legend that one of them managed to hold the ball above the ground, hitting it more than a thousand times.

The most successful Japanese players in Kemari could get a high title, and since there was no place to raise the monarch any further, the emperor from this legend gave the loud title … to the ball, with which he set a record.

Ancestor of British football
In Sparta, not only men but also women could play an analogue of modern football, called the “Episkireros” or “Faininda”. The playing field was divided into two halves, and each team, in which there could be from five to twelve people, tried to keep the ball in its territory, and if it was seized by the opposing team, to take it away and bring it back to itself.

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