Association Football is the most popular sport in the world. It's more commonly known as just Football, although in some parts of the English-speaking world, particularly North America, it's referred to as Soccer, a word that's often used to avoid confusion with American Football, Rugby Football, Gaelic Football and Australian Rules Football note .
Played in over two-hundred different countries, the game has captured the attentions of billions of people; The World Cup is one of the most widely viewed sporting event on Earth, up there with other major soccer competitions like the European Championship, the UEFA Champions League and the English Premier League. The only other sports events that get close to soccer numbers are the Super Bowl, the Cricket World Cup and the Olympics. Which has the highest numbers depends on how you count, and is Serious Business.
The game is played between two teams of eleven players, one of whom is a goalkeeper. The team which scores the most goals in a match wins; a goal is scored by putting a ball into a net at the ends of the field with any part of the body except the arms or hands. The game is governed by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA for short. Along with the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish associations that make up the International Football Association Board (IFAB), FIFA codifies and maintains the Laws of the Game, the rules by which the game is played that date all the way back to the mid-nineteenth century.
Footballers at the highest level are extremely well paid, especially in Britain. As of 2019, the average wage of a Premier League footballer is £60,000, and the median wage is £50,000.note Per week. They are also frequently stereotyped as being complete morons, something not helped by the fact that a lot of players come from more deprived areas, start their careers in their mid-to-late teens, and are consequently not all that well educated. That said, a number of footballers have proved to be highly intelligent, usually going on to become managers. However, others play it very, very straight.
In many parts of the world, football is Serious Business. Not for nothing is the page quote for that trope made by one of England's most celebrated football managers. Many established sides are far more than one-hundred years old, and the traditions around these clubs have became something of a religion to those that follow them. Although this can often be a negative force — Football Hooligans is a trope for a reason — the universal nature of the game has also been associated with bringing down barriers and establishing common cause in even the most unlikely of places. For instance, it played a role in establishing peace in Sierra Leone, as well as in the historic Christmas Truce between British and German soldiers in World War I that involved a game of football. It is the largest sport in the world in terms of the total amount of money invested in it. The largest football team is the Northern English side Manchester United, who are coincidentally also the most valuable sports franchise in the world, edging out the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees over the course of the last decade. Going by Man U's own figures, they boast a staggering six hundred million "casual fans" worldwide (in other words, twelve hundred times the population of Manchester and ten times the population of the UK, or roughly 11% of the world population as of 2011).
If you still don't believe in the game's importance, look up the very concrete effects it has had on politics and history. For example, the Ultras in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. Or the 1969 Football War between El Salvador and Honduras. For a more high-profile example, look up "das Wunder von Bern". Perhaps the most famous example is the Christmas Truce between the Germans and the British during World War I, when both sides left their trenches to play football. Something similar would happen in the notoriously brutal Nigerian Civil War, when both sides agreed to a two-day ceasefire so they could watch Pele's touring Santos team play some exhibition matches. And in November 2015, three days after the Bataclan gun attacks in Paris that left around 129 dead, the French national team was due to play England, their oldest and bitterest rivals, at Wembley Stadium, the home of English football. When they turned up to play, they found Wembley lit up in the colours of the French tricolour with motto of the Republic blazoned on the side, the traditional giant St. George's flag formed from cards held up by fans at one end of the stadium had been replaced by a French tricolour and when the anthems began after the traditional minute's silence - impeccably observed - the English fans enthusiastically joined in singing 'La Marseillaise', the French national anthem and (appropriately) a stirring battle hymn. The French clearly loved this: in June 2017, the two met in a friendly match in Paris and the hosts returned the favour due to the Manchester Arena bombing and the London Bridge/Borough Market attack in the month preceding the match.
One of the reasons the game is so popular is its accessibility compared to other sports. All you need for a game are a ball, some flat ground, some way to mark the goals (hence the memetic "jumpers for goalposts") and an evenly divided group of players. Its also fairly light on physical contact making it much safer and less prone to arguments than its more aggressive cousins.
Football in the UK:
Football in Europe
- Euro Footy
- European Championship (aka UEFA Euro)
- UEFA Nations League (multi-level competition for national teams)
- UEFA Champions League
- UEFA Europa League Europe's secondary club competition, which is contested by cup winners, teams that did not reach a high enough position in their leagues (while still finishing in the top half of the table) and teams that were eliminated from the Champions League either by being knocked out on the last qualifying round before the group stage, or by finishing third in the group stage.
- UEFA Conference League — the tertiary club competition, planned to start in 2021. It is intended to be contested by teams from lower-ranked UEFA members, no teams will qualify directly from winning cups or leagues, but with 10 teams that were eliminated in the Europa League play-offs and the rest coming from the Europa Conference League qualifiers.
Football in the Americas
- CONCACAF Gold Cup Equivalent to UEFA Euro for the northern half of the Americas, including the Caribbean
- Copa América South America's equivalent to UEFA Euro. It is actually the world's oldest ongoing international football competitionnote , predating both the UEFA Euro and the World Cup, having its start in 1916.
- Copa Libertadores South America's equivalent to the UEFA Champions League.
- Copa Sudamericana South America's equivalent to UEFA Europa League
- CONCACAF Champions League North and Central America's equivalent to UEFA Champions League
- CONCACAF League North and Central America's equivalent to UEFA Europa League
- Major League Soccer (USA; also includes three Canadian teams)
- National Women's Soccer League (USA)
- Liga MX (Mexico)
- Campeonato Brasileiro Série A or the Brasileirão (Brazil)
- Liga Profesional de Fútbolnote , also known as Primera División ("first division") (Argentina).
Football in Asia (includes Australia, which is a member of Asia's football governing body)
- A-League (Australia; also includes one New Zealand team)
- AFC Asian Cup Asian equivalent to UEFA Euro
- AFC Champions League Asian equivalent to UEFA Champions League
- J1 League (Japan)
- Chinese Super League (China)
Football in the rest of the world
- Africa Cup of Nations African equivalent to UEFA Euro
- CAF Champions League African equivalent to UEFA Champions League
- CAF Confederation Cup - African equivalent to UEFA Europa League
- OFC Nations Cup Oceanian equivalent to UEFA Euro
- OFC Champions League Oceanian equivalent to UEFA Champions League
- FIFA Club World Cup Exactly What It Says on the Tin, the World Cup for clubs, contested by each continent's champion (and the champion of the host nation), undergoing a format change which will make it more similar to its national team counterpart. However, despite the fact that they outstrip South America on a 3-to-1 ratio (having won 12 of the 16 editions played as of 2019) and the attractiveness of the "World Champions" title, European clubs look way down on it for a variety of reasons, ranging from a perceived lack of competitiveness to the fact that it is held in December (mid-season in most countries), while in South America (especially in Brazil) is probably the most important honour a team can win, especially with the attractiveness of wining against the victor of the UEFA Champions League.
- Intercontinental Cup is the defunct predecessor of the Club World Cup, running from 1960 to 2004, and contested only between the winners of the Copa Liberatadores and UEFA Champions League. Contrary to the CCW, South American clubs found more success in the Intercontinetal Cup as it was competed in an era of more parity between Europe and South America — the latter having won 23 out of 44 editions.
- The World Cup
- Copa América
- Copa Libertadores
- European Championship (Euro 20XX)
- UEFA Champions League
- Algarve Cup traditionally the most prestigious annual event for women's national teams, though it's now being pushed by the...
- SheBelieves Cup a more recent women's competition, organized by the US; although with fewer teams, it's drawn several top teams away from the above
What to do at a football game:
- Eat typical matchday food. This varies from country to country: examples include meat pies in Britain, currywurst in Germany, or all kinds of sandwiches in Mediterraenean countries like Spain and Italy. Brazil usually has some variation, but popular choices are biscoito de polvinho (cassava starch crackers, very common in Rio de Janeiro) and barbecue skewers.
- Drink beer (though, sadly, alcohol is banned from most British grounds), strong tea or hot Bovril.
- Sing amusing songs and chants at the opposing teams' fans or players, at the game itself, at other fans... As British comic Russell Howard once put it (when discussing why there were no publicly gay footballers in Britain), being a football player is more or less the one job in the world where thousands of people spend a couple of hours singing abuse at you on a weekly basis - abuse which is often very creative and extremely personal.
- Example 1: Sing a song insulting the opponent team's place of origin. For example, if they're from Liverpool, popular tunes are "You Scouse Bastards", "Stand Up If You've Got A Job", "We Pay Your Benefit". Other areas have their own songs. Chants are frequently based on well-known songs, such as "Yellow Submarine", "That's Amore" or "Seven Nation Army". This is definitely an undersold attraction of the sport; you may have just come home from a 4-3 cracker, but what'll stick in your head is one of the chants.
- Example 2: Supporters of the England national team like to serenade their opponents (especially France) with "If it wasn't for the British you'd be Krauts"note to the tune of "If You're Happy And You Know It". When playing "the Krauts" the "There were ten German bombers in the air," (to the tune of "Ten Green Bottles") chant is popular, as is "Two World Wars and one World Cup" (to the tune of "Camptown Races") and (related to the previous) "If it wasn't for the British you'd be French". In many countries, this goes beyond mere sporting rivalry and crosses into geopolitical feuds, like the infamous Old Firm in Scotland or El Clasico in Spain.
- Example 3: At particularly dull games, singing "Let's Pretend We Scored a Goal!" gets popular, or singing about random goings-on in the stands (a man eating a pie, a pigeon on the field, the stadium security taking the beach ball everyone's playing withnote , etc.).
- Example 4: teams at the lower end of the table often sing self-deprecating songs directed at the opposing team, including "You're Nothing Special, We Lose Every Week," "How Shit Must You Be? We're Winning Away," or for high scoring games, "You've Only Scored X" (with X referring to however many goals scored on them).
- Example 5: Spain has a special chant for extremely uneventful or impossible-to-win matches, that goes "¡Alcohol! ¡Alcohol! ¡Alcohol! ¡Alcohol! ¡Alcohol! ¡Hemos venido a emborracharnos, el resultado nos da igual!"note
- Example 6: Many British teams have a specific song the supporters sing which isn't specifically about the game, but is accepted to express their support of their own team. Examples include "You'll Never Walk Alone" for Liverpool (because it was covered by the Liverpudlian group Gerry and the Pacemakers, who apparently gave a copy of the single to then-manager Bill Shankly), "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" for West Ham (because they used to have a player nicknamed "Bubbles"), "Sunshine on Leith" for Hibs (because that's where they're from, and The Proclaimers are supporters), Tina Turner's "The Best" for Glasgow Rangers (which... isn't subtle), and Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough" for Celtic.
- Loudly insult the referee every time he does something you don't agree with. Be as vulgar as you like. (Note: don't ever do this if you're a player, unless you want a red card.)
- Loudly express your pleasure or displeasure at your and the opposing team's performance. Be as vulgar as you like. (Note: don't ever do this if you're a player, especially if you're in front of a television camera. Racial and sexual slurs are also frowned upon.)
- Feel free to take "expressing your displeasure of a player on your team's performance" to the level of I Have No Son! if applicable. (And if you're American and watching soccer it probably is. Bonus points if the kid's younger than eight.)
- In general, be as loud as possible. It's particularly easy if you haven't disposed of the vuvuzela you bought for the 2010 World Cup, although don't be surprised if you get vilified because of it.