Why is football so popular?

The small number of rules and very basic equipment make football the most natural channel for our emotions

Did you ever stop and think “why football is the most popular game in the world”? What makes it so much better in the eyes of the masses?

Why do people refer to football religiously – “Football is like a religion to me. I worship the ball, and I treat it like a god”  (Pele) and say things like “amongst all unimportant subjects, football is by far the most important” (Pope John Paul II)?

Why do supporters gather in hundreds of thousands at football games and not in basketball or handball arenas? Why does soccer create those huge communities around it, much bigger than any other sport?  How come soccer is the true global sport? Why do people put so much political and social meanings to this game, more than any other sport? and what are the main differences between football and other sports?

One of the main explanations for football’s popularity is that anyone can play it and you don’t need accessories like a basket, a bat or a net, a swimming pool or a horse. You need friends, four stones and a ball (or socks tied together).

Another reason is that there aren’t too many rules especially if you compare it to other team sports. In basketball and handball each attack is time limited. In volleyball and tennis players are limited to a few touches each rally. In rugby you can only pass backwards and so on. Football, basically, is free of all of that, especially on grass roots levels, where people usually connect to the game.

Football is probably the most basic game. It’s spontaneous and a celebration of the human body qualities. It’s as close as you can be to the lion cubs that play each other to train for their days as lions.

Desmond Morris, the British zoologist and Norbert Elias, the German sociologist, studied the “human animal” that went thorough “civilizing process”, which turned humans from animals to more cultured creatures. They believe that by channeling our natural aggression and violent behavior to places like sports.

Football, in that sense, is the best pipeline, because it has such a small number of rules. There are team sports that are more aggressive like American football, Rugby and even handball, but they bring too many rules to the playing field. Taking the fun out of the rawness of the pure game.

Football is anarchy in the positive sense. A natural game that makes people connect to their most primitive instincts. Maybe that’s why most football supporters hate the money involved in the game.



  1. Lazyboines added these pithy words on April 12, 2011 | Permalink

    Ouriel – “but they bring too much rules to the playing field should be “bring too many rules”. there are few more, but this one is the most obvious one.
    Great post, I agree with every word.

  2. Ouriel Daskal added these pithy words on April 15, 2011 | Permalink

    thank you very much – will be fixed

  3. Hugh jass added these pithy words on May 5, 2011 | Permalink


  4. xhulio added these pithy words on August 25, 2011 | Permalink

    forza inter

  5. noise added these pithy words on November 20, 2011 | Permalink

    American Football is 12 minutes of a game littered with 2 hours of commercials. It’s the biggest scam of a game.

    Baseball has a nerve to call someone a world champion, when frankly most of the world could care less. I invent a game yet only I will play and declare myself a world champ!

    Everyone plays Soccer. The level of competition is the highest. It’s a well balanced sport, no race or nationality has an advantage either, being big or strong is not necessarily an advantage. All it matters in soccer is that you play well this beautiful game.

  6. Varun added these pithy words on November 20, 2011 | Permalink

    Actually something like Boxing is the most truest form of human sport there is, 2 homo sapiens hitting each other, thats as primal as it gets.

    So marketing still matters and British did a pretty good job of it with its colonizing and sailors forming clubs all over the place. They started with a huge mass base and it helps, other sports never had such an advantage.
    Boxing got ruined by modern world and its too fragmented.

  7. Lennard added these pithy words on June 7, 2012 | Permalink

    Very true..
    Football is my favorite sport, and even though it has by now taken approximately 67 years off my life (I’m a Celtic fan) no sport will ever really come close.

    I love, for example American Football, but I can imagine that people get sick of having to watch the screen for 3.5 hours to sit through a 60 minute game.
    Rugby is a favorite too, and I have been watching it for 20 years now but even I sometimes wonder why a foul was called or a play declared illegal. There are so many rules in that game about how to approach a situation, from which side you can start a tackle or attack and so on and so on, that I can see it’s incomprehensible if you haven’t thouroughly watched it for at least a decade.

    Up Football!

  8. mnm added these pithy words on July 1, 2012 | Permalink

    But why is cricket popular in the subcontinent and Australia? It has perhaps the most number of complicated rules and many are not understood by professionals themselves!

6 Trackbacks

  1. [...] the reasons we humans love to watch sports is the element of competition. It’s part of our “civilizing process” – the channeling of our natural aggression and animalistic behavior to places like [...]

  2. [...] is no doubt that football is a more popular  sport than American football.  Yet, Uefa’s annual income from the [...]

  3. [...] 20th century phenomena; both are deeply linked to human instincts and desires; both feature highly skilled and passionate men and women; both played in stadiums in front of [...]

  4. [...] than 650 clubs from all across Europe, and that’s the despite the fact that football is a lot more popular around the world than baseball or American [...]

  5. [...] including travelling to and from matches, watching TV, searching the internet and talking about the game with [...]

  6. [...] truttige vrouwen: Vrouwen, wees blij dat wij mannen een onschuldig vermaak gevonden hebben om onze primitieve instincten op te kunnen botvieren. We moeten de hele dag al braaf afwassen, luiers verschonen, gevoelig zijn [...]

 Subscribe in a reader