For billions of people around the world, football is basically a religion. Nothing beats watching exciting football matches between major clubs, putting on a cheeky bet online, or playing football with mates on a Sunday. This sporting discipline is over 2,000 years old and comes with plenty of fascinating stories.
We’ve amassed an extensive collection of tidbits and astonishing feats in football throughout the years. So sit back, grab some popcorn, and enjoy some of the wildest football facts you’ll ever read. Not only will these facts give you a tremendous respect for this sport and its players, but it’ll surely help you answer some pub quiz questions in the future.
1. The story of football began as early as 476 BC.
Every astonishing, never-ending tale begins with an unassuming kick-off. For football, that tale began in China, with historical military writings talking about “cuju,” the term for football. It was first mentioned in 476 BC as a type of fitness training that evolved into a competitive sport played in China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan.
Back then, playing football was the favourite pastime of the upper classes and royal courts, making this one of the most interesting football facts. Emperor Wu Di was a massive fan of this sports discipline. Players used a ball filled with air and emblazoned with a two-layered hull. One type of ancient football was played with posts and a net, while the other involved one goal at the centre of the football field. Soldiers formed cuju teams to impress the emperor and the royal court.
2. Football kick-started basketball.
Here’s something most of you didn’t expect to read: the very first basketball game was played with a football. Talk about unbelievable football facts! On the 21st of December 1891, James Naismith, the author of 13 rules for basketball, hosted the first basketball match. It was a trial match played by 18 YMCA Training School students in Springfield, Massachusetts.
3. The first international football match took place in 1872.
For the price of one shilling, folks on the 30th of November 1872 at 2 p.m. had the opportunity to witness a football match that would go down in history. On that Sunday, 4,000 spectators watched the first international football match held between England and Scotland, which ended 0-0.
4. An Arsenal game in 1937 was the earliest televised football match.
When we talk about fascinating football facts, we must mention this revolutionary TV event in 1937. Just one year after the BBC started operating, this TV station broadcast a match between Arsenal and Arsenal reserves at Highbury Stadium. It was the first telecast football match in television history.
5. European teams are the mainstay of the FIFA World Cup.
The FIFA World Cup has existed for more than 90 years as the sport’s defining event. World Cup betting is also a unique event with bookmakers and punters. In all its years of existence, there have only been two World Cup finals that didn’t feature at least one European team.
One of these exceptions and fun football facts was the inaugural final between Argentina and Uruguay in 1930 that ended 4-2 to Uruguay. The second such match happened in 1950 when Uruguay again came out on top, beating Brazil 2-1. It was the second and most recent time Uruguay won the FIFA World Cup. No country outside of Europe or South America has ever made the final.
6. 3.572 billion people in total watched the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Around half of the world’s population tuned in for the broadcast of the FIFA World Cup conducted in Russia in 2018. One of the most interesting facts about this football event is that 3.262 billion people watched from their TV at home. In contrast, around 309.7 million watched in public spaces like restaurants and bars. The final between Croatia and France on the 15th of July caught the interest of 1.12 billion spectators.
7. Football remains the most popular sport on the globe.
Here’s some less surprising football trivia: football stats from 2020 reveal that the European version of football, soccer, is comfortably the most popular sport globally. Just over 4 billion people watch football in some form, making it a clear first among sports disciplines. Cricket statistics show that the gentleman’s game comes in second place with over 2.5 billion spectators.
When we talk about the craziest football facts, we ought to mention that football reached the top spot for the first time in 1964, when it had 357 million watchers. Only between 1979 and 1994 was this sport dethroned by hockey and cricket. However, since then, football statistics show that the beautiful game continues to capture the most hearts across the world.
8. Sheffield FC is the world’s oldest football club.
Let’s talk about football clubs, namely the world’s oldest club, which has now existed for 165 years. Sheffield FC was founded on the 24th of October 1857 and, as football history facts show, is recognised by FIFA to be officially the oldest football team globally. Sheffield continues to impress its fans from its HQ in Dronfield, North East Derbyshire. The club started playing in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and now plays in the Northern Premier League Division One East.
9. Aston Villa FC started as a winter practice gathering for cricket players.
Aston Villa FC is a legendary football club in the Premier League. The club’s humble beginnings date back to 1874 at the Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel in Handsworth. Back then, members of the local cricket team were looking to keep fit during the winter months. It’s among the most obscure England football facts that these cricketers actually established Aston Villa FC, which soon became a major West Midland team that thrives to this day.
Speaking of Premier League facts, Aston Villa became one of the founding members of the Premier League in 1992 and the Football League way back in 1888. The club has won many trophies and ranks fifth in the all-time English top-flight table.
10. Steaua Bucharest didn’t lose a single match between 1984 and 1989.
Here is another fascinating piece of football information for true fans. A relatively low-profile team from Eastern Europe went unbeaten in 104 consecutive matches from 1984 to 1989. One of the lesser-known yet equally amazing football facts is that Steaua Bucharest won four Romanian Cups, two European trophies, and five straight titles during this period.
11. Stephan Stanis scored 16 goals in one match.
Sometimes the darkest situations can unearth the most impressive feats. In a French cup match that took place during World War II’s frightening grip, on the 13th of December 1942, Stephan Stanis scored 16 goals for Racing Club de Lens in a game against Aubry-Astures. This remains the record for the most goals scored in one match, according to none other than the Guinness World Records.
12. The fastest goal in football history took only 2.8 seconds.
While we’re talking about shocking football facts, what better Christmas wish could a footballer want than what happened to Ricardo Olivera? On the 26th of December 1998, the Argentinian footballer scored a goal in a lightning-fast 2.8 seconds. He managed to break the previous record held by Colin Cowperthwaite, an English football player who scored a goal in 3.5 seconds against Kettering in 1979.
13. Football midfielders on average run seven miles per game.
One of the reasons footballers are among the highest-paid players in all sports is the tremendous running this sport demands. Football league facts show that some positions require significantly less running. However, midfielders run seven miles (more than 11 kilometres) per match on average.
14. Marta has scored the most goals in FIFA World Cup history.
There was an old and obsolete adage that said that women had no place in football. At one point, this attitude was so bad that FIFA banned women’s football between 1921 and 1971, supposedly to prevent women from seriously injuring themselves. Female footballers have been successfully debunking this belief ever since, with Marta Vieira da Silva – known simply as Marta among players and fans – storming into the footballing record books.
Marta is the player of any gender to have scored the most goals – 17 in total – during FIFA World Cup tournaments. However, our women’s football facts wouldn’t be complete without also writing about her other achievements. She is Brazil’s most prolific goal-scorer with 112 goals and has been named the FIFA World Player of the Year six times. Many football fans consider Marta the best female footballer in history.
15. Mark Hughes once played two football matches in one day.
Some players are mere athletes, but others are superhumans capable of incredible feats. Mark Hughes left an indelible mark on the world of football when he played two football games in one day. In 1987, football players weren’t paid anywhere near as much as today’s footballers are. Hughes played for Barcelona while also being on loan to Bayern Munich.
One of our most unusual football facts began on the 11th of November 1987. On that day, Mark Hughes played for Wales against Czechoslovakia in a Euro qualifier in Prague. He then took a flight to Germany, where he played as a substitute for Bayern Munich against Borussia Mönchengladbach. Despite the difficulties of travelling at such short notice, he managed to play in two physically excruciating matches in one day. Placing a wager against him must have been a nightmare.
16. In 1886-87, Arthur Wharton became the first black footballer.
If we look at records from the Football League, we’ll see that Arthur Wharton – a footballer and all-round athlete from Jamestown, Gold Coast – was the first black professional football player. One of the interesting facts about football is Wharton’s impressive career, which started in Darlington. Between 1886 and 1889, he was one of The Invincibles. This Preston North End team completed all 26 games in a season undefeated.
17. Paris Saint-Germain paid €222 million in transfer fees for Neymar.
Football game facts don’t come much more expensive than this one. All transfer records were shattered when PSG paid €222 million for Neymar to transfer from Barcelona in August 2017. Such a massive transfer fee was inconceivable until then, with the previous highest transfer costing €105 million when Juventus bought Paul Pogba from Manchester United.
However, these football club facts also signal that the age of super-spending has begun, with average transfer fees growing ever since.
18. Rogerio Ceni, a Brazilian goalkeeper, scored 131 goals in professional football.
You might think a goalkeeper’s only duty is to protect the goal, but that’s not always the case. Often, goalkeepers can do much more during a game, as Rogerio Ceni proved. As a goalkeeper, he scored an incredible 131 goals, thus earning praise as the greatest Brazilian goalkeeper. He played for Sao Paulo for 22 years, participated in 1,257 professional games, and won 20 major titles.
19. 70% of all manufactured footballs come from Pakistan.
It would be remiss of us not to mention the biggest underdog among football facts and trivia, the football itself. Over 70% of all currently manufactured footballs are made in the Pakistani city of Sialkot, using heat bonding technology. There are around 1,000 football manufacturers in this city that employ 60,000 people.
Pakistan manufactured 38 million balls for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. According to some sources, this history of production started in Pakistan 100 years ago. The country’s footballs are still considered to be of high quality and durability.
20. Albert Camus, Julio Iglesias, and Gordon Ramsay were all footballers at one point in their lives.
Football history and facts throw up some serious curve-balls, and even we were surprised by this next one. It turns out that writer and philosopher Albert Camus was a goalkeeper for Racing Universitaire d’Alger between 1928 and 1930. He was a member of the junior team and a passionate footballer until he was forced to stop playing upon contracting tuberculosis.
Julio Iglesias, the famous Spanish singer, was also a goalkeeper for Real Madrid Castilla, but had to stop when he injured his spine in a car accident in 1963. Gordon Ramsay also had a brief experience with football clubs. Speaking of football wages and facts, at Warwickshire FC, Ramsay played for the under-14 team, then a couple of years later for Rangers FC as a trialist. Ramsay suffered from several severe sports injuries at both clubs, encouraging him to instead focus on his love for cooking.