When we think about the origin of the most widespread sport in the world, the etymological origin of the word football itself undoubtedly comes to mind. Football. A word that unconsciously makes us think of England in 1863, when the Football Association was founded. However, there are much older records that take us thousands of miles away from the possible birthplace of the beautiful game. Where are they directing us?
Well, there are many theories.
Some place its origin in some ball games played by American Indians such as the Aztecs with their tlachtli, the Mayans with Pok Ta Pok, or the pasuckuakohowog of the Sioux.
There are records that place it in China with tsu chu or Japanese kemari. Closer to our time was the Florentine Calcio, based in turn on the harpastum of the Romans and was ruled by Count Giovanni de’ Bardi, leaving an open door also to the origin of rugby.
However, much less known is the manga ñembosarái, a sport practiced by the ancient Guaranis, a people that extended over the vast territory that stretched from the Rio de la Plata to the Amazon.
It is also not too well known that the Spanish Jesuit, Jose Manuel Peramas was the first to realize the importance it had in these regions and write about it in 1732.
“They used also to play at the ball, which, though made of full rubber, was so light and quick that, once it was hit, it continued to bounce for some time, without stopping, propelled by its own weight. They did not throw the ball with their hands, as we do, but with the top of their bare foot, passing and receiving it with great agility and accuracy.”
Reading these words undoubtedly describes a game much closer to modern football than any of those mentioned above.
But the way it was practiced was not the only thing the Catalan Jesuit described, he also spent time telling how those indigenous people made the primitive ball.
“A ball of wet sand that was coated with the resin, a kind of rubber, extracted from a tree called mangaisi.”
In a painting made by Peramás himself, you can even see in detail the “equipment” of the players: white shirt and black trousers. The reason for this was not to look like the Unión Deportiva Salamanca, but because it was the attire that the missionaries gave them to attend mass and they, once they had cultivated the spirit, went on to cultivate the body.
Despite the strong resemblance to modern rules, it cannot be said that the Guarani people invented football. There are writings that document a Brazilian community isolated from all civilization, which also practiced it in the same way.
Perhaps football is neither one thing nor the other. Both for its strength and for the passion it arouses, perhaps it was the gods themselves who brought it down here so long ago that we have already forgotten it. It doesn’t matter who we attribute football to. Nobody’s sport. The sport of all.