All eyes are on the World Cup matches in Qatar, but we’re here to remind you that soccer (or football, if you prefer) is a world that transcends the pitch. From the story of an openly gay Brazilian referee who became an icon on and off the field, to the tales of the archaeologists who are hunting for the origins of the modern game, here are some of our favorite Atlas Obscura stories about the beautiful game.

Diehards supporting Inter and Grêmio diehard meet beneath the highway overpass that's become yet another point of contention between the teams' fans.
Diehards supporting Inter and Grêmio diehard meet beneath the highway overpass that’s become yet another point of contention between the teams’ fans. Andrew Jenner

The Brazilian Soccer Rivalry That Spilled Over Into Architecture

Did fierce competition between a city’s teams reshape its skyline?

Porto Alegre has two soccer teams—Sport Club Internacional and Grêmio Foot-Ball Porto Alegrense—and one of the best-known rivalries in Brazilian sports. So when a bridge built near Inter’s stadium appeared to celebrate the team’s crushing defeat in the 2010 Club World Cup, the conspiracy theories emerged. Was a Grêmio fan behind it?

This Spanish Soccer Team Puts Its Faith in Garlic

There are definitely no vampires on the field.

At the home stadium of Deportivo de la Coruña in Galicia, fans often line the pitch with whole garlic cloves. Sometimes, the fragrant bulbs are even decorated with blue stripes in tribute to the team. The intent? To ward off meigas, the Galician word for “witch,” and any goals from the opposing team.

A mural at Hampden Park celebrates its place in the annals of the sport.
A mural at Hampden Park celebrates its place in the annals of the sport. COURTESY GRAEME BROWN AND ASHLEY RAWSON

The Serendipitous Survival of Soccer’s Least-Known Birthplace

Scottish archaeologists went digging for the origins for the “pass-and-run” style of play.

At the turn of the 20th century, Glasgow was home to the three biggest football grounds on the planet: Ibrox, Celtic Park, and Hampden Park, the latter of which was the third iteration of Queen’s Park FC’s stadium, home to one of the oldest association football teams in the world, and pioneers of the “pass-and-run” style of soccer that came to define the sport. There, a rough-and-tumble, rugby-like style of play evolved into what we now call the beautiful game.

Soccer’s Ultimate Con Man Was a Superstar Who Couldn’t Play the Game

Carlos Kaiser played professional soccer for two decades and never scored a goal.

Carlos Kaiser was perhaps the world’s most skilled soccer player—when it came to finding excuses not to play. “Like every other soccer player, I came from a poor family, but I want to be big, have a lot of money so I could give better life conditions to my family,” he admitted in 2011. “I knew that the best way to make it happen was through soccer. I wanted to be a soccer player without having to actually play it.” So began a 20-year career of prevaricating, picking fights, and otherwise making sure he never had to.

How One of Brazil’s First Openly Gay Soccer Referees Changed the Game

The man known as Margarida refused to let prejudice affect his flashy officiating style.

In the 1980s, Jorge José Emiliano dos Santos became a Brazilian icon for his colorful on-the-field antics, and for being one of only a few openly gay referees in soccer. How much has changed in the years since?