What Are Soccer Caps? Origin And Term Explained 

Kristine Lilly most caps in soccer
Kristine Lilly (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

In modern international football, it has become usual to refer to a player’s appearances for his country in an officially recognized international match as an official cap.

This practice has its roots from the very beginning when the game of football was just finding its feet over hundred years ago. Before delving into the origins, what exactly are international soccer caps?

International Soccer Caps Explained 

An international cap is a term in football and other sports used to describe the number of times a player has featured for his national team in official international matches.

In the past, it was a common practice for players who were about to play a game for their respective countries to be issued caps as a means of identification.

This tradition originated in England before spreading to other countries. Over time physical caps were not necessarily given out to players again, but it became a sort of unwritten rule that a player’s appearances would be referred to as caps.

Today it’s common to hear sports journalists, analysts, etc. say so-so player has made this XYZ number of caps when talking about their appearances for the national team. 

When a player is making his debut, you will also hear how they earned their maiden or debut cap. In other sports like Cricket, Rugby, etc., it’s a practice for caps to be issued to players making international appearances.

The organizations responsible for registering or keeping a record of soccer caps are the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation (RSSSF), and the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS).

FIFA recognizes caps for only matches played within the FIFA World Cup (including qualifying matches), continental competitions (including qualifiers), friendly matches between senior national teams, and Olympic final.

Soccer Caps: History and Origin

As stated earlier, the practice of issuing physical caps originated in England in the late 19th century when football was just gaining popularity. 

In those early days, the concept of wearing different shirts to differentiate between teams hadn’t gained prominence, but school caps were a useful way to distinguish between teams.

In an old illustration of the first international soccer match between Scotland and England in 1872, the English players wore differently colored school caps to separate them from their Scottish counterparts, who wore cowls.

It wasn’t until 1886, however, that the practice was formally approved for use in association football. This followed a formal proposal by N. Lane Jackson, founder of the old English amateur side Corinthian Football Club. According to him, the proposal stipulates: 

“That all players taking part for England in future international matches be presented with a white silk cap with a red rose embroidered on the front. These to be termed International Caps.”

Since then, it has become a standard practice for a player to be given ‘a cap’ when he’s called up to represent his country and become part of the system of the modern game.

Who has the most caps in soccer?

Kristine Lilly most caps in soccer
Kristine Lilly (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The soccer player with the all-time highest number of senior caps is Kristine Lilly of the United States. She amassed a staggering 354 caps in her 17-year career and retired from international football on 6 January 2011.

Canada’s Christine Sinclair is the active women’s soccer player currently with the most caps, with 317 caps. The Canadian legend is also the leading active goal scorer in women’s international football, with 190 goals.

List of women soccer players with the most caps

  • Kristine Lilly (United States) — 354 caps
  • Christine Sinclair (Canada) — 317 caps
  • Carli Lloyd (United States) — 316 caps
  • Christie Pearce (United States) — 311 caps
  • Mia Hamm (United States) — 276 caps.

Who is the men’s soccer player with the most caps?

The men’s soccer player with the most international caps in soccer is debatable, according to two organizations that keep the records.

According to the RSSSF and IFFHS, Malaysian soccer player Soh Chin Ann is the men’s all-time record appearance holder with 219 caps for his country. FIFA claims he recorded 195 caps.

In contrast, FIFA recognizes Kuwait forward Bader Al-Mutawa as the men’s all-time record appearance holder with 196 caps. He is also the active men’s soccer player currently with the most caps.

List of men’s soccer players with the most caps

  • Bader Al-Mutawa (Kuwait) — 196 caps
  • Soh Chin Ann (Malaysia) — 195 caps
  • Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) — 191 caps
  • Ahmed Hassan (Egypt) — 184 caps
  • Ahmed Mubarak (Oman) — 183 caps
  • Maynor Figueroa (Honduras) — 175 caps.


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