From The Bibliophile Library of Literature, Art, & Rare Manuscripts, Vol. XVIII, compiled and arranged by Nathan Haskell Dole, Forrest Morgan, and Caroline Ticknor; The International Bibliophile Society, New York-London; 1904; pp. 5998-6014.
THE game of football is undoubtedly the oldest of all the English national sports. For at least six centuries the people have loved the rush and struggle of the rude and manly game, and kings with their edicts, divines with their sermons, scholars with their cultured scorn, and wits with their ridicule have failed to keep the people away from the pastime they enjoyed. Cricket may at times have excited greater interest amongst the leisured classes; boat races may have drawn larger crowds of spectators from distant places; but football, which flourished for centuries before the arts of boating or cricketing were known, may fairly claim to be not only the oldest and most characteristic, but the most essentially popular sport of England.
Football has now developed into a variety of highly organized games, and the difficulty of finding its actual origin is as great as that of discovering the commencement of athletic contests. If men have run races ever since the creation, it may almost be said that they have played at ball since the same date. Of all the games of ball in which Englishmen are naturally so proficient the original requisites were simply a ball and 5999 a club; from the simple use of the ball alone came the “caitch,” fives or handball and football, and when to these requisites a club is added we find all the elements for tennis, cricket, hockey, golf, croquet, and the like. As balls and clubs are provided with the slightest exercise of skill and trouble from the resources of nature, we may be certain upon abstract reasoning that ball play became popular as soon as the aboriginal man had time and leisure to amuse himself.
It is scarcely necessary to say that the Greeks and Romans both played at ball; even as early as the days of the Odyssey we find Nausicaa and her maidens “playing at the caitch,” as King James I. would have termed it. What is perhaps of more importance is that the Greeks had a game in which the kind of ball known as the ἁρπαστὸν was employed, and this game bore a rough resemblance to football in England. The players of one side had to carry the ball over a line defended by the other, by any means in their power. The ἁρπαστὸν was, as its name betokens, a small ball. The Romans, however, had another pastime with a large inflated ball, the follis; with which, as many of our readers will recollect, Martial the epigrammatist advises all to play.
The follis, however, was undoubtedly a handball, and the game was probably the same as the “balown ball” of middle ages, which consisted in simply striking into the air and “keeping up” a large windy ball, a sport which is still to be seen exhibited with great skill in Paris. All this, however, has little concern with football, except that it is pretty clear that the “follis” or “baloon ball” was the same that is used in the game of football, and it is a matter of some importance to discover whether football is merely a game brought by Roman civilization into Britain, or a native product. It is hardly to be believed that it should never have occurred to a man playing with the “follis,” to kick it with his foot when his arms were tired, but be that as it may, we know of no mention of a game played by the Romans where the feet were used to kick the ball; and of the game known from the middle ages to the present time as football no trace can be found in any country but our own.
Before we come to a definite record relating to football, it may perhaps be worth while to point out that legends connected 6000 with football at some of its chief centers point to its immense antiquity. At Chester, where hundreds of years ago the people played on the Roodee on Shrove Tuesday, the contemporary chroniclers state that the first ball used was the head of a Dane who had been captured and slain and whose head was kicked about for sport. At Derby, where (also on Shrove Tuesday) the celebrated match of which we shall have to speak later on was played for centuries, there was a legend (as stated in Glover’s “History of Derby”) that the game was a memorial of a victory over the Romans in the third century. The free quarrymen of the Isle of Purbeck commemorate the original grant of their rights at a time beyond that within legal memory by kicking a football over the ground they claim. These and other signs, apart from any written record, would be sufficient to show the antiquity of the sport.
FitzStephen, who wrote in the twelfth century, and to whom we have referred in the former part of this work, makes an allusion to a game which there is very little doubt must be football. He says that the boys “annually upon Shrove Tuesday go into the fields and play at the well-known game of ball” (ludum pilæ celebrem). The words are of course vague, but they undoubtedly refer to one special game and not to general playing with balls, and no other game of ball is ever known to have been specially connected with Shrove Tuesday, which there is abundant material to show was afterwards the great “football day” in England for centuries. There is also ample proof of the fondness of the London boys and ’prentices for football in succeeding centuries, which makes the inference irresistible that by “ludum pilæ celebrem,” the writer refers to football. It is also noticeable that FitzStephen probably refrains from describing the game because it was too well known throughout the country to require a description.
By the reign of Edward II. we find not only that football was popular in London, but that so many people joined in the game when it was being played in the streets that peaceable merchants had to request the king to put down its practice, Accordingly, in 1314, Edward II., on April 13, issued a proclamation forbidding the game as leading to a breach of the peace: “Forasmuch as there is great noise in the city caused by hustling over large balls (rageries de grosses pelotes) . . . from which many evils might arise which God forbid: we command and forbid on behalf of the king, on pain of imprisonment, 6001 such game to be used in the city in future.” We believe the expression “rageries de grosses pelotes” has puzzled many antiquarians, possibly because they were not football players, but a footballer can hardly help surmising that “rageries” means “scrummages,” and “grosses pelotes” footballs. As football acquired royal animadversion as early as 1314, it would seem that the early footballers played no less vigorously, if with less courtesy, than the players of the present day.
There can be no doubt that from the earliest days football was an obstreperous and disreputable member of the family of British Sports, and indeed almost an “habitual criminal” in its character, a fact to which we owe most of the earliest references to the game, as many of these records refer to little else but crimes and grievances. In 1349 football is mentioned by its present name in a statute of Edward III., who objected to the game not so much for itself, but as tending to discourage the practice of shooting, upon which the military strength of England largely depended. The King writing in that year to the Sheriffs of London, says that “the skill at shooting with arrows was almost totally laid aside for the purpose of various useless and unlawful games,” and the Sheriffs are thereupon commanded to suppress “such idle practices.” The injunction can hardly have been of much avail, however, for forty years afterwards Richard II. passed a similar statute (12 Rich. II. c. 6. A.D. 1389), forbidding throughout the kingdom “all playing at tennise, football, and other games called corts, dice, casting of the stone, kailes, and other such importune games.” The same statute had to be reënacted by Henry IV. in 1401, so that it is tolerably obvious that, like some other statutes still in force and relating to sporting matters, it was more honored in the reach than in the observance. Football was evidently too strong for the House of Lancaster, and all attempts to coerce the merry Englishman into giving it up were hopeless failures. Similar measures in Scotland in the next century altogether failed to persuade the Scottish sportsmen to give up football and golf. In 1457 James III. decreed that four times every year reviews and displays of weapons were to be held, and “footballe and golfe be utterly cryed down and not to be used;” but as in 1491 his successor had again to prohibit golf and football by a fresh statute providing that “in na place of this realme ther be used futeball, golfe, or other sik unprofitable sportes,” it appears that in Scotland as well as in England football was strong enough 6002 to defy the law. In the sixteenth century the House of Tudor again tried to do what the House of Lancaster had failed in doing, and Henry VIII. not only reënacted the old statute against cards, dice, and other “importune games,” but rendered it a penal offense by statute for anybody to keep a house or ground devoted to these sporting purposes. The English people, however, both in town and country would have their football, and throughout the sixteenth century football was as popular a pastime amongst the lower orders as it has ever been before or since. The game was fiercely attacked, as some of the succeeding extracts will show, and the same extracts will suggest that the nature of the game played at that period rendered the attacks not altogether unreasonable. In 1598, Barclay in his fifth eclogue affords evidence that football was as popular in the country as in the town. Says Barclay: —
Not long after this, Sir Thomas Elyot in his “Boke, called the Governour,” inveighs against football, as being unfit for gentlemen, owing to the violence with which it was played. Sir Thomas, however, had a courtly hatred of anything energetic: he prefers archery to tennis; “boulynge,” “claishe” and “pinnes” (skittles), and “koyting” he calls “furious,” and the following remarks therefore about skittles, quoits, and football are only such as one would expect. “Verilie,” he says, “as for two the laste” (i.e. “pinnes” and “koyting”) “be to be utterly abjected of all noble men in like wise foote-balle wherein is nothing but beastlie furie and exstreme violence whereof procedeth hurte, and consequently rancour and malice do remain with them that be wounded, wherfore it is to be put in perpetual silence.” Doubtless “hurte procedeth” from football upon occasions, but if there had been “nothing in” football but beastly fury, it would hardly have held its own so bravely to the present time. Sir Thomas Elyot had some foundation for his strictures, as the coroners’ records of the day show; but before we proceed to give these, we should describe in some sort the nature of the game as it was played in the sixteenth century. There is no trace in ancient times of anything like the modern “Association game,” where the players only kick the ball and may not strike it with their 6003 hands, throw it or run with it. Probably the name “football” was first used to describe the ball itself, and meant a ball which was big enough to be kicked and could be kicked with the foot. The game of football was the game played with this kind of ball, and it was simple to an extreme degree. The goals were two bushes, posts, houses, or any objects fixed upon at any distance apart from a few score yards to a few miles. The ball was placed midway between the two goals at starting, the players (of any number) divided into two sides, and it was the business of either side to get the ball by force or strategy up to or through the goal of the opposite side. When confined to a street or field of play, it is obvious that the sport was the original form of what is now known as the Rugby Union game. At the times before any settled rules of play were known, and before football had been civilized, the game must of necessity have been a very rough one, and an unfriendly critic may well have thought that the ball had very little to do with the game, just as the proverbial Frenchman is unable to see what the fox has to do with fox-hunting. Undoubtedly the game of football was until quite recent times a vulgar and unfashionable sport, as indeed were cricket, boat-racing, and most other athletic pastimes. For many centuries in England any pedestrian sport which was not immediately connected with knightly skill was considered unworthy of a gentleman of equestrian rank, and this will account in a great measure for the adverse criticisms of football which proceed from writers of aristocratic position.
That Elizabethan football was dangerous to life, limb, and property, is made plain by many records. The Middlesex County Records contain several entries which are of interest to the historian of football, and show how rough was the game. In the eighteenth year of the reign of good Queen Bess, the grand jury of the county found a true bill:
That on the said Day at Ruyslippe, Co., Midd., Arthur Reynolds, husbandman [with five others], all of Ruyslippe afsd, Thomas Darcye, of Woxbridge, yeoman [with seven others, four of whom were “husbandmen,” one a “taylor,” one a “harnis-maker,” one a “yoman”], all seven of Woxbridge afsd, with unknown malefactors to the number of one hundred, assembled themselves unlawfully and playd a certain unlawful game called foote-ball, by means of which unlawful game there was amongst them a great affray likely to result in homicides and serious accidents.6004
In the 23d year of Elizabeth, on March 5th, football seems to have led to something more serious than a breach of the peace.
Coroner’s inquisition — post-mortem taken at Sowthemyms, Co. Midd., in view of the body of Roger Ludforde, yoman there lying dead with verdict of jurors that Nicholas Martyn and Richard Turvey, both late of Southemyms, yomen, were on the 3rd instant between 3 and 4 P.M> playing with other persons at foote-ball in the field called Evanses field at Southmyms, when the said Roger Ludford and a certain Simon Maltus, of the sd parish, yomen, came to the ground, and that Roger Ludford cried out, “Cast hym over the hedge,” indicating that he meant Nicholas Martyn, who replied, “Come thou and do yt.” That thereupon Roger Ludforde ran towards the ball with the intention to kick it, whereupon Nicholas Martyn with the fore-part of his right arm and Richard Turvey with the fore-part of his left arm struck Roger Ludforde on the fore-part of the body under the breast, giving him a mortal blow and concussion of which he died within a quarter of an hour, and that Nicholas and Richard in this manner feloniously slew the said Roger.
Some years later, the Manchester Lete Roll contains a resolution, dated October 12, 1608: —
That whereas there hath been heretofore great disorder in our towne of Manchester, and the inhabitants thereof greatly wronged and charged with makinge and amendinge of their glasse windows broken yearlye and spoyled by a companye of lewd and disordered psons vsing that unlawfull exercise of playinge with the ffote-ball in ye streets of ye sd toune breakinge many men’s windowes and glasse at their plesures and other great enormyties. Therefore, wee of this jurye doe order that no manner of psons hereafter shall play or use the footeball in any street within the said toune of Manchester, subpœnd to evye one that shall so use the same for evye time xiid.
These extracts not only show that the number of players was unlimited, but that the game was played in the street and over hedges in the country, although it was still unlawful by statute. It is hardly to be wondered at that the citizens of great towns objected to promiscuous scrimmaging in the streets in front of their windows. The records of the Corporation of the City of London contain two entries in the time of Elizabeth (November 27, 1572, and November 7, 1581), of a proclamation having been made that “no foteballe play be used or suffered within the City of London and the liberties thereof upon pain 6005 of imprisonment.” In spite of this, however, we still hear in later times of football in the streets.
The great week of sports and pageants at Kenilworth, in 1575, produced no football playing, for Elizabeth and her court seem to have cared little for the athletic sports of the people; but there is a casual reference to football in the description of the Kenilworth revels in Robert Laneham’s letter. One of the characters who appeared in the “country brideale,” and “running at the quintain,” and who took the part of the bridegroom, is described by Laneham as being “lame of a legge that in his youth was broken at footballe.”
It was only to be expected that the grave and demure Puritans, who objected to all sports not only for themselves, but because they were played on Sundays, should have a particular and violent objection to football, for football even when played on a week day does not seem to be wholly compatible with a meek and chastened spirit. The strictures passed by Stubbes, the earnest author of the “Anatomie of Abuses in the Realme of England,” show pretty clearly the Puritan attitude towards football. Amongst other reasons for concluding that the end of the world was at hand in 1583, he gives the convincing reason that “football playing and other develishe pastimes” were practiced on the Sabbath day. As we have seen before, he speaks of “cards, dice, tennise, and bowles, and such like fooleries.” Football, however, he must have thought something worse than mere foolery, since he calls it “develishe.” He goes on: —
Lord, remove these exercises from the Sabaoth [by which he meant Sunday]. Any exercise (he says) which withdraweth from godliness, either upon the Sabaoth or any other day, is wicked and to be forbiden. Now who is so grosly blinde that seeth not that these aforesaid exercises not only withdraw us from godlinesse and virtue, but also haile and allure us to wickednesse and sin? for as concerning football playing I protest unto you that it may rather be called a friendlie kinde of fyghte than a play or recreation — a bloody and murthering practice than a felowly sport or pastime. [“Friendlie kinde of fyghte” is good; in fact “develishe” good.] For dooth not everyone lye in waight for his adversarie, seeking to overthrow him and picke* him on his nose, though it be on hard stones, on ditch or dale, on valley or hill, or whatever place soever it be he careth not, so he have him downe; and he that can serve the most of this fashion he is counted the only felow, and who but he?6006
Thus we see that football was played not only in streets and roads, but across country, and that “tackling” was not only allowable, but that it was an essential feature of the game. In fact from Stubbes’ remarks we think it clear that he had frequently played football himself: his remarks therefore are valuable as coming from a “converted footballer.” He goes on: —
So that by this means sometimes their necks are broken, sometimes their backs, sometimes their legs, sometimes their armes, sometimes their noses gush out with blood, sometimes their eyes start out, and sometimes hurte in one place, sometimes in another. But whosoever scapeth away the best goeth not scot free, but is either forewounded, craised, or bruised, so as he dyeth of it or else scapeth very hardlie; and no mervaile, for they have the sleights to meet one betwixt two [this reminds one of poor Roger Ludforde], to dash him against the hart with their elbowes, to butt him under the short ribs with their griped fists, and with their knees to catch him on the hip and pick him on his neck, with a hundred such murthering devices. [The writer here shows that he knew all about “tackling,” and that there were many well-known dodges.] And hereof [he concludes] groweth envy, rancour, and malice, and sometimes brawling, murther, homicide, and great effusion of blood, so experience daily teacheth. Is this murthering play now an exercise for the Sabaoth day?
Football, however, survived criticism as it had before survived repressive legislation. Throughout the whole of the sixteenth century, and that part of the seventeenth century before Puritanism gained the upper hand, it remained one of the favorite sports of the people. We have already seen in the earlier part of this book how in 1540 the annual football match played on Shrove Tuesday at Chester was discontinued and a foot race substituted. The extract, however, from the Harleian MSS. which gives the information is valuable as showing the extreme antiquity of the game. For the chronicler says that “it hath been the custom time out of mind for the shoemakers” to deliver to the drapers one ball of leather called a football to play at from thence to the Common Hall of the said city. No doubt the football match on Shrove Tuesday was discontinued for a time, but the game continued to flourish upon other occasions.
About A.D. 1600, football was still in full vigor. Amongst the country sports mentioned by Randel Holme in the lines 6007 which we have also quoted before, the Lancashire men challenge anybody to
Some of their talented successors in the county who have figured at the Oval upon the occasion of the “Football Jubilee Festival” and elsewhere, are still capable, it appears, of upholding the boast of their bard; but times are changed, and as their association players wear “shinguards,” the game is no longer tried out by the shins alone. Other and better bards than Randel Holme have spoken of football. Shakspeare in his “Comedy of Errors,” Act. ii., has: —
Another extract too from “King Lear” (Act. i. Scene 4) shows that “tripping” and “hacking over” were then regular parts of the game.
“Bandy” was originally another name for hockey, and to “bandy” a ball meant to strike it backwards and forwards, which might account for the context.
Lear’s faithful courtier then is made by Shakspeare to understand the art of “tripping,” which seems significant.
This seems to give an absolute proof that the statutory repression of football never was enforced at all, or even recognized except in cases where death or at least a riot resulted from the game. In fact about A.D. 1600 the game must have been played from one end of the kingdom to the other. A more modern writer, however — Moor, writing in 1823 — gives a long description of the game, which evidently had not changed its character for centuries: —
Each party has two goals, ten or fifteen yards apart. The parties, ten or fifteen on a side, stand in line, facing each other at about ten yards’ distance midway between their goals and that of their 6008 adversaries. An indifferent spectator [“indifferent” is the very word used by Carew also] throws up a ball the size of a cricket ball midway between the confronted players and makes his escape. The rush is to catch the falling ball [no doubt the “indifferent” person under the circumstances is no longer indifferent to “making his escape“]. He who first can catch or seize it speeds home, making his way through his opponents and aided by his own sidesmen. If caught and held or rather in danger of being held, for if caught with the ball in possession he loses a snotch, he throws the ball [he must in no case give it] to some less beleaguered friend more free and more in breath than himself, who if it be not arrested in its course or be jostled away by the eager and watchful adversaries, catches it; and he in like manner hastens homeward, in like manner pursued, annoyed and aided, winning the notch or snotch if he contrive to carry or throw it within the goals. At a loss and gain of a snotch a recommencement takes place. When the game is decided by snotches seven or nine are the game, and these if the parties be well matched take two or three hours to win. Sometimes a large football was used; the game was then called “kicking camp”; and if played with the shoes on “savage camp.”
These extracts show that in the original game of Rugby football, the football itself was hardly essential to the game. The original game from which both Rugby and Association football have been developed, as well as hockey and lacrosse, was simply the getting of a ball to or through a goal in spite of the efforts of the opposite side to prevent it. When a small and hard ball was used, kicking was naturally but little good, and either carrying, tossing, or striking it with a stick was found more useful; and hence we observe that this variety of games arises from the same source, which was the same as the Roman game with the harpastum. This consideration also serves, in some measure, to answer the charge which used so frequently to be made against Rugby football in the days of big-sides, that it was not football at all, as there was so little kicking. The game was an old one handed down for centuries, and there is no trace in the original form of it to suggest that nothing but kicking was allowed.
As far as can be gathered from extracts, taken in their chronological order, it appears certain that the triumph of Puritanism considerably reduced the popularity of football. The political ascendancy of this ascetic creed was short, but the hold that it took upon the manners and feelings of the nation not only put a stop in a great measure to Sunday football, but 6009 rendered the game less acceptable upon other days. We have seen that up to the age of the Puritans football was a national sport. From the time of the Restoration and onward for two hundred years or thereabouts, until the athletic revival came in, there was a slow but steady decrease in the popularity of the game as a sport for men, although there is also no doubt that during the period football became a regular and customary school sport. Still, from the slight number of references made to football by eighteenth-century writers, it would appear evident that in that century the game was no longer of national popularity. In London, however, in the reign of Charles II., football still appears to have gone on merrily, and this was only to be expected, for Charles, was, as we have seen, a great patron of athletic sport; indeed, there is a precedent for the royal patronage of football which was seen when the Prince of Wales visited Kennington Oval, in March, 1886. One hundred and ninety-five years before this date Charles II. attended a match which was played between his own servants and those of the Duke of Albemarle. Some years before this too (1665) Pepys tells us that on January 2, there being a great frost, the streets were full of footballs. Modern footballers give up their games in frosty weather for fear of accidents upon the hard ground, but the ’prentice lads who played in the streets were probably doing little more than “punt-about” to keep themselves warm. Even the ’prentices of the period, however, were occupying their leisure hours with more serious pursuits than football, for as a scornful contemporary writes: —
The “Spectator,” while on a visit to Sir Roger de Coverley, visits a country fair, and there sees, besides athletes and cudgel players, a game of football.
I was diverted [he says] from a further observation of these combatants [i.e. the cudgel players] by a football match which was on the other side of the green, where Tom Short behaved himself so well that most people seemed to agree it was impossible that he should remain a bachelor until the next wake. Having played many a match myself, I could have looked longer on the sport had I not observed a country girl.6010
One can hardly fancy the courtly Joseph Addison playing at football, unless he did so when he was a boy at Charterhouse, but he certainly writes as if gentlemen played the game as well as rustics, though unluckily he gives no description of the style of play he saw upon the village green.
Unfortunately also, the great historian of English sports, Joseph Strutt, gives but a short description of the game of football, but from what he says it is evident that at the time he wrote (1801) the game was fast decaying. “Football,” he says, “is so called because the ball is driven about with the feet instead of the hands.” It is not likely, however, that he means that kicking alone was allowed, as his paragraph on football immediately follows that on “hurling,” which he describes in his day as being played with sticks or bats, with which the ball was struck. The following is the only description he gives of the game: —
When a match at football is made an equal number of competitors take the field and stand between two goals placed at a distance of eighty or an hundred yards the one from the other. The goal is usually made with two sticks driven into the ground about two or three feet apart. The ball, which is commonly made of a blown bladder and cased with leather, is delivered in the midst of the ground, and the object of each party is to drive it through the goal of their antagonists, which being achieved the game is won. The abilities of the performers are best displayed in attacking and defending the goals; and hence the pastime was more frequently called a goal at football than a game at football. When the exercise becomes exceeding violent the players kick each other’s shins without the least ceremony, and some of them are overthrown at the hazard of their limbs.
The last sentence shows pretty clearly that Strutt was describing not the dribbling game, but the old hacking and tripping game which in its civilized form is now known as the Rugby Union game. What is perhaps the most significant part of Strutt’s description is that he says “The game was formerly much in vogue among the common people, though of late years it seems to have fallen into disrepute and is but little practiced.” Indeed, the decline in the popularity of the game which Strutt noticed at the opening of this century seems to have gone steadily on for the next fifty years, in England at any rate. Hone, in his “Year Book,” “Every-Day Book.” and 6011 “Table Book” (1838 to 1842), treats of football and football customs more as interesting survivals of past ages than as contemporary pastimes. Although he says nothing of the celebrated Derby and Corfe Castle games, he quotes from Hutchinson’s “History of Cumberland” an account of an annual Shrove Tuesday match at Bromfield. By ancient custom the scholars of a certain school at that place were allowed to “bar out” their master, and after a sham fight a truce was supposed to be concluded whereby the scholars were allowed to have some cock-fighting and a football match.
The football was thrown down in the churchyard and the point then contended was, which party should carry it to the house of his respective captain, to Dundraw perhaps or West Newton, a distance of two or three miles. The details of these matches were the general topics of conversation amongst the villagers, and were dwelt on with hardly less satisfaction than their ancestors enjoyed in relating their feats in the border wars.
A relic of a lay of a local minstrel upon one of these contests is given by the same authority and is decidedly amusing: —
In another place (“Every-Day Book,” vol. i., p. 245) Hone gives a letter written in 1815, describing “Football Day” at Kingston-on-Thames at that date. A traveler journeying to Hampton Court by coach “was not a little amused upon entering Teddington to see all the inhabitants securing the glass of all their front windows from the ground to the roof, some by placing hurdles before them, and some by nailing laths across the frames. At Twickenham, Bushy, and Hampton Wick they were all engaged the same way.” The game is then described as follows: —
At about twelve o’clock the ball is turned loose, and those who can kick it. There were several balls in the town of Kingston, and of course several parties. I observed some persons of respectability following the ball; the game lasts about four hours, when the parties retire to the public houses.
It is obvious from Hone’ extracts, therefore, that football as a national pastime was, in the first half of this century, dying out in England. In Scotland, however, it appears to have been more flourishing. Scott would hardly have written in “The Lay of the Last Minstrel”: —
Luckily, however, though football steadily decreased in popularity throughout the first half of this century, it was rather in a stage of dormancy than of collapse, and was not long in picking up again when in “the fifties” the revival came from the public schools. It is not too much to say that the present football movement can be directly traced to the public schools and to them alone, though, in a great many centers, when the revival came the game was still known not only as a game for boys, but as a pastime for men. In many 6013 corners of England, indeed, the old time-honored game, without rules or limit to the number of players or size of ground, was being carried on, and even is carried on to the present day. The writer cut the following extract from a local paper of 1887: —
J—— B—— has attained notoriety. In pursuance of a custom which has been in vogue for centuries, the tradesmen and countrymen of the little town of Sedgefield, County Durham, held a week or two ago their annual football carnival on the old plan, the players being without limit and the field of play about half a mile long, the goals at one end a pond and at the other end a spring. At one o’clock the sexton put the ball through a bull ring and threw it into the air, and a scrimmage of four hundred persons ensued. After a series of “moving incidents by flood and field” J—— B—— collared the ball and dropped it into the stream, dived for it, and gained the victory for the tradesmen, who carried him shoulder high.
The most celebrated, however, of these time-honored games were those at Derby and Corfe Castle, and both of these deserve some mention before we leave ancient football and turn away to trace the beginnings of modern football in the public schools. The following is the account of the Derby game given by Glover in his “History of Derbyshire,” published in 1829: —
The contest lies between the parishes of St. Peter’s and All Saints, and the goals to which the ball is taken are “Nun’s Mill” for the latter and the Gallows balk on the Normanton road for the former. None of the other parishes in the borough take any direct part in the contest, but the inhabitants of all join In the sport, together with persons from all parts of the adjacent country. The players are young men from eighteen to thirty or upwards, married as well as single, and many veterans who retain a relish for the sport are occasionally seen in the very heat of the conflict. The game commences in the market place, where the partisans of each parish are drawn up on each side, and about noon a large ball is tossed up in the midst of them. This is seized upon by some of the strongest and most active men of each party. The rest of the players immediately close in upon them and a solid mass is formed. It then becomes the object of each party to impel the course of the crowd towards their particular goal. The struggle to obtain the ball, which is carried in the arms of those who have possessed themselves of it, is then violent, and the motion of the human tide heaving to and fro without the least regard to consequences is 6014 tremendous. Broken shins, broken heads, torn coats, and lost hats are amongst the minor accidents of this fearful contest, and it frequently happens that persons fall, owing to the intensity of the pressure, fainting and bleeding beneath the feet of the surrounding mob. But it would be difficult to give an adequate idea of this ruthless sport. A Frenchmen passing through Derby remarked, that if Englishmen called this playing, it would be impossible to say what they would call fighting. Still the crowd is encouraged by respectable persons attached to each party, who take a surprising interest in the result of the day’s sport, urging on the players with shouts, and even handing to those who are exhausted oranges and other refreshment. The object of the St. Peter’s party is to get the ball into the water down the Morledge brook into the Derwent as soon as they can, while the All Saints party endeavor to prevent this and to urge the ball westward. The St. Peter players are considered to be equal to the best water spaniels, and it is certainly curious to see two or three hundred men up to their chins in the Derwent continually ducking each other. The numbers engaged on both sides exceed a thousand, and the streets are crowded with lookers-on. The shops are closed, and the town presents the aspect of a place suddenly taken by storm.
The whole is a good piece of description, and the expression of amusement at respectable persons encouraging the sport is decidedly refreshing. It is very obvious that there could have been no kicking in the Derby game any more than there was in the game at Scone; and this is made clear by another extract from Glover, who says, “A desperate game of football in which the ball is struck with the feet of the players is played at Ashover and other wakes.”
So far we have traced the history of football as it was played by the people at large, and have shown that it had a continued existence for at least six centuries as a recognized manly sport. We have seen also that at the end of the last and beginning of the present century, the game was certainly waning in popularity, and that the writers of the early part of this century are inclined to treat it as a sort of interesting relic of antiquity. To-day, however, football can be fairly described as once again the most popular of all British sports.
* Elf.Ed -- ‘picke him on his nose’ seems to mean ‘pitch him on his nose’, i.e. knock him down, officially called a tackle today.