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Football Begins

Another trip back in time to 14th century England, the time period where the soccer kind of football began.

I was just reading an account by the Bishop of Winchester that described the game of football (as then played) as,

abominable… more common, undignified and worthless than any other game, rarely ending but with some loss, accident or disadvantage to the players themselves.

Sounds like it should be on TV, a shame it evolved to be only marginally less boring than televised checkers. At any rate, football, even today, is one of the most dangerous sports, owing to the general lack of protective equipment for the players and the general lack of reasonable drinking of alcohol by the fans. It was even more so back several hundred years, for much of the 14th century, the only law regarding football was the one banning it.

Generally, the way a game would begin (Shove Thursday was a popular day it seems) would involve the two captains meeting to determine how many people would play. It might be 12 a side, or it might be 400, any number was acceptable as long as it was agreed upon (and assuming large quantities of strong ale were consumed, counting may take place more in theory than actuality).

Once they had the number of people, the size of the field of play would need defining. Closely tied to the number of participants, it might be a few hundred feet between the two goals at each end or it might be miles. Even the balls were a random assortment being made from leather or even the bladders of animals filled with dried peas or hay.

The rules of play would also vary, in all ways except the fact that there were really no rules at all. In fact, the game was not dissimilar to warfare without weapons. When people are seen to be rolling on the ground in pain, it’s is very unlikely that they are feigning injury to get a penalty awarded, they probably have serious internal injuries. Edward III of England banned it in the entire kingdom in 1331 and again in 1363, citing the issues of “distracting from archery practice” among other things like “destruction of crops and widespread injuries and deaths”.

Not that he was likely to be worried about the well-being of the common-folk, but his income was directly related to his kingdoms income, so a wheat field trampled in Essex or maybe even a few wheat farmers, directly impacted his exchequer, tax farming not withstanding. Today some nanny staters decry public sporting events as causes for overindulgence and even incitements to riot, and so are a threat to the ill defined “public well-being”. 600 years ago, they were in fact riots themselves.

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