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Medieval football is a modern term used for a wide variety of the localised informal football games which were invented and played in Europe during the Middle Ages. Alternative names include folk football, mob football and Shrovetide football. These games may be regarded as the ancestors of modern codes of football, and by comparison with later forms of football, the medieval matches were chaotic and had few rules.
The Middle Ages saw a rise in popularity of games played annually at Shrovetide throughout Europe, particularly in Great Britain. The games played in England at this time may have arrived with the Roman occupation but there is little evidence to indicate this. Certainly the Romans played ball games, in particular Harpastum. There is also one reference to ball games being played in southern Britain prior to the Norman Conquest. In the ninth century Nennius's Historia Brittonum tells that a group of boys were playing at ball (pilae ludus).The origin of this account is either Southern England or Wales. References to a ball game played in northern France known as La Soule or Choule, in which the ball was propelled by hands, feet, and sticks, date from the 12th century.
These archaic forms of football, typically classified as mob football, would be played in towns and villages, involving an unlimited number of players on opposing teams, who would clash in a heaving mass of people struggling to drag an inflated pig's bladder by any means possible to markers at each end of a town. By some accounts, in some such events any means could be used to move the ball towards the goal, as long as it did not lead to manslaughter or murder.Sometimes instead of markers, the teams would attempt to kick the bladder into the balcony of the opponents' church. A legend that these games in England evolved from a more ancient and bloody ritual of "kicking the Dane's head" is unlikely to be true. These antiquated games went into sharp decline in the 19th century when the Highway Act 1835 was passed banning the playing of football on public highways. In spite of this, games continued to be played in some parts of the United Kingdom and still survive in a number of towns, notably the Ba game played at Christmas and New Year at Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands Scotland, Uppies and Downies over Easter at Workington in Cumbria, and the Royal Shrovetide Football Match on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday at Ashbourne in Derbyshire, England.
Few images of medieval football survive. One engraving from the early fourteenth century at Gloucester Cathedral, England, clearly shows two young men running vigorously towards each other with a ball in mid-air between them. There is a hint that the players may be using their hands to strike the ball. A second medieval image in the British Museum, London clearly shows a group of men with a large ball on the ground. The ball clearly has a seam where leather has been sewn together. It is unclear exactly what is happening in this set of three images, although the last image appears to show a man with a broken arm. It is likely that this image highlights the dangers of some medieval football games.
Most of the very early references to the game speak simply of "ball play" or "playing at ball". This reinforces the idea that the games played at the time did not necessarily involve a ball being kicked.
The earliest account of ball games being played in post-classical Europe comes from the 9th-century Historia Brittonum , attributed to the monk Nennius. The text, written in Wales, mentions a group of boys "playing at ball" (pilae ludus).
The earliest reference from France which provides evidence of the playing of ball games (presumably La soule) comes in 1147. This refers to the handing over of "seven balloons of greatest dimension". An early description of ball games that are likely to be football in England was given by William FitzStephen (c. 1174 – 1183). He described the activities of London youths during the annual festival of Shrove Tuesday:
After lunch, all the youth of the city go out into the fields to take part in a ball game. The students of each school have their own ball; the workers from each city craft are also carrying their balls. Older citizens, fathers, and wealthy citizens come on horseback to watch their juniors competing, and to relive their own youth vicariously: you can see their inner passions aroused as they watch the action and get caught up in the fun being had by the carefree adolescents.
The earliest confirmation that such ball games in England involved kicking comes from a verse about Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln. This was probably written in the thirteenth century, being recorded by Matthew Paris, although the precise date is not known: "Four and twenty bonny boys, were playing at the ball.. he kicked the ball with his right foot".
In about 1200 "ball" is mentioned as one of the games played by King Arthur's knights in "Brut", written by Layamon, an English poet from Worcestershire.This is the earliest reference to the English language "ball". Layamon states: "some drive balls (balles) far over the fields". Records from 1280 report on a game at Ulgham, near Ashington in Northumberland, in which a player was killed as a result of running against an opposing player's dagger. This account is noteworthy because it is the earliest reference to an English ball game that definitely involved kicking; this suggests that kicking was involved in even earlier ball games in England. In Cornwall in 1283 plea rolls No. 111. mention a man named Roger who was accused of striking a fellow player in a game of soule with a stone, a blow which proved fatal.
The earliest reference to ball games being played by university students comes in 1303 when "Thomas of Salisbury, a student of Oxford University, found his brother Adam dead, and it was alleged that he was killed by Irish students, whilst playing the ball in the High Street towards Eastgate".
In 1314, comes the earliest reference to a game called football when Nicholas de Farndone, Lord Mayor of the City of London issued a decree on behalf of King Edward II banning football. It was written in the French used by the English upper classes at the time. A translation reads: "[f]orasmuch as there is great noise in the city caused by hustling over large foot balls [rageries de grosses pelotes de pee] in the fields of the public from which many evils might arise which God forbid: we command and forbid on behalf of the king, on pain of imprisonment, such game to be used in the city in the future."
Another early account of kicking ball games from England comes in a 1321 dispensation, granted by Pope John XXII to William de Spalding of Shouldham: "To William de Spalding, canon of Scoldham of the order of Sempringham. During the game at ball as he kicked the ball, a lay friend of his, also called William, ran against him and wounded himself on a sheathed knife carried by the canon, so severely that he died within six days. Dispensation is granted, as no blame is attached to William de Spalding, who, feeling deeply the death of his friend, and fearing what might be said by his enemies, has applied to the pope."
Banning of ball games began in France in 1331 by Philip VI, presumably the ball game known as La soule.[ citation needed ]
In the mid-fourteenth century a misericord at Gloucester cathedral, England shows two young men playing a ball game. It looks as though they are using their hands for the game; however, kicking certainly cannot be excluded. Most other medieval images of ball games in England show large balls. This picture clearly shows that small balls were also used.
King Edward III of England also issued such a declaration, in 1363: "[m]oreover we ordain that you prohibit under penalty of imprisonment all and sundry from such stone, wood and iron throwing; handball, football, or hockey; coursing and cock-fighting, or other such idle games". At this time football was already being differentiated in England from handball, which suggests the evolution of basic rules. Between 1314 and 1667, football was officially banned in England alone by more than 30 royal and local laws. (See the article Attempts to ban football games for more details.)
Likewise Geoffrey Chaucer offered an allusion to the manner in which contemporary ball games may have been played in fourteenth-century England. In the Canterbury Tales (written some time after 1380) he uses the following line: "rolleth under foot as doth a ball".
English Theologian John Wycliffe (1320–1384) referred to football in one of his sermons: "and now þei clouten þer shone wiþ censuris, as who shulde chulle a foot-balle"It may be the earliest use of the word football in English.
That football was known at the turn of the century in Western England comes from about 1400 when the West Midland Laud Troy War Book states in English: "Hedes reled aboute overal As men playe at the fote-ball"
Two references to football games come from Sussex in 1403 and 1404 at Selmeston and Chidham as part of baptisms. On each occasion one of the players broke his leg
King Henry IV of England provides an early documented use of the English word "football" when in 1409 he issued a proclamation forbidding the levying of money for "foteball".
On 4 March 1409, eight men were compelled to give a bond of £20 to the London city chamberlain for their good behaviour towards "the kind and good men of the mystery of Cordwainers", undertaking not to collect money for a football (pro pila pedali).
In 1410, King Henry IV of England found it necessary to impose a fine of 20S on mayors and bailiffs in towns where misdemeanours such as football occurred. This confirms that football was not confined to London.
The Accounts of the Worshipful Company of Brewers between 1421 and 1423 concerning the hiring out of their hall include reference to "by the "footeballepleyers" twice... 20 pence" listed in English under the title "crafts and fraternities".This reference suggests that bans against football were unsuccessful and the listing of football players as a "fraternity" is the earliest allusion to what might be considered a football club.
The earliest reference to football or kicking ball games in Scotland was in 1424 when King James I of Scotland also attempted to ban the playing of "fute-ball".
In 1425 the prior of Bicester, England, made a payment on St Katherine's day "to sundry gifts to football players (ludentibus ad pilam pedalem)" of 4 denarii. At this time the prior was willing to give his patronage to the game despite its being outlawed.
In about 1430 Thomas Lydgate refers to the form of football played in East Anglia known as Camp Ball: "Bolseryd out of length and bread, lyck a large campynge balle"
In 1440 the game of Camp Ball was confirmed to be a form of football when the first ever English-Latin dictionary, Promptorium parvulorum offers the following definition of camp ball: "Campan, or playar at foott balle, pediluson; campyon, or champion".
In 1472 the rector of Swaffham, Norfolk bequeathed a field adjoining the church yard for use as a "camping-close" or "camping-pightel" specifically for the playing of the East Anglian version of football known as Camp Ball.
In 1486 comes the earliest description of "a football", in the sense of a ball rather than a game.This reference is in Dame Juliana Berners' Book of St Albans . It states: "a certain rounde instrument to play with ...it is an instrument for the foote and then it is calde in Latyn 'pila pedalis', a fotebal." It was considered socially acceptable for a football to be included in medieval English Heraldry.
There is an account from 11 April 1497 of a sum of money "giffen [given] to Jame Dog [James Doig] to b[u]y fut ballis to the King".. It is not known if he himself played with them.
The earliest and perhaps most important description of a football game comes from the end of the 15th century in a Latin account of a football game with features of modern soccer. It was played at Cawston, Nottinghamshire, England. It is included in a manuscript collection of the miracles of King Henry VI of England. Although the precise date is uncertain it certainly comes from between 1481 and 1500. This is the first account of an exclusively "kicking game" and the first description of dribbling: "[t]he game at which they had met for common recreation is called by some the foot-ball game. It is one in which young men, in country sport, propel a huge ball not by throwing it into the air but by striking it and rolling it along the ground, and that not with their hands but with their feet... kicking in opposite directions" The chronicler gives the earliest reference to a football field, stating that: "[t]he boundaries have been marked and the game had started.Nevertheless the game was still rough, as the account confirms: "a game, I say, abominable enough . . . and rarely ending but with some loss, accident, or disadvantage of the players themselves."
Medieval sport had no referee.
In 1510 comes the next description of early football by Alexander Barclay, a resident of the South East of England:
They get the bladder and blowe it great and thin, with many beanes and peason put within, It ratleth, shineth and soundeth clere and fayre, While it is throwen and caste up in the eyre, Eche one contendeth and hath a great delite, with foote and hande the bladder for to smite, if it fall to the ground they lifte it up again... Overcometh the winter with driving the foote-ball.
The first record of a pair of football boots occurs when Henry VIII of England ordered a pair from the Great Wardrobe in 1526. The royal shopping list for footwear states: "45 velvet pairs and 1 leather pair for football".Unfortunately these are no longer in existence. It is not known for certain whether the king himself played the game, but if so this is noteworthy as his son Edward VI later banned the game in 1548 because it incited riots.
The reputation of football as a violent game persists throughout most accounts from 16th-century England. In 1531, Sir Thomas Elyot noted in his Boke named The Governour the dangers of football, as well as the benefits of archery ("shooting"):
Some men wolde say, that in mediocritie, whiche I haue so moche praised in shootynge, why shulde nat boulynge, claisshe, pynnes, and koytyng be as moche commended? Verily as for two the laste, be to be utterly abiected of al noble men, in like wise foote balle, wherin is nothinge but beastly furie and extreme violence; wherof procedeth hurte, and consequently rancour and malice do remaine with them that be wounded; wherfore it is to be put in perpetuall silence. In class she is emploied to litle strength; in boulyng oftentimes to moche; wherby the sinewes be to moche strayned, and the vaines to moche chafed. Wherof often tymes is sene to ensue ache, or the decreas of strength or agilitie in the armes: where, in shotyng, if the shooter use the strength of his bowe within his owne tiller, he shal neuer be therwith grieued or made more feble.
Although many sixteenth-century references to football are disapproving or dwell upon their dangers there are two notable departures from this view. First, Sir Thomas Elyot (although previously a critic of the game) advocates "footeball" as part of what he calls vehement exercise in his Castell of Helth published in 1534.Secondly English headmaster Richard Mulcaster provides in his 1581 publication the earliest evidence of organised, refereed football for small teams playing in formation.
The first reference to football in Ireland occurs in the Statute of Galway of 1527, which allowed the playing of football and archery but banned " 'hokie' — the hurling of a little ball with sticks or staves" as well as other sports. (The earliest recorded football match in Ireland was one between Louth and Meath, at Slane, in 1712.)
The oldest surviving ball that might have been used for football games dates to about 1540 and comes from Scotland. It is made from leather and a pig's bladder. It was discovered in 1981 in the roof structure of the Queen's Chamber, Stirling Castle. Whilst other uses for the ball, such as pallone, have been suggested, most notably by the National Museum of Scotland, due to its size (diameter 14–16 cm ), staff at the Stirling Smith Museum and researchers at the Scottish Football Museum have attributed its use to football, citing the description of the ball used in the Carlisle Castle game of 1568.
The violence of early football in Scotland is made clear in this sixteenth-century poem on the "beauties of football":
Bruised muscles and broken bones
Discordant strife and futile blows
Lamed in old age, then cripled withal
These are the beauties of football— Anonymous, translated from old Scots
The earliest specific reference to football (pila pedalis) at a university comes in 1555 when it was outlawed at St John's College, Oxford. Similar decrees followed shortly after at other Oxford Colleges and at Cambridge University.
Another reference occurred in 1555, when Antonio Scaino published his treatise Del Giuoco della Palla (On the Game of the Ball). It was mostly concerned with a medieval predecessor of tennis, but near the end, Scaino included a chapter titled, "Del Giuoco del Calcio" ("On the Game of Football"), for comparison. According to Scaino, the game was popular with students. It could be played with any number of players. The only rules seem to be that weapons could not be brought onto the field, and the ball could not be thrown by hand. The goal was for each team to try to cross the ball across a marked space at the opposite end of the field. To start, the ball was placed in the middle of the field and kicked by a member of the team that was chosen by lots. Scaino remarks that its chief entertainment for the spectators was to see "the players fall in great disarray & upside down."
In 1568 Sir Francis Knollys described a football game played at Carlisle Castle, Cumbria, England by the retinue of Mary Queen of Scots: "20 of her retinue played at football before her for two hours very strongly, nimbly, and skilfully". According to contemporary sources and detailed publications Mary's retinue was predominantly Scottish, made up primarily by nobles who had followed her south in the aftermath of the Battle of Langside.
The first official rules of Calcio Fiorentino (Florentine kick) were recorded in 1580, although the game had been developing around Florence for some time before that date. The game involved teams of 27 kicking and carrying a ball in a giant sandpit set up in the Piazza Santa Croce in the centre of Florence, both teams aiming for their designated point on the perimeter of the sandpit.
In 1586, men from a ship commanded by English explorer John Davis, went ashore to play a form of football with Inuit (Eskimo) people in Greenland.
In Wales, the game of cnapan was described at length by George Owen of Henllys, an eccentric historian of Pembrokeshire, in 1603:
"This game... is thought to be of great antiquity and is as followeth. The ancient Britons being naturally a warlike nation did no doubt for the exercise of their youth in time of peace and to avoid idleness devise games of activity where each man might show his natural prowess and agility...... About one or two of the clock afternoon begins the play, in this sort, after a cry made both parties draw to into some plain, all first stripped bare saving a light pair of breeches, bare-headed, bare-bodied, bare legs and feet....The foot company thus meeting, there is a round ball prepared of a reasonable quantity so as a man may hold it in his hand and no more, this ball is of some massy wood as box, yew, crab or holly tree and should be boiled in tallow for m make it slippery and hard to hold. This ball is called cnapan and is by one of the company hurling bolt upright into the air, and at the fall he that catches it hurls it towards the country he plays for, for goal or appointed place there is none neither needs any, for the play is not given over until the cnapan be so far carried that there is no hope to return it back that night, for the carrying of it a mile or two miles from the first place is no losing of the honour so it be still followed by the company and the play still maintained, it is oftentimes seen the chase to follow two miles and more..."
The earliest account of a ball game that involves passing of the ball comes from Richard Carew's 1602 account of Cornish Hurling which states "Then must he cast the ball (named Dealing) to some one of his fellowes".Carew also offers the earliest description of a goal (they pitch two bushes in the ground, some eight or ten foote asunder; and directly against them, ten or twelue score off, other twayne in like distance, which they terme their Goales") and of goal keepers ("There is assigned for their gard, a couple of their best stopping Hurlers").
The first direct reference to scoring a goal is in John Day's play The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green (performed circa 1600; published 1659): "I'll play a gole at camp-ball" (an extremely violent variety of football, which was popular in East Anglia).Similarly in a poem in 1613, Michael Drayton refers to "when the Ball to throw, And drive it to the Gole, in squadrons forth they goe". In 1615 James I of England visited Wiltshire and the villagers "entertained his Majesty with a foot-ball match"
Oliver Cromwell who left Cambridge University in 1617 was described by James Heath as "one of the chief matchmakers and players of football" during his time at the university.
In 1623 Edmund Waller refers in one of his poems to "football" and alludes to teamwork and passing the ball: "They ply their feet, and still the restless ball, Toss'd to and fro, is urged by them all".In 1650 Richard Baxer gives an interesting description of football in his book Everlasting Rest: "Alas, that I must stand by and see the Church, and Cause of Christ, like a Football in the midst of a crowd of Boys, tost about in contention from one to another.... and may drive it before him. ... But to be spurned about in the dirt, till they have driven it on to the goal of their private interests". This is noteworthy as it confirms that passing of the ball from one player to another was part of football games.
The first study of football as part of early sports is given in Francis Willughby's Book of Games, written in about 1660. This account is particularly noteworthy as he refers to football by its correct name in English and is the first to describe the following: modern goals and a pitch ("a close that has a gate at either end. The gates are called Goals"), tactics ("leaving some of their best players to guard the goal"), scoring ("they that can strike the ball through their opponents' goal first win") and the way teams were selected ("the players being equally divided according to their strength and nimbleness"). He is the first to describe a law of football: "They often break one another's shins when two meet and strike both together against the ball, and therefore there is a law that they must not strike higher than the ball". His account of the ball itself is also informative: "They blow a strong bladder and tie the neck of it as fast as they can, and then put it into the skin of a bull's cod and sew it fast in". He adds: "The harder the ball is blown, the better it flies. They used to put quicksilver into it sometimes to keep it from lying still". His book includes the first (basic) diagram illustrating a football pitch.
In the early 19th century the two areas in England with most reported football activity were in the towns of Kingston upon Thames and Derby and their surrounding areas. Shrovetide football was banned in Derby in 1846although is still played in nearby Ashbourne, and was last played in Kingston in 1866 when it was also outlawed by the local authorities.
In Scotland the Ba' game ("Ball Game") can be found at:
Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, observed in many Christian countries through participating in confession and absolution, the ritual burning of the previous year's Holy Week palms, finalizing one's Lenten sacrifice, as well as eating pancakes and other sweets.
The Royal Shrovetide Football Match is a "Medieval football" game played annually on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday in the town of Ashbourne in Derbyshire, England. Shrovetide ball games have been played in England since at least the 12th century from the reign of Henry II (1154–89). The Ashbourne game also known as "hugball" has been played from at least c.1667 although the exact origins of the game are unknown due to a fire at the Royal Shrovetide Committee office in the 1890s which destroyed the earliest records. One of the most popular origin theories suggests the macabre notion that the 'ball' was originally a severed head tossed into the waiting crowd following an execution. Although this may have happened, it is more likely that games such as the Winchelsea Streete Game, reputedly played during the Hundred Years' War with France, were adaptations of an original ball game intended to show contempt for the enemy.
Hurling is an outdoor team game played only in Cornwall, United Kingdom. It is played with a small silver ball. The sport is not to be confused with the Irish game, also called hurling; the two sports are fundamentally different in equipment and game-play.
La soule, later choule or sioule, is a traditional team sport that originated in Normandy and Picardy. The ball, called a soule, could be solid or hollow and made of either wood or leather. Leather balls would be filled with hay, bran, horse hair or moss. Sometimes the balls had woolen pompons.
Scoring the Hales is the name of a large scale shrovetide football match played yearly in Alnwick, Northumberland. Once a street contest, it has now moved to a field named The Pastures across the River Aln from Alnwick Castle.
Shrovetide, also known as the Pre-Lenten Season or Forelent, is the Christian period of preparation before the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent.
Cnapan is a Welsh form of Celtic medieval football. The game originated in, and seems to have remained largely confined to, the western counties of Wales, especially Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. According to George Owen of Henllys, in his Description of Pembrokeshire (1603), cnapan had been "extremely popular in Pembrokeshire since greate antiquitie [sic]". Cnapan was one of the traditional ball games played to celebrate Shrovetide and Eastertide in the British Isles. These games were the forerunners of the codified football games first developed by Public Schools which led to the creation of Association football and rugby football in the 19th century. Cnapan continued to be played until the rising popularity of Rugby Union Football resulted in the game falling into decline.
The Sedgefield Ball Game is a mob football game played every Shrove Tuesday across the town of Sedgefield in County Durham, England.
The following are events in the 1840s decade which are relevant to the development of association football. All events happened in English football unless specified otherwise.
There have been many attempts to ban football, from the middle ages through to the modern day. The first such law was passed in England in 1314; it was followed by more than 30 in England alone between 1314 and 1667. Football faced armed opposition in the 18th Century when used as a cover for violent protest against the enclosure act. Women were banned from playing at English and Scottish Football League grounds in 1921, a ban that was only lifted in the 1970s. Female footballers still face similar problems in some parts of the world.
During the early modern era pupils, former pupils and teachers at English public schools developed and wrote down the first codes of football, most notably the Eton College (1815) and Aldenham school (1825) football rules. The best-known of these is rugby football (1845). British public schools football also directly influenced the rules of Association football.
Caid are various ancient and traditional Irish football games. "Caid" is now used by people in some parts of Ireland to refer to modern Gaelic football.
Nickanan Night is a Cornish feast, traditionally held during Shrovetide, specifically on the Monday before Lent.
Passing the ball is a key part of association football. The purpose of passing is to keep possession of the ball by maneuvering it on the ground between different players with the objective of advancing it up the playing field.
By 1600, rural folk in Great Britain had begun to play early versions of cricket, football and golf. Early in the 16th century, English public houses were showing interest in bowls and real tennis, as well as dice and cards, all of which the government tried to eliminate forcefully. According to Derek Birley, it was late in the 16th century that "licensing began to replace prohibition ... a public house might be licensed to allow men of substance to engage in dice, cards, tables, bowls, and tennis on condition that there was no blaspheming or swearing, and no play before noon on working days or during hours of religious worship on Sundays".
Sports became increasingly popular in England and Ireland through the 17th century and there are several references to cricket and horse racing, while bare-knuckle boxing was revived. The interest of gamblers in these sports gave rise to professionalism. The first known attempts to organise football took place in Ireland.
Football is a family of team sports that involve, to varying degrees, kicking a ball to score a goal. Unqualified, the word football normally means the form of football that is the most popular where the word is used. Sports commonly called football include association football ; gridiron football ; Australian rules football; rugby football ; and Gaelic football. These various forms of football share to varying extent common origins and are known as football codes.
The Atherstone Ball Game is a "Medieval football" game played annually on Shrove Tuesday in the English town of Atherstone, Warwickshire. The game honours a match played between Leicestershire and Warwickshire in 1199, when teams used a bag of gold as a ball, and which was won by Warwickshire. At one time similar events were held in many towns throughout England, but Atherstone's is now one of at last three such games that are still played each year at Shrovetide, the others being the Royal Shrovetide Football match held in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, and The Alnwick Shrovetide Football Match in Alnwick, Northumberland.
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