The game of football in England has its earliest origins in the middle ages. There are accounts of generic ball games dating back to the 800s, when a group of boys were mentioned “playing at ball” in the Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons). By the 1100s there was a custom of exciting community ball games on Shrove Tuesday – now more commonly known as Pancake Day – at least in London; an account by a government administrator, William FitzStephen, described how “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.” (translation from Latin by Stephen Alsford http://users.trytel.com/…/flo…/introduction/intro01.html)
Join us on Saturday from 1 pm for an afternoon of medieval combat on Waterbeach Recreation Ground (CB25 9NJ). If you wish to have a go, please wear closed-toed shoes, long sleeves, and trousers. You may wish to bring your own cup/box/groin protection if you do not wish to use the one in the group kit. We have loaner kit that will cover the rest of your needs. There is no charge for attending.
We also have a Discord server which you’re welcome to come and check out if you want to talk to us: https://discord.gg/AfucYV5
It’s not clear how much resemblance these early games had to modern football. While an account from the 1200s mentions that the ball was kicked a carving in Gloucester Cathedral appears to show two young men using their hands in a ball game. However, handball was also mentioned as a separate sport in the mid 1300s, suggesting that rules were starting to arise.
The first definite description of a football game comes from the end of the 1400s: a collection of the miracles of Henry VI described “the foot-ball game” in which young men kick a ball along the ground within marked boundaries. There was no referee and there are accounts throughout our period of deaths and serious injuries to players. Most English kings made at least an attempt to ban it because of the violence and upheaval surrounding games!
Despite that, it was an English king that gave us the first record of football boots: in 1526 Henry VIII ordered a pair.
– The oldest surviving football, found in Stirling Castle – 1540 – Smith Art Gallery & Museum, Stirling
[Image description: a ball made from brown leather panels held together with stitches]
– Youths playing ball – 1340 – Gloucester Cathedral (photo by Dominic Strange www.misericords.co.uk CC BY-SA 3.0)
[Image description: a wooden carving showing two people in medieval costume, apparently in the act of running towards each other. Each has one hand raised. There is a ball between them]