This past Sunday, like millions of other people, I watched the Superbowl. Ordinarily I am not inclined to watch sports, but we were visiting my in-laws and they wanted to watch the game and I certainly didn’t mind. It could not have been a more exciting game. I had a stake in it, considering that the Baltimore Ravens are practically on our doorstep.
I got to wondering….Did they play “football” (meaning soccer and rugby or any ball games played on a field) in the Regency? The only Regency competitive sports I’ve ever read about were boxing, horse racing or carriage racing, but not team sports. Still, it stood to reason that team sports were played, at least in schools and at village fairs. After all, there is a famous quote that Wellington never said: The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.
Games using a ball and involving kicking have been around since ancient times and have existed in diverse cultures. In Medieval times games were played on Shrovetide, Easter or Christmas and often consisted on one mob of fellows from one village playing against a mob from another. The ball might have been an inflated animal bladder and the point of a game to bring it to one end of the field.
Between 1300 and 1600 games of football were banned in several parts of the British Isles. In 1349 Edward III banned games of football because it distracted men from practicing archery (and being prepared for war). In 1608 football was banned in Manchester because it created “greate disorder in our towne of Manchester…and glasse windowes broken yearlye and spoyled by a companie of lewd and disordered persons….” Sounds like some things don’t change much!
Except for holidays, the average man had no leisure time to play sports so the places where football flourished were the English public (meaning private) schools, like Eton, Winchester and Rugby. The English public schools were the first to codify football games, although the rules were often different with each school.
The first known sets of rules were those of Eton in 1815 (the year of the battle of Waterloo). And THAT did happen during the Regency!
Did you watch the game? What did you think of it?
Do you root for a favorite team?
Do you know anything more about team sports during the Regency?
Today’s post is in honor of tomorrow’s final of the 2006 World Cup! Now, I confess I’m not very “sporty”–I never could get into baseball, football, or basketball. But there ARE sports I enjoy, like tennis and ice skating, and, especially, soccer. This is not an easy sport to be a fan of in the US (unlike the rest of the world!), and I have only been able to catch a few games of the World Cup, thanks to kind friends with satellite TV. But tomorrow’s final is actually on network television, yay! France vs. Italy, or the hunky Zinedine Zidane (who I have a bit of a crush on) vs. the hunky Fabio Cannarvo. Who to cheer for???
So, I did a little looking into the history of soccer/football, and here are just a few of the factoids I discovered:
–A game involving kicking a ball into a net is known to have been around as early as the Han Dynasty in China (2nd or 3rd century BC); they also played a similar game in Kyoto, Japan around 611 AD
–The Greeks and Romans were also ardent footballers. In Rome in the early Olympics, there were up to 27 players on a team, and 2/3rds of them had to seek medical attention after a 50-minute game
–In Britain (today probably the epicenter of foottball!) in the 8th century, the tale of the first game in England involves the severed head of a defeated Danish prince
–In 1331, Edward III passed laws banning football (booo!)
–James I of Scotland in 1424 proclaimed “That na man play at the Fute-ball” (boooo to him, too!)
–Elizabeth I declared that soccer players should be “jailed for a week and obliged to do penance in church” ( would really really like to know what was going on in those Elizabethan matches)
–In 1815, Eton established a set of rules for the game that other schools and universities soon began to use. These were later standardised and a version known as the Cambridge Rules were adopted in 1848
–There soon sprang up two camps: the Rugby School, with rules allowing tripping, shin-kicking, and carrying the ball vs. the Cambridge Rules boys. On October 26, 1863, 11 clubs and schools sent representatives to a meeting at the Freemason’s Tavern to establish a single set of rules to which everyone could agree. (This created the Football Association). But, predictably, the Rugby School advocates walked out (no doubt after kicking some shins), and on December 8 the Football Association and Rugby Football split.
–In 1869, the provision to forbid any handling of the ball was passed, and the soccer/football we know now came into being
So, best of luck to all the players tomorrow! Vive la France, or Viva Italia. Whichever. 🙂