Football and the English Civil War: A Brief History.
August 11, 2018
The origins of football go way back. The ancient Chinese played a version of the game, and the Greeks and Romans were known to have similar ball games. The sport that developed in Britain was popular from at least medieval times, although authorities often tried to suppress it. Edward II banned it from London because of the: hustling over large balls from which many evils may arise. (Edward II was a tender soul). His son Edward III banned it to keep men practicing archery for his many many wars, as did later medieval monarchs. Henry VIII, with the cognitive dissonance only he could muster, managed to order the first known pair of football boots for himself whilst simultaneously attempting to ban the sport. Even so, football survived played by all classes.
By the Seventeenth Century, football was still a very popular game. Oliver Cromwell, in his dissolute early years at Cambridge University, was described as 'one of the chief matchmakers and players of football,' by the Royalist James Heath. We are left with many snippets and partial descriptions of matches in poems, plays, and letters. They all describe a violent game that is almost unrecogniseable to modern watcher of the sport. However, some things would be familiar. Words like goal to denote the scoring gates and the act of scoring; passing between players was described by the poet Edmund Waller; Squadrons or Squads for the teams. The ball itself was described in the 1660 Book of Sports, as a strong bladder blown up and sewn into a bull's cod (bull's scrotal sack), and the harder the ball is blown, the better it flies.
The Puritans hated football because it was played on Sunday afternoons after church services, which in their opinion violated the sanctity of the Sabbath. James I's Book of Sports simply antagonised the situation by encouraging the playing of the game. James did not push the point, however, his son Charles I was never as flexible or politically astute as his father, and insisted on the Book of Sports being read out from church pulpits. It was just one of the many grievances the radicals had against the King, and meant football was in for a periodic ban when war broke out in 1642.
There is a fictional depiction of a Seventeenth Century football match in This Deceitful Light (Book 2 of the Blandford Candy Histories).
The Blandford Candy series is available from AMAZONfrom Sharpe Books.