History

Old School Football

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Soccer, rugby, and American football have a common ancestor: a medieval free-for-all that historians call "mob football." According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, the game was notable for "having an unlimited number of players and fairly vague rules. By some accounts, any means could be used to move the ball to a goal, as long as it did not lead to manslaughter or murder." With admirable efficiency, players combined the soccer match and the soccer riot in a single activity.

So as you sink into the couch tomorrow to watch a game, some ads, and a lame halftime show, spare a thought for the days when sports didn't mean spectatorship, and villagers had to either participate or hide:

It was explicitly violent and played between villages, at the time of celebration and festivity. In fact, it was so violent that people living nearby would barricade their windows during matches.

That quote comes from expertfootball.com, which also informs us that the authorities often attempted to suppress the sport: 

On April 13, 1314 King Edward II issued one of the first recorded prohibitions, because of the impact that "this hustling over large balls" had on the merchant life. Edward III also tried to stop "futeball" in 1349, followed by Richard II, Henry IV, Henry VI and James III. The game was frowned upon by the bourgeoisie due to its unchristian [sic] nature and its lack of regulations.

By the 17th century, Carew of Cornwall attempted to introduce some sense in his Survey of Cornwall by adding the prohibition of charging players below the girdle and by disallowing the forward pass. These implementations, however, were not widely used and violence continued to [be] relished.

Fight the power. Pass the ball.

Update: The game is still played annually in Ashbourne, England. Here's some footage:

NEXT: "For us, the Holocaust survivors, our moral obligation is to legalize it."

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  1. If soccer and football are really coming from the same roots, what about liberal and libertarian?

    http://bostonreview.net/BRwebonly/cohen2.php

    In his book Political Liberalism, John Rawls offers a general description of a liberal political outlook. He intends the description to cover views ranging from the classical liberalism of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, arguably in the tradition of Locke and Adam Smith, to the more egalitarian liberalism of his own Theory of Justice. Rawls writes, “the content of a liberal political conception of justice is given by three main features:

    1. a specification of basic rights, liberties and opportunities (of a kind familiar from constitutional democratic regimes);

    2. an assignment of special priority to those rights, liberties and opportunities, especially with respect of claims of the general good and perfectionist values; and

    3. measures assuring to all citizens adequate all-purpose means to make effective use of their liberties and opportunities.

    These [three] elements can be understood in different ways, so that there are many variant liberalisms.”

    Aren’t these just the typically vacuous abstractions that only a philosopher could love? No. Quite to the contrary, Rawls here identifies the common ground shared by classical and egalitarian liberals. And, I think, the common ground occupied by the participants in this discussion.

    The abstract description of shared ground is located at the level of principle, not policy, but it is not vacuous at all, and in two important ways….

  2. Also check out the french inter-village/parish game, La Soule which spread from the Norse settled areas, and may have developed from the viking game, Knattleikr.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Soule

    Bonus rugby/anti-liberal factoid: Germany used to be pretty good at rugby union, and actually beat France twice in the interwar period. It was however suppressed by the Nazis.

  3. http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/21082007/3/place-rugby-sports-crazy-germany.html

    No place for rugby in sports-crazy Germany

    Tue 21 Aug, 07:49 AM

    BERLIN (AFP) – In sports-mad Germany, next month’s Rugby World Cup will pass without barely a mention, despite the fact that the sport was once popular here until it was decimated by World War II.

    There are 99 rugby clubs and about 10,000 die-hard players in Germany, but football dwarfs it in every way.

    “People forget, however, that the first rugby club in Germany was founded in 1872 and the German Rugby Federation was set up in 1900,” said Claus-Peter Bach, the federation’s current president.

    “Germany was even Olympic silver medallist in rugby in 1900 and beat France twice in the 1930s. But that all belongs to a different era.”

    While the ‘Mannschaft’ is a world power in football, its poor relation in rugby is ranked just 14th in Europe and plays against opponents such as Moldova, Ukraine and Belgium.

    “The Nazis are responsible for the demise. Most of the players were killed in World War II and for a long time, too little was done to bring the level back up,” Bach said.

    The Nazis barely tolerated rugby. “It was too English a sport for the regime,” Bach said.

    As a result it lost its financial support and much of the popularity it had gained in the western and northern cities of Heidelberg, Hanover and Frankfurt.

    Rugby has found a small but dedicated following today in several university cities, but the level of play is decidedly low.

    Pierre Broncan, who coaches French second division club Auch, played for the German national side from 2001 to 2005 after qualifying by virtue of his German mother.

    “At that time, the German federation wanted to improve its chances on the international scene and so was going around asking French and South African with German ancestry to play,” he said.

    Broncan said a handful of training camps and matches, including a mass brawl during one of his first matches for Germany in Ukraine, revealed to him how low standards had fallen.

    “The problem is the training of teachers and club coaches. It means that a lot of youngsters give up the sport,” Broncan said.

    Claus-Peter Bach recognises the problems, but insisted the federation was looking to the future with hope.

    “We need better coaches and we are expecting a lot from seminars that we are intending to organise with the French and the Welsh with the help of the International Rugby Board.”

    While German players occasionally break through into French or English clubs, such as Robert Mohr at La Rochelle or Sacha Fischer at Perigueux, most stay at home and thus miss out on the chance of improving their skills and knowledge.

    “The problem is that they have no reason to go abroad in the way that Georgians and Romanians do. There is enough money in Germany,” Broncan said.

    Deprived of the media exposure dominated by football and handball, which is riding a wave of popularity since Germany won the world championship this year, rugby looks set to continue its decline.

    “Qualification for the 2015 World Cup is not out of the question,” Bach insists.

    Pierre Broncan is not so sure. “It will be hard, very hard. It was hard enough in 1987 in the first World Cup, but with the professionalism of the game now…

    “There’s some top talent and a passion which rivals that of the southwest of France. But there are so many holes.”

  4. While the ‘Mannschaft’ is a world power in football

    lawl

  5. I’ve seen Braveheart. I don’t think King Edward II would have much of a problem with men “hustling over large balls.”

  6. As another weekend passes without a weekend political thread, I am once again forced to go off topic on a post. Because politics doesn’t stop while Reason writers enjoy the Super Bowl weekend.

    An administration official said Mr. Daschle’s failure to pay the taxes was “a stupid mistake.” But, the official said, Mr. Daschle should not be penalized because he had discovered the tax liability himself, paid up and brought it to the committee’s attention.

    The committee report said, “Senator Daschle filed the amended returns voluntarily after Barack Obama announced his intention to nominate the senator to be the secretary of health and human services.” [italics added by a cynic]

    Change we can believe in!

  7. It was explicitly violent and played between villages, at the time of celebration and festivity.

    Sounds like the origins of lacrosse.

    When “tribalism” meant something.

  8. More “stupid mistakes”.

    If Daschle, and our new Secretary of the Treasury (and head of the Internal Revenue Service) are “too stupid” to pay their taxes, why aren’t they “too stupid” to be appointed to high government offices?

    Any guesses?

  9. “The claim also exists that it was first played with the severed head of a Danish ruler of England who had been deposed.”

    I now have far more respect for the origins of football. Let us get football back to its roots!

  10. forgive my ignorance, but i thought the game described in the article was basically the same thing as modern rugby.

  11. Would somebody please give Neu Mejican a wedgie?

  12. On April 13, 1314 King Edward II issued one of the first recorded prohibitions, because of the impact that “this hustling over large balls” had on the merchant life

    The start of a love-hate relationship that haunts the Republican Party to this very day.

    also, obligatory

  13. J sub D,

    Wait…wait…wait…nope.

    Still don’t give a shit about people screwing up their taxes, then making back payments.

    Sorry. Maybe the next one…but probably not.

  14. THE GAME FELL OUT OF FAVOR THANKS TO THE HANSENS.

  15. joe,

    Why do you need others to do your wedgie work for you?

    Football…boring…so boring…

    Who is betting on Penn for tonight?

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/sports_blog/2009/01/vegas-odds-on-p.html

  16. so he can operate the video camera Neu, duh.

    I don’t see BJ winning, but since it’s my two of current favorites going up against each other, hopefully it’ll live up to the hype.

    We could have Dennis Hallman be the guest judge, having three of Hughes’s conquerers present 🙂

  17. forgive my ignorance, but i thought the game described in the article was basically the same thing as modern rugby.

    It begat rugby, which begat soccer and American football.

  18. I assume Jesse Walker meant that WP is “ever-reliable” in the sarcastic sense. If so, one wonders why he would then give WP a good link, one that will increase the chance that the linked page will rank for “mob football”.

    I note, for instance, that en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reason_Magazine has a nofollow tag on the link to this site, meaning that Walker is giving them a good link and they aren’t returning the favor.

    I could probably spend the next year pointing out problems with WP, but for a quick example here’s my discussion of their Valerie Jarrett entry.

  19. “Mob football” sounds a lot like what we used to play in grade school, usually referred to as “Smear the queer”. Sort of like tag, with a football, and almost no rules. A good game for generally aggressive young males to play during limited time breaks. The more players, the better, and tackling/dog piles were encouraged.

    I remember once seeing a film in school about this crazy football-like game in the UK called rugby, which energized all us Smear the queer playing boys. After trying it a few times, we reverted back to smear the queer, as rugby still had too many rules.

  20. ‘On April 13, 1314 King Edward II issued one of the first recorded prohibitions, Edward III also tried to stop “futeball” in 1349, followed by Richard II, Henry IV, Henry VI and James III’

    This is strange – if this is meant to be a list of *English* kings, who is James III? Are we Jacobites here? Did an exiled Jacobite king issue a prohibition a football? If so, no wonder his people didn’t invite him back!

  21. Lonewacko your jihad against wikipedia is even more quixotic than your one against Mexico. And both are beat by your fatwa against Tim Berners-Lee in your quest for Hiyakawan purity in object oriented programing.

  22. Since James III inspired two Jacobite revolts in Scotland, one of which he went to in person, I’m guessing he at least never issued a ban on *golf.* Or on haggis, either.

  23. Max: The game wasn’t limited to England. Or even the British Isles. One of the pictures in the post is from Russia.

  24. …though considering the number of typos on that page, the author might have meant James II.

  25. Jesse,

    If it was James II who tried to ban football, maybe we need to re-examine the causes of King Jamess’ overthrow in 1688.

  26. And both are beat by your fatwa against Tim Berners-Lee in your quest for Hiyakawan purity in object oriented programing

    Whaaaa???

    “Mob football” sounds a lot like what we used to play in grade school, usually referred to as “Smear the queer”.

    Oh shit I remember that. Fun.

  27. The *other* kings on the list were kings of England. Of what other kingdom was James III king? There was a James III of Scotland, a James III of Cyprus . . . anyone else?

  28. Whaaaa???

    If it helps at all, I think he meant “Hayakawan”, not “Hiyakawan”.

  29. Smear the queer aka Bull Rush in NZ. The great sorrow of the feminist ascension in NZ was marked by attempts to ban it at schools. Pockets of resistance developed and in time flourished though.

  30. “Mob football” sounds a lot like what we used to play in grade school, usually referred to as “Smear the queer”.

    I always wondered if “smear the queer” was just a local name for it or was the accepted name nationally. Now I know.

    A pointless game.

  31. If it helps at all, I think he meant “Hayakawan”, not “Hiyakawan”.

    No, I really, really want to hear LoneMoron’s thoughts on OOP. Like, a lot. What, does he have a problem with polymorphism and inheritance?

  32. Calvinball is much cooler (if nothing else, it prepares you for a career in public service)…

  33. It begat rugby, which begat soccer and American football.

    The way I heard it is that rugby and soccer developed independently at about the same time. And largely due to the formalizing of rules for a new phenomenon in 19th century England, regularly scheduled spectator sporting events organized for the benefit (and distraction) of the new industrial workers.

    I’m pretty sure you’re correct that American football (and the Canadian version) developed from rugby though. And while rugby football did originate in the public schools, particularly Rugby School, the creation story is largely a myth.

    There are two philosophies in the versions of football. One says that football is game where the ball is advanced by the feet the other says football is a game played on foot. Soccer comes from the former, rugby, and hence American and Canadian football come from the latter.

    And I guess games like Australian Rules and Gaelic Football come about by combining both.

    Oh and whereas in America “football” refers to the American game and in Europe and the UK it refers to soccer, there are exceptions. In Wales parts of the north of England “football” means Rugby and Soccer is never referred to except as a game that poofters play.

    And, of course in Australia “football” means Australian rules except in New South Wales and parts of Queensland where the word means Rugby League.

    1. Actually, Australian Rules Football has the oldest codified rules of any of the standard forms, including “soccer,” the two forms of Rugby, and Gridiron.

      It was set in the 1850’s as a winter condition-maintenance game for cricketers.

      And its rulebook is the size of a playing card and just under 1 cm thick.

  34. No, I really, really want to hear LoneMoron’s thoughts on OOP. Like, a lot. What, does he have a problem with polymorphism and inheritance?

    In short he hates Mr Lee (possbily even more than the more well known bete noirs) for inventing html. Since it’s not object oriented. But is nonetheless the standard. He thinks (I think) that OOP is the Fukuyaman (verified spelling on google) pinnacle of computer science, the be all and end all. So Mr Lee should be thrown into the same circle of the Inferno as Karl Marx and Maurice Starr.

    (yes it was hayakawa before. And I may using terms I’m not entirely familiar with in a slipshod or even entirely incorrect manner)

  35. VM,

    I think Penn has a better shot at forcing the stoppage.

    But if it goes to the judges, it seems unlikely that he would dominate enough to get the points. He has too much of a size advantage to overcome.

    I actually think the more interesting fight will be Machida/Silva. Machida will probably get it, but Silva is dangerous.

  36. misconstructed b?tes noires.

  37. “With admirable efficiency, players combined the soccer match and the soccer riot in a single activity.”

    That’s just fucking beautiful. Not much has changed if you happen to be in the vicinity of Millwall.

  38. Would somebody please give Neu Mejican a wedgie?

    This is one of those moments where, if INCIF had lips, I would kiss it.

    Join us. Don’t be afraid.

  39. “Mob football” sounds a lot like what we used to play in grade school, usually referred to as “Smear the queer”.

    We called it “Muckle the Man with the Football.”

    I think “muckle” was a contraction of “murder” and “tackle.”

  40. “Mob football” sounds a lot like what we used to play in grade school, usually referred to as “Smear the queer”.

    It was “smear the queer” for me in grade school, too. God it was fun. Big huge dog piles. Remarkably, I don’t remember too many injuries. And if someone did get hurt, they wouldn’t have been pussy enough to admit it.

  41. And if someone did get hurt, they wouldn’t have been pussy enough to admit it.

    Holy shit. Around age 11 or 12, I remember getting tackled into a big pile of wood next to the yard. I go limping and sniffling back toward the house and my mom comes out and admonishes me to get back in the game ’cause the other kids are taking their licks too. She wasn’t gonna let me sissy out. So I do, and later that night after dinner while I’m still limping my dad wants to look at my leg. Well, I can’t roll the pant-leg up, so I drop pants and my right lower leg is all swollen and black and blue. Mom almost faints. The folks take me to the hospital for an x-ray, which was negative; just an incredibly nasty bruise. My mom spent the rest of her life known in the family for her Knute Rockne speech to me.

    It’s too bad we don’t let kids be kids anymore. These days I’m sure somebody would’ve sued someone.

  42. Actually, they play this game annually at my alma mater, but they call it “Spartan Madball.” It’s freshmen and seniors against sophomores and juniors, and the game ends after an hour, or three people go to the hospital. The rules are:

    1. No shoes.
    2. No weapons.
    3. No cars.

    I’ve only seen two people go to the hospital, so the game has always gone a full hour. Broken toes and fingers are pretty common, though. I was always too much of a weenie to play, until my senior year. Brutal game.

  43. We called it “Muckle the Man with the Football.”

    Damn, where did you go to school?

    Here in Belmont, we simply called it “Kill the Carrier”, which along with a delightful game involving tennis balls and a brick wall called “Suicide” was our primary past-time on the playground.

  44. Taktix, you fool! You’re on notice, buddy! Arizona will reign supreme!

  45. Mob football” sounds a lot like what we used to play in grade school, usually referred to as “Smear the queer”.

    Where we played it, it was called ‘Maul Ball’. The goal of the game was to grab the ball and run and avoid being tackled as long as possible. Once you were tackled, you had to throw the ball up for grabs. Some of the smaller kids would throw the ball up when it was obvious they were about to get nailed. Sometimes I think we had ‘end zones’ that were safe for a few seconds if you reached them, but then you had to immediately turn around and try to make another run through the field of players.

  46. The trouble with that clip is that it doesn’t really give enough of a sense of how violent and how much fun it can be. There’s also a version where the action is fought over a wooden barrel.

  47. Sounds to me like a version of 43-Man Squamish.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/43-Man_Squamish

    Go Cards!

    .. Hobbit

  48. tarran,

    Southeastern Mass. For all I know, the name was unique to my middle school.

    The great irony is that it was often played with a nerf ball.

  49. Cardinals! Cardinals! Cardinals!

  50. Come on down, we got entertainment for the whole family.

  51. Neu – sounded like quite the night of action!

    Glad Clay G. won!

    didja get to see any?

  52. Car-di-nals! Car-di-nals! Car-di-nals!

  53. If the Cards were a stock, I’d be selling right now. Top of the market.

  54. If the Cards were a stock, I’d be selling right now. Top of the market.

    Friggin’ A. Pittsburgh’s strengths match up real well against the Cards’ weaknesses. The Steelers are going to have to make a lot of mistakes if Arizona is to win this.

  55. I agree with joe.

    Uhh, I just verped a little…

  56. I’m looking to see how the Cardinals’ backfield – especially Edgerrin James – does keeping Kurt Warner upright against Blitzburgh.*

    *Yeah, I know they don’t really blitz a lot, but they send a lot of strange rush packages, and when they do blitz, they do so very effectively. Plus, I like to say “Blitzburgh.”

  57. VM,

    I am not enough of a fan to actually pay to view.

    I’ll watch it when it is free…but sounds like GSP took advantage of his advantages (he is the about biggest guy in his weight class…)The Machida KO sounds like it was the fight of the night. I think a Evans/Machida match up will be interesting.

    The question now: Does GSP move up to take on The Spider?

  58. That was a damn fine Star Spangled Banner.

  59. along with a delightful game involving tennis balls and a brick wall called “Suicide” was our primary past-time on the playground.

    Suicide was another staple. Just looked it up on wiki, and our version was little different from the version described, being basically handball with beatings allowed. Usually more fun and chaotic with more players.

    Also played a lot of pickle, on a baseball diamond with five bases, pitcher’s mount included. With fifteen or more players, it gets pretty chaotic.

  60. Actually, the halftime show kicked ass.

  61. Still don’t give a shit about people screwing up their taxes, then making back payments.

    But not making back payments that they knew they owed until it was politically inconvenient not to do so?

    I see that joe is setting the bar agreeably low for the Right People.

  62. Oh, RC’s now a mind reader; he knows what Daschle and Geithner were thinking when they filled out their taxes several years ago.

    Awesome!

    I see that joe is setting the bar agreeably low for the Right People. And when you can find anything I’ve written about tax errors by Bushies that applies another standard, it might be possible for you to make the case that I, rather than you, are being a partisan hack.

    But you won’t, you see.

    Dumbfuck partisan hack.

  63. I screwed up my taxes a few years back. World o’ hurt, I tell ya. (1) Don’t presume you know what people are thinking when they do their taxes. (2) High profile people should hire people to double check. (3) Complete dumbasses who fancy themselves intellectuals would do well to pay somebody to double check also. Cross reference: Is the appropriate honorific Doctor Tax-Dumbass?

  64. hi,
    everybody, take your time and a little bit.

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  66. Isn’t this kind of nonsense the reason we have juries? I can’t imagine 12 people agreeing to put this woman away. I wouldn’t even think it would be risky to take this to trial…
    http://www.mirei.com

  67. There’s another problem with the $1 million factoid: it doesn’t prove that going to college caused the difference in earnings. It could well be that the people who go to college are on average smarter and/or better at taking direction and/or more ambitious than people who don’t.
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  68. I screwed up my taxes a few years back. World o’ hurt, I tell ya. (1) Don’t presume you know what people are thinking when they do their taxes. (2) High profile people should hire people to double check. (3) Complete dumb asses who fancy themselves intellectuals would do well to pay somebody to double check also. Cross reference: Is the appropriate honorific Doctor Tax-Dumb ass?
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