Old School Football


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, 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: