Good Friday, Two teams of 100, few rules, more than a mile to each goal, four hours to play the game.
Real football used to be a popular game in England and still survives in select places such as Ashbourne in Derbyshire. Evidence suggests that real football has been played in the Kent area especially around the Chidingstone in days gone by. This type of game was often central to pagan and religious celebrations in the middle ages. The game as the name suggests was the earliest roots of the modern day football and modern-day rugby can also trace roots back to varients of the game which often had localised rules passed down over time.
Real football is a modern term sometimes used for a wide variety of localised football games which were invented and played in Europe of the Middle Ages. Alternative names include mediaeval football, folk football, mob football and Shrovetide football. Some of these games are played in current times. These games may also be regarded as the “ancestors” of modern codes of football. By comparison with later forms of football, the medieval matches were chaotic and had few rules.
The Middle Ages saw a huge rise in popularity of games played annually at Shrovetide throughout Europe, particularly in England. The games played in England at this time may have arrived with the Roman occupation but there is little evidence to indicate this. Certainly the Romans played ball games, in particular Harpastum. There is also one reference to ball games being played in southern Britain prior to the Norman Conquest. In the ninth century Nennius‘s Historia Britonum tells that a group of boys were playing at ball (pilae ludus). The origin of this account is either Southern England or Wales. References to a ball game played in northern France known as La Soule or Choule, in which the ball was propelled by hands, feet, and sticks, date from the 12th century.
These archaic forms of football, typically classified as mob football, would be played between neighboring towns and villages, involving an unlimited number of players on opposing teams, who would clash in a heaving mass of people struggling to drag an inflated pig’s bladder by any means possible to markers at each end of a town. Sometimes instead of markers, the teams would attempt to kick the bladder into the balcony of the opponents’ church. A legend that these games in England evolved from a more ancient and bloody ritual of kicking the “Dane‘s head” is unlikely to be true. Shrovetide games survive in a number of English towns.
There are surprisingly few images of medieval football. One engraving from the early fourteenth century at Gloucester Cathedral, England, clearly shows two young men running vigorously towards each other with a ball in mid-air between them. There is a hint that the players may be using their hands to strike the ball. A second medieval image in the British Museum, London clearly shows a group of men with a large ball on the ground. The ball clearly has a seam where leather has been sewn together. It is unclear exactly what is happening in this set of three images, although the last image appears to show a man with a broken arm. It is likely that this image highlights the dangers of some medieval football games.
Most of the very early references to the game speak simply of “ball play” or “playing at ball”. This reinforces the idea that the games played at the time did not necessarily involve a ball being kicked.
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