‘Unknown malefactors to the number of over one hundred assembled themselves unlawfully and played a certain unlawful game called football, by means of which there was amongst them a great affray, likely to result in homicides and serious accident.’
Quarter Session Records of the County of Middlesex 1576
‘They get the bladder and blowe it great and thin, with many beanes and peason put within, It ratleth, shineth and soundeth clere and fayre, While it is throwen and caste up in the eyre, Eche one contendeth and hath a great delite, with foote and hande the bladder for to smite, if it fall to the ground they lifte it up again… Overcometh the winter with driving the foote-ball.’
In 1526 King Henry VIII ordered a pair of leather football boots. It is not hard to imagine this king playing such a violent game for fun even though it was later categorised as unlawful.
The aim of the game was to get the ball from a middle point to one or other side’s ‘home’ point through kicking, punching, tripping and generally beating up your opponent. In London in the 16th Century the game was usually played between the apprentices of London and the apprentices of Westminster.
In 1615, James I was treated to a match in Wiltshire causing him to announce – ‘From this court I debarre all rough and violent exercises, as the foot-ball, meeter for lameing than making able the users thereof.’
And a few years later, a young Oliver Cromwell was described as ‘one of the chief matchmakers and players of football’ at Cambridge University.
The sturdie plowmen lustie, strong and bold,
Overcometh the winter with driving the foote-ball,
Forgetting labour and many a grievous fall.