This letter from ‘Pila’ was a response to Thomas Field’s article in The Cantuarian of March 1890. See Thomas Field 1867-73. The ‘great football schism’ he mentions occurred in 1863.
I read with great interest your notice of football, as anciently played at Canterbury School, and I should like, with your permission, to supplement it by a few recollections; starting from a period still earlier than that of which your esteemed correspondent writes.
We had originally, as he points out, practically no rules at all. It was only the necessity of getting rid of one or two practical inconveniences that led us to legislate. One of these (Mirabile dictu) was the prevalence of the habit of running with the ball. I don’t know why we thought this a nuisance, but we did – perhaps it was laziness. At any rate, a rule was made that a player might run with the ball if pursued, but the moment pursuit stopped he must stop too. Moreover, a player was not allowed to pick up the ball from the ground when dead, though he might catch it on the bound and then run with it. I regret to say some mean persons took advantage of this rule and by kicking a dead ball themselves induced it to bound and then ran away with it. Another more serious inconvenience that we found it necessary to guard against was the practice of holding the ball for an indefinitely long time. There was a boy in the school who had a most remarkable skill in retaining his hold of the ball. When he had got it safely tucked under his arm, there it remained; and the game was sometimes suspended for a quarter of an hour or more while he formed the centre of a surging mass of players, from which he generally emerged breathless, but triumphant, and still holding the ball. We eventually made a rule that the ball must be dropped as soon as the player holding it was collared. (I am not sure that we did not first try the expedient of allowing him a free kick.)
I do not think that our game was rough one. Certainly I do not remember many serious accidents, though the Green Court with its trees and railings was an awkward place to play in. I remember seeing the present esteemed Principal of a Northern Clergy School – pluckiest of football players in his day – rip his arm up from elbow to wrist on the Deanery railings, and another player had an arm broken by being violently dashed against the wall of what is now, I believe, the Choristers School. These, however, are the only accidents I remember. Of arrangement as your correspondent says, we had little, but in one of the first House v. School Matches in which I played, some slight attempt was made to sort the players of the House –five of the best players being stationed in a line in front, behind them the general body of players, and as a third line the small boys in goal. I can still remember my elated feelings when I was chosen to be one of the five. At that time the boarders numbered only about 40 and of course appeared a mere handful in comparison with the hosts opposing them. I remember a match against a neighbouring school which I will not further particularise, in which we suffered severely from this want of organization, and perhaps too from the absence of a proper rule of off-side. We played on their ground, which was on a hill, and the ground was so marked out that while the goals were fairly on a level with one another there was a considerable slope from one side of the ground to the other. On the upper side of this slope, slightly in advance of, and to the side of our goal they posted one of their best players and assiduously fed him. The result being that he kicked five goals before we found out the trick. Then, I need hardly say, he got no more. In same match our opponents practised upon us an invention of theirs which they called ‘Scragging’. It was done by coming behind a player engaged in the scrimmage, passing both hands round his head till they met over his forehead, and then jerk his head violently backwards. It caused some little ill-feeling at the time.
I have already protracted these remarks unduly, or I would go on to speak of the great football schism, which arose out of the claim of the sixth to the exclusive right to take out the ball for practice. This was resisted by the players below the Sixth and the result was that a C.O.S. match was played with what was practically a second or third eleven with disastrous results.
The great merit of football in those days was that it was the only game in which small boys could share. Of practice with the bat and ball they got none, as there was only one eleven which filled up vacancies by co-option, and practice on the Green Court was confined to those members of it who were fortunate enough to be first securing possession after school.
But on these dark ages it were well to draw a veil.
I am Sir, Your obedient servant, PILA
This article was published in The Cantuarian, March 1891.