Even the Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland plays golf. So also does a member of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society, we presume only under sufferance and by the kind indulgence of other amateurs of the game. It certainly seems a most ungrateful return for the kindness which allows him, though a Mathematician to disport himself on the green, if he uses that opportunhy not to play golf in a sensible manner but to study in the base fashion of Mathematicians, the path and velocity of a golf ball in the air, and the laws which govern its actual motions, and to inflict moreover on the learned society of which he is a member a disquisition on the mathematical problems presented by the ball, a disquisition which we are informed is quite beyond the comprehension of all except first-rate Mathematicians.
It would seem almost equally ungracious of Schoolmasters, if they are allowed under sufferance of course, still to indulge in the noble game of football, to make for that indulgence the barbarous return of speculation as to the origin and history of the game. Football is to be enjoyed and not to be encumbered with antiquarian and anthropological speculation. Of course the Greeks and the Roman had a species of inferior amusement in which there was a ball filled sometimes, save the mark, with fig seeds, and they hit it or caught it or scrambled for it or did something with it, and of course Martial says:–
“Folle decet pueros ludere, folle senes” but in all probability no game of the ancient world presented any resemblance to football as we understand it, and what Martial means to say is that “follis” is a thing in which boys who are too young or men who are too old to do anything else may without serious impropriety indulge. This is a very different thing from a game which demands the freshest energies of the most vigorous athletic frame.
For all that, the history of Football may not be without interest even to those who play the game as rational creatures ought, and concern themselves far more with the prospect of winning their colours in the next match than in the precise rules under which it was played a century ago. But such a history of Football as that which appears in the Badminton Library has a special interest in a school which no less than schools of greater note has played this ancient game for centuries. We are told that Football the earliest national pastime that we have (introduced of course into this country by S. Augustine) after having braved the Edicts of Kings and the terrors of grand juries, sank at the end of the last century into low repute and was regarded as a rough and degraded pastime suitable only for butcher boys or ploughmen. It was played on traditional occasions like Shrove Tuesday in country villages where the sides might have varied from two to three hundred, and the goals, a pond at one end and a barn at the other, seem to have been from two to three miles apart.
But in our public schools and notably at Rugby a game had gone on, conducted in a more civilized and reasonable fashion, though even there as readers of Tom Brown are aware admitting of something like 150 players on a side. It is from the football of our public schools and not from the butcher-boy amusement of the market place, as played I believe even now on Easter Monday at Kingston-on-Thames, that the organized football has been developed. The course of that development every football player should read.
He will see that while every single school bad its own special rules, these rules were formed to suit the convenience of the school playground. Hence it was that Rugby, which was the only school enjoying a large and open field, was absolutely the only school where running and collaring was allowed. Everywhere else the destruction of garments and collarbones, the bills of tailors and doctor compelled some restriction to be placed on the use of the hands, while at Westminster and Charterhouse, two schools limited to cloister courts, the strictest rules were enforced as to the use of the hands, while large privileges of offside were: allowed, presumably because in such narrow spaces they could not be abused.
The Eton and Harrow games preserve an intermediate form, the offside rule being practically as strict as at Rugby, while the use of the hands is in the latter game allowed, at least for a free catch. Here at Canterbury we had a long-standing and traditional set of rules suited for a ground set about with trees. Carrying the ball was not permitted, but it was permitted to take it along by bouncing it. I still remember a remarkably pretty run along, or perhaps I should say among the trees at the west end of the Green Court. The goals were originally those which may still be traced with the letters U.G. and L. G. on the Deanery wall and that of Mr. Woodhouse’s garden, and large goals were substituted for them, I presume about 1864, at the corner by the Bishop of Dover’s and directly opposite. There was from the nature of the ground no possibility of obtaining “a try” a feature which curiously enough is found not only at Rugby but also in the “rouge” at Eton, and in a point scored in the game as played at Repton till ten years ago. When we first moved to Blore’s piece the rules were modified and Mr. E. Latter and myself undertook the duty of reducing them to a codified form with such alterations as the new ground necessitated. These I hope and trust have disappeared. One learns to reverence the audacities of one’s youth; but the construction of an original code of football rules is an audacity at which most men might feel a little awkward – I can however say from experience that while probably the best means of assuring success in a game is to have a set of rules with which no one but yourself is acquainted, the next best method is to draw up a set which no one but yourself can understand. This feat we accomplished or nearly accomplished – some of our more intimate acquaintances professed to understand the rules and I believe did more or less, but none of our opponents did and in consequence our success in football was conspicuous. I should however be extremely glad if one of those old copies were unearthed from some recess in those vast cupboards with which our more exalted dignitaries are favoured, because they did embody whatever had survived of the local traditions under which football had been played in the Green Court, and which ought to be as sacred a memory to us as the “Wall” is to an Etonian.
It is indeed to be observed with interest that football rules like the laws of Greece and Rome were handed down for centuries by tradition. It is in comparatively recent times that they were printed anywhere. The laws of the Eton Field game seem to have been drawn up in 1847 and of the Wall Game in 1849. – Our rules were not codified till 1872. Their author may be permitted to recall with pride the feeling: of a Draco or a Decemvir at the signal accomplishment of this marvellous feat.
Secondly in the prehistoric period it is probable that the rules were somewhat elastic – there must have been considerable doubt as to the legitimacy of this practice or of that. Even in cricket there are still some three or four points to which no actual rule can be applied, and in any game of which the rules are not actually down in black and white there will be doubtless many such loopholes for practices which the ingenuity or guile of some player whose enthusiasm is too much for his morals may devise and adopt. I remember one or two such points arising in the Harrow rules and during the few years of the life of the Rugby Union it has repeatedly been found necessary to supplement the existing code.
Thirdly in those happy days there seem to have been no definite penalties for violations of rule and beyond doubt originally the off-side rule was of a very indefinite kind; and was merely enforced by a vigorous public opinion. It is still called “sneaking” at Eton-and so at first it was regarded as a lowminded practice which no football player who had a grain of self respect would indulge in and which was to be repressed rat her by contempt of all right minded people than by any very generally recognised punishment. There was not and I think is not at Harrow, any penalty for “hands”, though in ordinary play they may no more be used than in the Association game.
If we turn from the Badminton Library to our old friend Tom Brown we shall glean some more information as to football as it was played in the “thirties”. – The account of Tom Brown’s first football match is one of the clearest and roost vivid pieces of description imaginable and deserves more study than it generally gets. We observe in passing the general laxity of the arrangements. The whole school play and it would seem in their ordinary attire, some who mean business do indeed divest themselves of coat, necktie and braces, but even this does not seem universal, while the school house alone have any kind of special nether garment. Special football clothes for ordinary games were not thought of here thirty years ago.
Then for the organization of the game I cannot remember when I first played football any special division of players. There was it is true a goal keeper, and well do I remember on my first football half-holiday forming one of a double line of small boys, who were drawn up between the goal posts the whole afternoon, and not allowed to stir, but beyond this, people played where and how they liked. So in Tom Brown the organization of the game is most rudimentary, and on the school side practically does not exist, while the school house owed their discipline and arrangement to the individual generalship of “Old Brooke”. We have changed all that, but only lately. A cricket eleven that went into the field with no recognised position for anyone, except the bowler, would be regarded with astonishment and surprise. But there must have been a time when the field stood where and how they pleased, and so far as I know history does not preserve the name of the genius who first taught point to snap a catch, and cover point to dash at a cut, which else had gone for four. But the organization which cricket received long ago, football has been acquiring in our own day, and a fifteen which goes on to the ground without its recognised backs, halves and three-quarters, is as antediluvian as a cricket eleven which fails to distinguish the special duties of long-leg and the wicketkeeper.
The classical scholar may be inclined to add the impertinent remark that the Athenians did for triremes just what we have done for football. They organized the operations of a naval battle and invented peripluses and divers manoeuvres which depended for their success on highly trained crews, each man of whom knew his special duties.
One further remark may be suggested by Tom Brown. It will be observed that an operation is performed by Old Brooke and Crab Jones, the like of which is not to be found in our modern game. When a try was obtained the losing side retreated into goal and one of the side who had gained the try kicked the ball from behind the goal line to one of his side standing in front of the goal, who then made his mark for a free catch. Once it would seem the losing side had a fair chance of preventing this catch from being made, but as skill and science increased, it was found that the catch was a practical certainty, and therefore it was abolished as a formality which wasted time, in spite, I may add, of the protests of my own tutor who is one of the most conservative of men. The place kick from a try was therefore originally merely a kick from a free catch, given, however, under circumstances which made it impossible for the defending side to stop it. An interesting survival of this was abolished within the last few years.
One other survival of a similar kind might be mentioned. Those who read the account of the “wall” game at Eton on S. Andrew’s Day may remember that the match is won by “shies”. Now a shy means the privilege of throwing the ball at the goal, a door at one end and a tree at the other, neither of which be it observed are actually within the ground at all. The rules naively remark that a goal counts more than any number of shies which may well be the case if as an old Etonian informs me a goal is never got, became it is practically impossible to throw the ball so that the defenders cannot intercept it. Enough has been said to show that the elaborate codes of rules known by the names of Association and Rugby Union respectively have not grown up in a day. They represent the survival of the fittest and have killed the hundred of little local codes which were followed each in the place that gave them birth. But they doubtless are the fittest and give to our generation separate forms of what is the newest and yet the oldest pastime known to men, a game which in spite of the brutality imported into it by some ruffians who play it as mercenary hirelings, is for those who love it for its own sake, one of the noblest and most invigorating and most generous of games.
Thomas Field was at King’s from 1867 to 1873. He was Captain of School and played in the football team. He was later Headmaster from 1886 to 1896. This article appeared in The Cantuarian, December 1890.