Manuscripts and Special Collections

A seventeenth-century game of football

May 14th, 2011 at 12:05

As England gears up for the FA cup final today, I’ve been having a trawl for records relating to football within the archives here in Nottingham.

Putting ‘football’ into the AnyText box of the main catalogue page brings up a number of hits relating to the beautiful game from a very diverse array of sources. You can discover photographs of various Nottingham squads over the years, images of both the Nottingham Forest and Notts County grounds, as well as letters relating to sport more generally.

Amongst the collection is a fascinating volume which details the rules of football in the mid seventeenth century, written by Francis Willughby, ref: Mi LM 14. The following extracts are taken from a published edition of the work: Cram, David, Forgeng, Jeffrey L. and Johnston, Dorothy, The Book of Games of Francis Willughby (1635-1672). A Seventeenth-century Treatise on Sports, Games and Pastimes (Aldershot, 2003) [King's Meadow Campus East Midlands Collection Not 1.W8 WIL]

Willughby describes the ball as made from ‘a strong bladder’ which is ‘put into the skin of a buls cod’ and sewn in place. Sometimes he notes that they ‘put quicksilver into it…to keep it from lying still’.

The pitch was comprised of a ‘longe streete, or a close that has a gate at either end. The gates are called Gaols…The ball is thrown up in the middle between the gaols…They that can strike the ball thorough their enemies gaol first win. They usually leave some of their best plaiers to gard the gaol while the rest follow the ball.’

Football was certainly a raucous game in the 1600s. Willughby describes in great detail the best way of tripping up a player’s heels: ‘All the slight is to hit that foot that is mooving and just taken from the ground, & then a little touch makes him fall. Suppose α foot fixed, β mooving from n to m. If it bee strooke on the outside before it comes to C, just against the fixed foote, it falls crosse behind the fixed foot at L and makes him fall.’ The breaking of shins was also common and ‘therefore there is a law that they must not strike higher than the ball’.

The Book of Games covers a wealth of other sports and pastimes, including card games, wrestling, hope frog, 9 mens maurice, quoits, running games, shooting games, backgammon, tennis, with other games such as ‘Fox & Goose’, ‘Long-Laurence’, ‘Troll Madame’, Hunting a Deer in My Lords Parke’ and many others.

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