by Jad McAdam, Hooligan Dot Com
While many ancient peoples played a kind of football, the European game has a specific history which might go some way to explaining how such forces have come into existence. The earliest incarnations of football in England were scenes of mass disorder involving hundreds of people. Street football or 'mob football' evolved from a more ancient and bloody ritual called the Dane's Head, where the head of a Danish soldier slain in battle was kicked from one village to another.
A legacy of the Roman festival of Saturnalia, Shrove Tuesday, was set aside for the playing of football in many European towns. The game was a form of unarmed combat and all-in wrestling in pursuit of a round ball. Such games were a part of the carnivalesque traditions of medieval life. Certain days of the year saw the inversion of prevailing hierarchies in festive and comic celebrations. Rules of behaviour and determinations of rank were suspended and all were made equal and given licence to do as they pleased.
Such freedoms have long been problematic for those who represent authority, and government action against football is nothing new in Europe. Since the beginning of this millenium it has posed a legislative problem for different regimes at different times. In 1314, Edward II directed a law against "rageries de grosses pelotes", the hustlings over large balls. Edward III tried to ban football in 1365 for its tendency to impede the learning of archery, a practice beneficial to the defence of the realm. In France attempts were made to ban the sport, by Phillippe V in 1319 and Charles V in 1369. King James I of Scotland decreed in 1424 "that na manplay at the fute-ball, uder the paine of fiftie shillings."
It was the Puritans, however, who mounted the most successful campaign against football. None were more vociferous than the anti-sports pamphleteer Philip Stubbes: "As concerning football playing I protest unto you that it may be rather called a friendlie kinde of fyghte than a play or recreation - a bloody and murthering practice than a felowly sport or pastime."
Two hundred and fifty years later this Puritanical influence on the government of Queen Victoria led to the end of traditional football.
More than just sexual practices were repressed under Victoria's reign - a whole range of popular of popular activities were policed out of existence. Mob football was one of them. The ancient and carnivalesque pastime was replaced by a specator sport where the crowd was removed from the field of play. The codification of the sport began in the major public schools and was part of a general attempt to civilise the masses in newly industrialised England. The official history of the Football Association puts it in these terms: "if all government is autocratic and evil it is nonetheless necessarily so. The alternative is anarchy and the law of the jungle."
The phrase "a local Derby" is still used to describe a match between neighbouring teams where no love is lost, and the game in Derby provides the best example of the death of an ancient sport. There, football was traditionally played on Shrove Tuesday, between the Parishes of All Saints and St Peter. As all young men were involved in the ritual stoush, the game consisted of over 500 players a side.
On Shrove Tuesday in 1847 the traditional game of football was played for the last time in Derby county. The Mayor appeared on horse back to stop the game with the aid of the local constables. When he was forced back by a hail of stones, the Riot Act was read, the cavalry called in and the game was stopped.
For eight hundred years the popular pastime of mob football had survived, against every edict of every king who had tried to stop it. Only the introduction of the new system of policing initiated by Sir Robert Peel in 1829 gave the state enough power to stamp out the game.