Mob Football in (Norman) Britain - 1066-1400AD

Mob Football

The term 'Mob Football" is a modern description of a variety of ball games which did not necessarily include actually kicking a ball. The word Football is also used within various titles, including 'Folk Football' and 'Shrovetide Football', the latter probably being the most popular during Medieval Times. Simply grouped together, the term Mob football adequately describes various games which were full of chaos and brutatility - and often without any rules!

Shrovetide Football

Shrovetide was a popular time of year for playing games, because it was a time of leisure and for gatherings of large groups of people. Shrovetide Football is still played today, particularly in Ashborne, Derbyshire, every Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.

The ball, made from the bladder of a pig, would typically be kicked by large numbers of people from neighbouring villages and towns, heaving back and forth, intent on 'scoring' by kicking the ball into the balcony of their opponents' church.

There is a set of three images in the British Museum in London, showing a group of men with a large ball, probably from around the 14th Century. One can see a join in the ball, so probably made from leather. The last image of the set shows a man with a broken arm, highlighting the brutality of the game played 700 years ago!


with thanks to Wikipedia

Norman Times

In Norman times, around 1180, a clerk and administrator for Thomas Becket, one William FitzStephen, wrote about Football. While visiting London during a Shrove Tuesday, he saw youths playing the game and noted that all the various ‘trades’ and students had their own teams. They also had football spectators.

He wrote - “After lunch all the youth of the city go out into the fields to take part in a ball game. The students of each school have their own ball; the workers from each city craft are also carrying their balls. Older citizens, fathers, and wealthy citizens come on horseback to watch their juniors competing, and to relive their own youth vicariously: you can see their inner passions aroused as they watch the action and get caught up in the fun being had by the carefree adolescents”.

One wonders what sort of Football Trophy was presented in those days!

Football Violence

Another record, in 1280, records that a fatal knife wound was received by a Football Player! A further record, in 1321, reported that a William de Spalding was in trouble with the Police because "During a game of football, another player ran against him and wounded himself on a sheath knife carried by William, so severely that he died within six days." The Beautiful Game was perhaps not quite so beautiful in days of yore.

Kings of England

Edward the Second, on 13th April 1314, was attempting to raise an army to fight the Scots and announced that the game of football was stopping his archers from their practice and ruining their archery skills. He issued the first Royal Decree " For as much as there is a great noise in the city caused by hustling over large balls, from which many evils may arrice, what God forbid, we can command and forbid on behalf of the King, on pain of imprisonment, such games to be used in the city in future. " – and so banned the game, threatening imprisonment. No Football Trophies and Awards in those days!

Edward the Third, when he was preparing to invade Scotland, also banned the Game of “Football” in 1363 (interesting that it was actually named ‘Football’ at that time, as against ‘Handball’, which was also mentioned separately).

In 1388, Henry the Fourth ineffectively attempted to stop England’s young men from playing Football and so, in 1409, issued a document using the word "foteball" and imposed a fine of 20/= and 6 days in prison for any offenders. That same year, 8 men - "the kind and good men of the mystery of Cordwainers", were commanded to provide a 'bond' of £20 (a huge sum of money in those days) to the London City Chamberlain, swearing that they would not "collect money for a football". 'Cordwainers' were from Cordwainers Street in London and The City of Westminster, where leather and similar goods were produced. In 1410, Henry expanded his policy and extended the fine of 20/= to any Bailiff or Mayor of a town or village where 'misdemeanours' "such as foteball" occurred.



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