Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Football in the Archive

As the University of York's Chancellor Greg Dyke has just been appointed the new Director of the Football Association we thought it would be appropriate to investigate football in the archive.

Although many people think of football as a nineteenth-century invention, this was simply when different versions were codified into the modern sports (for example, rugby football at Rugby School in 1845). In fact, football can be traced back to the middle ages and beyond and was often a violent and dangerous sport. The Oxford English Dictionary cites an early mention of football in Scotland where, in 1424:
  The king forbiddes þt na man play at þe fut ball vnder þe payne of iiijd.

Clearly, he wasn't envisaging a quick kick-about in the park with a fine like that

Our example of medieval football comes from 1565/6, and is an entry from High Commission Act Book 2 (HC.AB.2). In it, a group of young men are punished for playing football in York Minster:


Officium dominorum contra Christoferum Dobson, Ricardum Leache, Georgium Bargeman, Christoferum Fordonne et oswaldum atkinson
[On Wednesday 13th February 1565/6 in the consistory place in York Minster between 9 and 11 in the morning before John Rokeby LLD, Thomas Eynns Esq, and Thomas Lakyn MA, notary public Edward Fawcett]
[Dobson Leache Bargeman Fordonne and Atkinson appeared]
…that they have plaied at the foote ball within this Cathedrall churche of yorke


to which objection they awnsweringe confessed that the foote Ball was Broughte into the church by the said Dobson thereupon the said oswald atkinson did take the same Ball[e] frome hime in the said said churche and there was but one stroke striken at the same in the church aforesaid wherefore the said Commissioners did order that the same Oswald Atkinson shalbe sett in the stockes by the churcheside upon sonday nexte at nyne of the clocke before noone and ther to sytt in the same stockes by the space of one hole houre and at the houre ende be tayken furthe and laid over the said stockes and have sex yertes with a Byrchen rod upon his buttockes and that christofer Dobson shall have likewise sex yertes upon his buttockes with a birchen rod and that will[ia]m gibsonne JohnWhytfeild and John Scott the vergers and Richard Sinerthwaite and Peter Pecket shall se this order executed in manner and form as is aforesaid.
Incidentally, large community football matches were a common way of celebrating important Christian festivals like Shrovetide, Easter and Whitsun in the medieval period... but I wouldn't recommend an attempt to reinstate football in the Minster this Sunday, even if I doubt the publishment would be as painfully humiliating as that which befell Oswald Atkinson and Christopher Dobson four hundred years ago.


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