The history of the national game by New Forest Mark and Hugh

The history of the national game including Lymington Town Football Club

Mark and Hugh prepared this informative delight before last Saturday, when the scene depicted in this cartoon once more came true

Mark and Hugh signoff 600x400This week Hugh and Mark take a look at what is fondly referred to as our national game, football.

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There can be few of us who haven’t kicked a ball at some time or other, some with more success than others. The sport has been in the news lately regarding a proposed European Super League; ignoring this for a moment, we shall look at the origins of the game which can still be witnessed today, here in England, over eight hundred years after it all first started.

Ouch! Aztecs at play

The earliest recorded evidence of football originates three thousand years ago in South America. It was said that a stone was used as a ball. Oh, to have been a podiatrist, they’d have been queueing round the block. In some ritual games the ball was seen as the sun (which they worshipped) and the losing team captain would be sacrificed. Blimey! Adopt that ideal here and we might well see some rather more spirited captaincy. Unsurprisingly the stone ball fell in popularity and feathers wrapped in leather or leaves and roots were used in order to create something a little kinder to the toes. The first recorded example of air-filled balls is from as far back as the seventh century. All of the games we enjoy today evolved from something simple and fun and football was no different.

Air filled or not I distinctly remember the sodden leather ball of my schooldays being as heavy and unyielding as a cannon ball. As I was preparing to kick the wretched thing, I used to imagine it looking up at me and saying ‘this is going to hurt you more than it’s going to hurt me’. The ball was never wrong; as for a header, are you insane?

There’s nothing new about football hooliganism

There are records of football that go all the way back to the 12th Century; granted the game was a little different then. There wasn’t exactly a pitch, instead the game was played in towns and villages and on tracks and fields. Fists and heads as well as feet were used to move the ball and I reckon a few scores were settled during those gatherings. Such was the damage to property, injury and on rare occasions death that from time to time this game was banned. This style of free for all football that started all those years ago still survives today in a place called Ashbourne. The fact that the shops are boarded up and locals’ cars taken off the streets gives a clue as to the roughness and lawlessness of the game. Strictly speaking it isn’t football, more of a rolling maul but it’s every bit as rough as the 12th Century version. Unlike the game of today the aim is to get the ball back to your own goal, rather than that of the opponents. The event attracts many curious visitors but the real glory, the goal, is almost always reserved for locals; it’s rare for a visitor to score.

Sorry about that your highness

The game at Ashbourne received royal assent in 1928 when the then Prince of Wales was invited to start the game by tossing the ball into the air. I am delighted to report that for his trouble he received a bloody nose. I wonder if there’s a ‘Royal Handkerchief Orderly’?

Ashbourne is divided by Henmore Brook and the two teams are made up of those that live to the north and those to the south; and the odd bloody nosed visitor. The rules are a joy:

  • Committing murder or manslaughter is prohibited. Unnecessary violence is frowned upon.
  • The ball may not be carried in a motorised vehicle.
  • The ball may not be hidden in a bag, coat or rucksack, etc.
  • Cemeteries, churchyards and the town memorial gardens are strictly out of bounds.
  • Playing after 10 pm is forbidden.
  • To score a goal the ball must be tapped 3 times in the area of the goal.

The games are played on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, the two days before Lent when for six weeks we deprive ourselves of something in order that we better understand the needs of others. Eggs and milk were verboten so rather than go to waste they were made into pancakes. In a way you can understand why the game is so highly charged. Just imagine a burly, hungry, farmers son sat at the kitchen table.

“Mum, where’s the Weetabix and scrambled eggs?”

“Not allowed it for six weeks son, sorry.”

“Why not?”

“Dunno, something to do with some old books; and the vicar.”

Yep, that’ll get his dander up alright.

It’s a bit Wat Tyler, we need to outlaw it

Our lovely governments have a long and sorry history of tinkering with things we enjoy. Booze, fags, chocolate digestives, driving, bigamy, smuggling; those idlers in London enjoy nothing more than fiddling with the enjoyment of the common man. Football was no different and for many years (I suspect because of the crowd mentality) it was banned. Eventually though the game became a little more organised and less of a threatening mob; clubs were formed, then there were uniforms, rules and a league. The first club to come into being was Notts County in 1862 and they’re still going strong today.  These days football across the globe is easily accessible from your sofa; back in the day if you wanted to watch your club you put your boots on, met your mates at the bus stop and went there.

It’s Saturday afternoon, there’s only one place to be

The game was followed heavily in the north with huge crowds turning up every Saturday afternoon for the kick off at three. Football became a part of the fabric of the working week; workers typically grafted for five and a half days then after midday on Saturday the weekend was theirs. If you want to learn more about the life of a miner you could do worse than to read The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell. This brilliant writer captures the essence of the proud, hard-working mining community.

The football ground was intrinsic to the blue-collar working man whose working life began when he left school at fourteen and continued until he was sixty-five when he retired, more often than not physically broken. Football was as much a part of the working week as the clocking in machine or Sunday lunch. I’m not being sexist when I say ‘man’ because this was the way of things back then. The woman took care of the home and the man brought home the bacon. These days women play and for me the game is better for it.

All noisy on the Western Front

I have a good friend called Alan who collects WW1 medals and memorabilia. Some of his most touching artefacts are letters and diaries and for this article he has managed to find the following recollection of 2Lt Andrew Fox who was killed in action in October 1915.

I was to have played football this afternoon behind the town but the match had to be postponed until Saturday. The sort of men in the corps are all frightfully keen on professional football. They scan the results with great eagerness and discuss the merits of individual players ad nauseam. I can’t imagine anything more boring than professional football shop although I remember I used to talk it in a most learned manner in my preparatory (school) days.

European Super League

There it was.

Keep it local, support the Linnets

I wonder if you know when our own Lymington Town Football Club was founded? It was in 1876, only fourteen years after the oldest club of all, Notts County. So far, The Linnets have done rather well in winning six out of six. Also, in addition to a junior team the club now has one for women, personally, I feel there ought to be far greater representation by the fairer sex. To me it seems as if women treat the football ground and the theatre as separate places, not so the men unfortunately.

Personally, I don’t enjoy top flight football. The game is OK but the behaviour and language of the crowd is something I don’t like. It’s certainly not a place for young children. However, the smaller the club, the nicer the occasion. Why not drop by with the children or grandchildren and watch the Linnets? You might enjoy it. 

football fans cartoon


More tales and cartoons for Lymington and the New Forest from Mark and Hugh

If you'd like to read previous articles on diverse subjects written by Mark and illustrated by Hugh's cartoons, just click here!


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