History of English Football (8th – 18th century)

he game of football generally flourished in England from around the 8th Century onwards. The game was incredibly popular with the working classes and there were considerable regional variations of the game throughout the country. Games were normally violent and disorganised affairs with any number of players – it was not uncommon for 1000 people to play in a single game. By the 11th Century, games were often played between rival villages and the ‘pitch’ could be an incredibly large area. The ‘pitch’ was not a defined size with a parameter, but included streets, fields, village squares and anything else that got in the way!

The level of violence within the game was astonishing. Players were kicked and punched regularly by opponents. In addition to any personal injury that occurred, countless property items were destroyed in the course of a match. Fields were often ruined, as were fences and hedges. Damage also occurred to people’s houses and businesses within the main streets of the village (or wherever the game travelled in its course).

For people living within the cities, football was still an alien concept and considered to be a ‘rural custom’. However in the second half of the 12th Century football had established itself in London. By 1175 an annual competition had been established in the capital and every Shrove Tuesday the game created huge interest and gained further popularity.

The future development of the urban game is not well known but some early records do mention the violent nature of the game within cities – there is even a mention of a player being stabbed to death by an opponent! Records also point to women being involved in the game during the 12th Century.

Information Links: