Carniball - background

The following article is reproduced from Do or Die! Issue 9.

It's All Kicking Off! - The Radical History of Football

There are some questions about football that may remain forever obscured by the murky, swirling mists of Years Gone By. Like who exactly decided that Bob Wilson was a natural TV presenter. Or how it ever came to pass that Chris Sutton thought he was too good for the England B team. Or how much exactly Man. United have to pay the referee for every minute of Mystery Stoppage Time. Oh yeah, and there's a few other bits and bobs as well. Like why did football ever happen in the first place, how did it end up like it is today and what has any of it got to do with Doing or Dying for the global resistance movement?

An appealingly simple answer to the question of why we play and watch football is that it's enjoyable. Desmond 'Naked Ape' Morris suggests that football emerged as a replacement for the fun of pack hunting that was an important part of earlier human life. He writes: "Viewed in this way, a game of football becomes a reciprocal hunt. Each team of players, or 'hunting pack', tries to score a goal by aiming a ball, or 'weapon' at a defended goal-mouth, or 'prey'... The essence of the ancient hunting pattern was that it involved a great deal of physical exercise combined with risk and excitement. It involved a long sequence with a build-up, with strategy and planning, with skill and daring and ultimately with a grand climax and a moment of triumph. This description fits well the activities of a sportsman such as a footballer, but is a far cry from the life-style of a worker at a factory-bench or a clerk in an office."[1]

Others have stuck their necks out with the theory that the first ball was a dead opponent's head on the battlefield, and there is a holy implausible suggestion in the 12-volume Book of Football, published in 1905, that the game began when Cain and Abel kicked an apple around the Garden of Eden in 5000 BC.[2] But one notion that certainly cannot be ruled offside is that football developed out of pagan religious rites. This evidence is not confined to Britain (which provides the focus for most of this article, simply because of availability of information), but has the kind of universal nature that suggests origins very early on in human history.

For instance, in China in 500 BC, people were playing a football game called "tsu chu".[3] Six hundred years later, the Chinese writer Li Yu (50-130 AD) penned this eulogy to the local game, designed to be hung on the goal posts:

"A round ball and a square goal
Suggest the shape of the Yin and the Yang.
The ball is like the full moon
And the two teams stand opposed."[4]

Elsewhere, the ancient Greeks had episkyros and the Romans harpastum; both ball games played with two teams.[5]

A Game of Two Halves

The first footie in Britain was played by huge numbers of people on vast 'pitches' with very few rules. Villages were divided into two sides, often based on where they lived. The games were usually linked to special dates in the calendar and some of these traditions have survived today. For instance, on January 1 in Kirkwall, Orkney, street football breaks out at 10.00am each year. There is a Hocktide (first Sunday after Easter) game at Workington, Cumbria, and July sees 'Reivers Week' at Duns, Borders, where the 'ba' game' is between the married and single men of the town. But the biggest day of the year for folk football in Britain is Shrove Tuesday. Some 50 such local traditions are recorded, although only six survive today.[6]

One of these is at Sedgefield, County Durham, where at 1.00pm, a ball is passed through a small ring, known as the Bull Ring, on the village green. It is then thrown to a baying pack of anything up to 1,000 players. The 500-yard pitch stretches between the two goals - an old duck pond and a stream - and the big match comes complete with its own traditional chant:

"When the pancakes are sated,
Come to the ring and you'll be mated,
There this ball will be upcast,
May this game be better than the last."

Another famous game is at Ashbourne, Derbyshire. The Up'ards, born one side of river Henmore, take on the Down'ards, born on the other. The goals are three miles apart, with several streams in between, making it rather tricky to score quickly on the break.

There are further contests at Atherstone in Warwickshire, Alnwick in Northumberland, Corfe Castle in Dorset and St. Columb in Cornwall. Although strictly speaking the latter is more a hurling game than a football match proper, it is worth a mention for having the most blatantly pagan matchday ritual. A silver ball is dipped into jugs of beer to make 'silver beer' in what sounds very much like a lunar ceremony... (We was over the moon, Brian.)

So why specifically Shrove Tuesday for football? Now only an excuse for pancake-gorging, this was originally an important pre-Christian spring festival, tied into the vernal equinox (Easter) and the last day of Carnival (Mardi Gras). The football element certainly fits into the general anarchy of the occasion - in the West Country, the night before was known as Nickanan Night, when mischief and vandalism abounded. Rather more of a long shot is that the shape of the ball could be tied into the theme of eggs and fertility that underlies these springtime rites.

Janet and Colin Bord argue that folk football is linked into weird hippy stuff like leylines and energy production:
"We have already suggested that the many customs involving dancing (for example, Morris dancing, May Day dancing, dancing around bonfires) and skipping may have been intended to raise energy and this idea can be extended to the rowdy and boisterous games which are also such a feature of Britain's traditions."

They quote Mircea Eliade, in Patterns of Comparative Religion, as stating:
"The contest and fights which take place in so many places in the spring or at harvest time undoubtedly spring from the primitive notion that blows, contests, rough games between the sexes and so on, all stir up and increase the energies of the whole universe."

And the Bords add:
"The customs may become clearer if we instead describe them as magical rites performed to raise energy, which is then directed to the desired goal, which is usually the fructification of crops, cattle, people and the well-being of the land itself. When these magical rites are performed at prehistoric sites which themselves may already produce or store energy, then the rites are adding to the energies present at the site and available for use."

They argue that there are strong links between these ancient special sites - the 'sacred turf' - and leys or energy networks:
"Jeremy Harte has already noted that the Alnwick Shrove Tuesday football game takes place along the main street, the A1068, which aligns with a church, an abbey and Eglingham church, while part of the A351 road in Corfe Castle, Dorset, again where Shrovetide football is played, aligns with the castle and a tumulus."[7]

It could be added that at another of our surviving Shrove Tuesday fixtures, at Atherstone, the main road also forms an important part of the pitch.[8] Readers may like to revive the tradition along their local leyline/dual carriageway, not forgetting to bring some tripods. Ancient sites or not, the same energising effect was evident in the version of football that continued the tradition in towns and cities in the Middle Ages. Between 1170 and 1183, William Fitz Stephen, biographer of Thomas a Becket, wrote of London:
"After dinner all the youth of the City goes out into the fields for the very popular game of ball." He said the elders came to watch and "there seems to be aroused in these elders a stirring of natural heat by viewing so much activity and by participation in the joys of unrestrained youth."[9]

But energy was not necessarily a good thing in a society where passivity, conformity and obedience to authority were increasingly required as urbanisation took a hold. Writes football historian James Walwin:
"Quite apart from the injuries to players, medieval observers were more alarmed by the wider social unrest caused by football. The game was simply an ill-defined contest between indeterminate crowds of youths, often played in riotous fashion, in tightly restricted city streets, producing uproar and damage to property... It was, in brief, a game which at times came perilously close to testing to the limits the social control of local and national governments."[10]

Bringing the Game into Disrepute

Urban disorder, defiance of the law, panicking authorities - it all sounds like the stuff of potential revolution. But was there any real undercurrent of radicalism in the footballing tradition? Certainly, not all radicals have thought so over the years. For instance, striking trade unionists in Derby in 1833-34 saw the local game as "barbarous recklessness and supreme folly", promoted by the local elite in a display of de-radicalising paternalism.[27] But on the other hand, as James Walwin points out:
"Football, with its wild teams and its violence, like many other apparently non-political and innocent phenomena, could easily become the spark for a wider disturbance."[28]

The historian adds:
"The game appealed primarily to young, healthy men whose vigour and collective boisterousness could not easily be contained by a society which lacked effective police forces or similar agents of social control. In London, for example, the apprentices - traditionally radical groupings, always willing to test the resilience of national and local governments - were often the chief cause of footballing incidents." These apprentices "posed a constant threat of unruliness and often of radical agitation", says Walwin.

Indeed, on several occasions in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries football is known to have been part of definitely political happenings. In 1638 in Lilleport and Ely, a football match was organised deliberately to attract a crowd and pull down the banks designed to drain local fens. In 1647, in opposition to miserable Puritanism and the increasing centralisation of authority, a Canterbury crowd closed down all the shops that had obeyed the order to open for Christmas. They then proceeded to serve free drinks for all, pelt the Presbyterian minister with shit and open the city gaol. When the mayor was vanquished and his officers seen off, the crowd produced footballs and some billeted republican soldiers deserted and joined in the fun.

In 1740 "A Match of Futtball was cried at Kettering of five Hundred Men of a side, but the design was to Pull Down Lady Betey Jesmaine's Mills." In 1764 at West Haddon, Northants, 2,000 acres of land was enclosed. Locals made the usual formal objections, but these were ignored. So they decided to play football on the enclosed land. "Within moments of kick-off, the football match degenerated into an overtly political mob which tore up and burned the enclosure fences. Dragoons, specially drafted from Northampton, could do nothing in the face of such resistance and the damage amounted to some £1,500."[29]

In 1768 an enclosure at Holland Fen, Lincolnshire, triggered off no fewer than three political 'football' matches in just one month. "July 1st, the insurgents, consisting of about two hundred men, threw up a football in the fen and played for about two hours, when a troop of dragoons, some gentlemen from Boston and four constables, having seized four or five of the rioters, committed them to Spalding gaol. Dr Shaw, of Wyberton, set three women rioters at liberty and the men were admitted to bail. On the 15th another ball was thrown up and no person opposed them... On the 29th another ball was thrown up without opposition."[30]

The Reverie's a Bastard

The most interesting thing about these examples is the way that a traditional game was being used to reclaim traditional rights. And it is at this interface between custom and protest that the true political relevance of football can probably be found. Although the various efforts to suppress football have had superficially practical reasons - such as re-directing the populace to the militarily useful sport of archery or stopping windows being smashed - there were deeper forces at work here. One of these was the ruling elite's constant fear of the energy and potential power of the mass of ordinary people, no matter whether it was harnessed to 'political' ends or not. An English gentleman is quoted as having complained in 1892:
"The lower middle and the working classes may be divided into two sets; Fabians and Footballers, and 'pon my word, it's difficult to say which is the greater nuisance to the other members of society."[31]

Walwin comments:
"Throughout these centuries, football was the game of the common people; the game reflects the lives of those who played it. Similarly the hostile reactions of the upper classes reflect their attitudes towards the commoners."[32]

In this context, it is not surprising that football was not the only popular tradition to meet with hostility from the ruling classes. By the Nineteenth century nearly every other custom from wood-gathering and gleaning to bonfires and Maypoles was under threat. Folklore researcher Bob Bushaway writes:
"Suppression of the vulgar and offensive elements of custom was seen as improving and as necessary if the sanctity of power and property was to be safeguarded. The purging and remodelling of popular customs during the Victorian period was the central feature of this image."[33]

He adds that "denial of access to customary locations and venues" was a key part of this suppression, in particular through enclosure. At the heart of the conflict was the difference between custom and law and the efforts of authority to replace the first with the second. This was hardly a new phenomenon even then - radical bishop and reformer John of Antioch was declaring back in the fourth century that "The enslaved are the fittest to be governed by laws and free men by custom."[34]

Oliver Goldsmith also defended custom over law in the Eighteenth century, as did John Stuart Mill in 1848. Wrote the latter:
"The farther we look back into history, the more we see all transactions and engagements under the influence of fixed customs. The reason is evident. Custom is the most powerful protector of the weak against the strong; their sole protector where there are no laws of governments adequate to the purpose."[35]

Bushaway notes: "A language of custom was understood by the community, which indicated action which was tolerated, censured action which was not and acted as a vehicle for enforcing the collective will." And these customs simply could not be accepted by the law, resulting in "the redefinition of custom as crime."[36]

E.P. Thompson produced some fascinating evidence of the way in which custom is tied in with popular working class culture.[37] And radical historian Christopher Hill asks, while considering the changes brought in with land enclosure from 1641 to the early 1900s:
"Why should the lower classes respect laws which asserted property rights AGAINST traditional popular customs in the villages?"[38]

And he links the defence of popular tradition and custom with "an ideology of freedom... which looks back to Robin Hood and his outlaws." The concept of a custom-led, self-governing traditional society is also central to some versions of anarchist theory, particularly that of German-Jewish anarcho-socialist Gustav Landauer (1870-1919). He used the word 'Geist' to describe a kind of community spirit that was the cement within a custom-based society, one built from the bottom upwards. Argued Landauer:
"The state, with its police and all its law and its contrivances for property rights, exists for the people as a miserable replacement for Geist and for organisations with specific purposes; and now the people are supposed to exist for the sake of the state, which pretends to be some sort of ideal structure and a purpose in itself, to be Geist... There exists a community alongside the state, not just a sum of isolated individual atoms, but an organic solidarity, consisting of highly differentiated groups... We still know nothing or very little about this supraindividual structure that is pregnant with Geist, but one day it will be known that socialism is not the invention of something new, but the discovery of something that has been present and has grown in society."[39]

Landauer saw this Geist as representing freedom. Since we do not have freedom in current society, that makes Geist, or community spirit, an automatically revolutionary force. This was surely a conclusion shared by those who went to such lengths to kill off football and the other customs threatening their system from below.

We was Robbed

Of course, outright suppression was not the only method used to wipe out allegiance to a folk-law that was holding up the onward march of Progress. Writes Bushaway: "In late Hanoverian and Victorian England, the propertied class attempted to annex popular custom and the customary rights of the poor, partly by suppression and partly by acquisition and transformation."[40] In the same way that bawdy and pagan Morris Men were transformed into stockbrokers waving white hankies around on a Sunday afternoon and nursery rhymes had all the words changed for polite Victorian society, so was football re-invented for the modern era. You could argue that its absorption into the status quo started as far back as 1615 when James I attended a football match in Wiltshire or 1681 when Charles II attended a fixture between members of Royal Household and Duke of Albermarle's servants.[41]

Fan Power: April 1996, Brighton and Hove Albion fans occupy the Goldstone ground. When dodgy director Bill Archer sold off the Seagulls' old historic ground for a song his schemes left the club homeless and fans took things into their own hands, starting a protest movement to kick out Archer and save their club. Saturday April 27 was due to be the last match ever played at the Goldstone. But just 15 minutes into the game against York thousands of fans invaded the pitch, the York and Brighton fans swapping shirts and uniting in chants of 'Sack the Board'.

But today's association football was truly born of the 'muscular Christianity' of Victorian Britain, where city missions and big public schools "saw football as a healthy means of channelling aggression and teaching the important lessons of team spirit and competition."[42]

Of course, oral custom had to be replaced by written laws and in 1848 the Cambridge Rules were drawn up at Cambridge University by old boys from Eton, Harrow, Shrewsbury and Winchester. In 1862 a set of ten rules was drafted by J.C. Thring of Uppingham College, and in 1888 a professional Football League was set up.[43] From then on, it was all downhill. The plebs were turned from participants into passive spectators and the final whistle was blown on the threat posed to the establishment by football. Right? Well, not quite. Football was one popular custom whose spirit refused to lie down straight away and the participation did not so much die out as transfer to the terraces. It is something of a myth that football crowds were all well-behaved gatherings of dapper middle-aged men in hats until the 1960s. For instance, the term 'hooligan' was invented in 1898. And researchers at Leicester University say more than 4,000 incidents of hooliganism occurred at football matches between 1894 and 1914, particularly from 1894 to 1900 and 1908 to 1914. They suggest a link between outbreaks of football violence and the presence in the crowd of members of youth gangs, the so-called 'scuttlers' or 'peaky blinders'.[44] But it was not just the odd pitch invasion or outbreak of fisticuffs that made the act of watching football a natural continuation of playing folk football. The upper classes knew this too. This was why, right from the start, they condemned the uncivilised cult of 'spectatorism'.

Writes sports historian Richard Holt: "It was perfectly acceptable for keen players to watch others playing for the love of it, but it was quite another for thousands of working-class youths and men to shout and swear, roaring their team on to victory by fair means or foul. Far from being 'rational', this was no more than mindless fanaticism, obstinate and arbitrary partisanship devoid of sense, morality or self-restraint. Little different in fact from the mobs that had baited bulls or carried the bladder of a pig from one end of the town to another. Was it for this that the old games had been revised and refined in the best schools in the land?"[45]

However, despite this continuity of spirit, changes in the world outside meant that the political implications of football's fanaticism changed during the course of the Twentieth Century. Passionate loyalty to locality remained, but the locality was the nearest city with which urban or suburban supporters identified, rather than the community in which they lived. Says Holt:
"These inhabitants of big cities needed a cultural expression of their urbanism which went beyond the immediate ties of kin and locality. A need for rootedness as well as excitement is what seems most evident in the behaviour of football crowds."[46] And what better extension of this industrialised ersatz-identity than chauvinistic patriotism, encouraged by the growth of flag-waving international matches? The obstinacy and bloody-mindedness that was once directed to defending local traditions and local autonomies was now diverted into an emotional attachment with large authoritarian organisations - the clubs - and with national states. Not much radical potential in that, and it is not surprising in these circumstances that the terraces provided useful recruiting grounds in the 1970s for the likes of the National Front. There was more to this than just the dynamics of football crowds - the alienation of a stagnating left from much of the working class was also a contributing factor.

Perhaps it was the over-representation of liberal, politically correct and middle class values on what passed for the political 'left' (today's New Labour faithful?) that led them to join the centuries-old condemnation of football as thuggish, boorish, worthless etc. etc. For behind all the moral outrage about violence, pitch invasions and obscene chanting, it was clear that their real objection to football crowds was that they were predominantly working-class and didn't obey the laws as laid down by their betters. Writes Holt: "Middle-class ideals of 'playing the game' have always been alien to rough working-class culture. Deracinated urban youths have built upon this uncompromisingly physical attitude to games and turned it into a different, more aggressive and organized subculture."

Recounting an anecdote about fans placing shit in a rival supporter's shoes, Holt links this aspect into the ancient tradition of misrule in football. "Antics of this kind had been the stuff of carnival throughout Western Europe for centuries. In Nineteenth century Paris young revellers would melt down chocolate and smear horrified passers-by with what they took to be excrement."[47] In the 1980s, particularly after the tragedy at Heysel in 1985,[48] it looked as if Mrs. Thatcher was going to simply ban this horrible working class activity and get the Americans to bomb Wembley. But instead, capitalist common sense prevailed and the industrialised version of football was absorbed into late Twentieth century consumerism. The Hillsborough disaster of 1989,[49] which should have been a searing indictment of the way fans were treated by police and clubs, was instead used as an excuse to try and kill off fan culture with compulsory all-seater stadiums in the top division. At the same time football found a whole lot more shit falling out of the Sky as money-grabbing City fans queued up at the metaphorical turnstiles to cash in on the ultimate brand loyalty of supporting a football team. British Sky Broadcasting now owns stakes in Man. United, Chelsea, Leeds, Man. City and Sunderland. Granada owns a stake in Liverpool and New York cable company NTL owns shares in Aston Villa and Newcastle.[50]

They think it's all over...

The game lives on, obviously, and is even more popular than ever. But every season the fans are becoming more like consumers of any other contemporary leisure product. You can't always afford to go any more. You can't stand up. You can't sit with the crowd you want to, because your pre-booked plastic seat is numbered. It's not as bad outside the Premiership, but then smaller clubs left out of the cash bonanza could well be going to the wall in large numbers in years to come. So is this the end of the football spirit in this country? What can be done to save the game from the grasps of global capitalism? There have been plenty of attempts at fomenting real rebellion in the football grounds. Fan power, harnessed to the independent fanzine movement, has kept the flag of dissent flying and the influence of the far right has been successfully challenged by anti-fascist groups. But it seems to be a losing battle. Even the anarchist mag Animal wasn't very optimistic in its football special in 1998, sighing: "Is the best supporters can hope for to join together in the independent supporters associations, build their arguments and then hit the money men when the opportunities present themselves?"[51]

Perhaps the answer is to forget the capitalist citadels of modern professional football and go back to football's roots for inspiration. Seven-a-side footie tournaments are already a regular feature of radical gatherings like May Day 2000, the Easton Cowboys from Bristol forged international revolutionary links by travelling to Chiapas to play football with the Zapatistas and Reclaim the Streets-style mass street football matches have also taken place. Alongside this we would also do well to look at the way that football, and customs as a whole, can motivate and empower communities.

There's only Wahn Gustav Landauer

Whatever you think of leylines, the idea put forward by the Bords that football creates energy has a lot going for it. Energy. This is surely what we need in order to foment and encourage a real rebellion against the forces of industrial darkness, not more arid analyses and half-cocked compromises. We need to find the catalyst to release the ancient, raw energy of the people, the kind of spine-tingling collective power that can still, despite everything, be experienced at football matches. This was what Landauer was talking about with the dynamic extension of his Geist, or community spirit, into what he termed Wahn. He wrote: "Wahn is not only every goal, every ideal, every belief in a sense and purpose of life and the world: Wahn is every banner followed by mankind, every drumbeat leading mankind into danger; every alliance that unites mankind and creates from a sum of individuals a new structure, an organism. Wahn is the greatest thing mankind has; there is always something of love in it: love is Geist and Geist is love: and love and Geist are Wahn."[52]

And when we have energised our Wahn and defeated Property, Progress and Profit United, we will perhaps once again have enough space and time for a nice relaxing game of footie..

1) Desmond Morris - Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behaviour (Triad/Granada, London, 1978)
2) Jonathan Rice - Curiosities of Football (Pavilion, London, 1996)
3) Op. Cit. 2.
4) James Walwin - The People's Game: The Social History of British Football (Allen Lane, London, 1975)
5) Op. Cit. 2.
6) Quentin Cooper and Paul Sullivan - Maypoles, Martyrs and Mayhem: 366 Days of British Customs, Myths and Eccentricities (Bloomsbury, London, 1994)
7) Janet and Colin Bord - Earth Rites: Fertility Practices in Pre-Industrial Britain (Granada, London, 1982)
8) Op. Cit. 6.
9) Op. Cit. 4.
10) Ibid.
11) Op. Cit. 2.
12) Ibid.
13) Ibid.
14) Ibid.
15) Op. Cit. 4.
16) Op. Cit. 2.
17) Op. Cit. 4.
18) Ibid.
19) Ibid.
20) Ibid.
21) Op. Cit. 2.
22) Op. Cit. 4.
23) Ibid.
24) Ibid.
25) (Quoted in) Ibid.
26) Bob Bushaway - By Rite: Custom, Ceremony and Community in England 1700-1880 (Junction, London, 1982) 27) Dave Russell - Football and the English: A Social History of Association Football in England, 1863-1995 (Carnegie, Preston, 1997)
28) Op. Cit. 4.
29) Ibid.
30) Ibid.
31) Ibid.
32) Ibid.
33) Op. Cit. 26.
34) Ibid.
35) John Stuart Mill - Principles of Political Economy (Toronto, 1965)
36) Op. Cit. 26.
37) Notably in Customs in Common (Merlin, 1991)
38) Christopher Hill - Liberty Against the Law: Some Seventeen Century Controversies (Allen Lane, London, 1996)
39) Aufruf zum Sozialismus (Berlin, 1919), quoted by Charles B Maurer in Call to Revolution: The Mystical Anarchism of Gustav Landauer (Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1971)
40) Op. Cit. 26.
41) Op. Cit. 2.
42) Ibid.
43) Ibid.
44) Op. Cit. 27.
45) Richard Holt - Sport and the British: A Modern History (Clarendon, Oxford, 1989)
46) Ibid.
47) Ibid.
48) Thirty-nine people died on May 29 1985 during the European Champions Cup Final match between Liverpool and the Italian club Juventus at Heysel in Belgium. Liverpool fans tried to attack the Juventus fans and panic set in among the Italians. In their alarm they caused a wall to collapse trapping and killing people underneath.
49) In 1989 a semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough stadium took the lives of 96 Liverpool fans in a crush in the crowd caused by incompetent policing.
50) The Guardian, March 4, 2000.
51) Issue 2. PO Box 467, London E8 3QX, UK.
52) Beginnen: Aufsaetze uber Sozialismus, edited by Martin Buber (Cologne, 1924), Op. Cit. 39.

600 Glorious Years of Beastlie Furie and Extreme Violence
From medieval times right through to the Nineteenth century, football battled against various attempts to suppress it. Highlights include:

1287: Synod of Exeter bans "unseemly sports" from churchyards.[11]

1314: Edward II's ministers issue a proclamation stating that "forasmuch as there is a great noise in the city caused by Hustling over large balls, from which many evils may arise, which God forbid, we command and forbid, on behalf of the King, on pain of imprisonment, such game to be used in the city in future."[12]

1349: Edward III repeats the prohibition, describing football as one of many "foolish games which are of no use". Further decrees against football follow in 1389 and 1401.[13]

1531: Sir Thomas Elyot writes in his treatise The Boke Named The Governour that football is "nothing but beastlie furie and extreme violence".[14]

1555: Football is banned at Oxford University.[15]

1572: Elizabeth I passes a decree that "No football play to be used or suffered within the City of London".[16]

1576: A group of artisans in Ruislip "with unknown malefactors to the number of a hundred, assembled themselves unlawfully and played a certain unlawful game, called football, by reason of which unlawful game there arose amongst them great affray, likely to result in homicides and serious accidents."[17]

1608-9: Reports in Manchester of "a companye of lewde and disordered persons using that unlawful exercise of playinge with the footbale in ye streets of the a said towne breakinge many men's windows and glasse..."[18]

1615: Football is said to be causing "greate disorders and tumults" in the City of London.[19]

1600s: "In many respects Puritanism in that period became a greater enemy of sport, especially of the popular, bloody variety, than medieval monasticism had been, and the history of sport in Puritan England could be written largely in terms of the regular enactments against it."[20] The Puritan pamphleteer Philip Stubbes writes that football is more "a bloody murthering practice than a fellowly sport or pastime".[21]

1660: It is alleged of an undergraduate at Cambridge University that "he was in a companie that did in a Riotous manner throw clotts or stones at the deputy proctor and Masters of Arts who came to prevent scholars from playing at football, and other disorderly meetings there."[22]

1796: After the death of a man in Derby's Shrove Tuesday game, football is condemned as "disgraceful to humanity and civilisation, subversive of good order and Government and destructive of the Morals, Properties and very lives of our Inhabitants."[23]

1830s: "The days had gone when authorities stood by helplessly while their subjects took the law into their own hands with impunity; in the capital for instance bands of footballers ceased to be able to create mayhem at will. Street football in the old cities was one of the victims of effective law enforcement."[24]

1838: "Football seems to have almost gone out of use with the inclosure of wastes and commons, requiring a wide space for its exercise."[25]

1881: Evard Home Coleman reports: "The ancient custom of playing at football in the public streets was observed at Nuneaton on the afternoon of March 1st. During the morning a number of labourers canvassed the town for subscriptions and between one and two o'clock the ball was started, hundreds of roughs assembling and kicking it through the streets. The police attempted to stop the game, but were somewhat roughly handled."[26]

An Introduction To Three-Sided Football

It appears that the first person to come up with the idea of 3-sided football was Asger Jorn, who saw it as a means of conveying his notion of trialectics - a trinitarian supercession of the binary structure of dialectics. We are still trying to discover if there were any actual games organised by him. Before the London Psychogeographic Association organised its first game at the Glasgow Anarchist Summer School in 1993, there is little evidence of any games being played.

There is, of course, the rumour that Luther Blissett organised an informal league of youth clubs which played 3-sided football during his stint at Watford in the early Eighties. Unfortunately, our research has found no evidence to support this. Nevertheless, Blissett's name will probably remain firmly linked to the 3-sided version of the game, even if in an apocryphal fashion.

The key to the game is that it does not foster aggression or competitiveness. Unlike two-sided football, no team keeps a record of the number of goals they score. However they do keep a tally of the goals they concede, and the winner is determined as the team which concedes least goals. The game deconstructs the mythic bi-polar structure of conventional football, where an us-and-them struggle mediated by the referee mimics the way the media and the state pose themselves as 'neutral' elements in the class struggle. Likewise, it is no psycho-sexual drama of the fuckers and fucked - the possibilities are greatly expanded!

The pitch is hexagonal; each team being assigned two opposite sides for bureaucratic purposes should the ball be kicked out of the play. The blank side is called the frontside. The side containing the orifice is called the backside, and the orifice is called a goal. Should the ball be thrust through a team's orifice, the team is deemed to have conceded a goal - so in an emblematic fashion this perpetuates the anal-retentive homophobic techniques of conventional football whereby homo-erotic tension is built up, only to be sublimated and repressed.

However the trialectic appropriation of this technique dissolves the homo-erotic/homo-phobic bipolarity as a successful attack will generally imply co-operation with the third team. This should overcome the prominent resistance to women taking their full part in football.

Meanwhile the penetration of the defence by two opposing teams imposes upon the defence the task of counterbalancing their disadvantage through sowing the seeds of discord in an alliance which can only be temporary. This will be achieved through exhortation, body language, and an ability to manoeuvre the ball and players into such a position that one opposing team will realise that its interests are better served by breaking off the attack and allying themselves with the defending team.

Bearing in mind that such a decision will not necessarily be immediate, a team may well find itself split between two alliances. Such a situation opens them up to the possibility of their enemies uniting, making maximum use of this confusion. 3-sided football is a game of skill, persuasion and psychogeography. The semicircle around the goal functions as a penalty area and it may be necessary to use it for some sort of offside rule which has yet to be developed.
by the Association of Autonomous Astronauts (East London Branch), Box 15, 138 Kingsland High Street, London E8 2NS, UK.

Football to the Footballers!

In the insurgent Paris of May 1968 when millions of workers were on strike, the students had occupied the universities, the president had fled the country and France seemed on the verge of revolution, the footballers were not to be left out. Footballers occupied the headquarters of the French Football Federation and issued a communiqué:

"We footballers belonging to the various clubs in the Paris region have today decided to occupy the headquarters of the French Football Federation. Just like the workers are occupying their factories, and the students occupying their faculties. Why?


...Now it's up to you: footballers, trainers, managers of small clubs, countless friends and fans of football, students and workers - to preserve the quality of your sport by joining us to...

...DEMAND THE IMMEDIATE DISMISSAL (by means of a referendum of the 600,000 footballers, controlled by themselves) of the profiteers of football and the insulters of the footballers.

FREE FOOTBALL FROM THE TUTELAGE OF THE MONEY OF THE PATHETIC PRETEND-PATRONS who are at the root of the decay of football. And demand from the state the SUBSIDIES that it accords to all other sports, and which the pontiffs of the Federation have never claimed.

So that football may remain yours, we call on you to MAKE YOUR WAY WITHOUT DELAY to the headquarters of the Federation which has again become YOUR HOUSE, at 60 Avenue d'Iena, Paris.

United, we will make football once again what it ought never to have ceased to be - the sport of joy, the sport of the world of tomorrow which all the workers have started building. EVERYONE TO 60 AVENUE D'IENA!"

- Footballer's Action Committee
From: Enragés and Situationists in the Occupations Movement, May '68 by René Viénet (Autonomedia/Rebel Press, 1992)