6. Medieval soccer was hugely popular among the peasants of the Middle Ages, though it was far different from the sport of today!
When there was no work to be done, medieval peasants needed to find another way of blowing off steam. Young men in particular often needed to find an outlet for their energy. Primitive sports were ideal for this. And then, as with now, football was hugely popular. But Medieval Soccer was a far cry from the ‘beautiful game’ of today. This was brutal, chaotic and, at times, the actual ball was incidental to the action.
Some historians believe that the game was originally brought to Great Britain by the Romans. Certainly, by the start of the Middle Ages, it was already widespread. And while the exact rules changed from village to village, the nature of the game was largely consistent right across the country: two teams would compete to pass an inflated pig’s bladder through a set goal. Usually, villages or towns would play against one another. Goals were placed in the market squares of both villages, usually miles apart, and then teams made up of as many men as could be mustered would kick or carry the ‘ball’ towards their opponent’s goal.
Famously, there were no real rules. So long as nobody was killed, anything went: kicking, punching and grappling were all perfectly acceptable. People broke limbs, noses or simply dropped from exhaustion – hardly surprising since a game could last one or two days, or possibly even longer. Inevitably, players were killed. For instance, the archives of the prestigious Oxford University recall one of its students being killed in a game of ‘mob football’ in the mid-14th century.
Partly due to the fact football could injure players – and so make them unproductive – there were numerous attempts were made to stop the peasants from playing it. In England in 1363, for example, King Edward III ordered that anyone caught playing football or other ‘idle games’ be imprisoned. More than 200 years later, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge banned their students from playing the sport, insisting it was not becoming of a gentleman. In the end, however, it was the passing of the Highways Act in the 19th century that spelled the end of Medieval Football. After that, the game slowly became codified and transformed into the sport we know today.