Opposition to Early Soccer
Unsurprisingly, the type of football played in medieval and Early Modern times had a chequered history with the law. Football was first banned altogether in 1314 when the merchants of London complained to King Edward II (above) that the riotous game was disrupting their trade and causing general mayhem. The royal decree stated that ‘there is 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 the future.’
Edward II’s law does not seem to have been very effective, since football was banned a further 30 times between 1314 and 1667. Even Henry VIII, a keen sportsman and owner of the first-recorded pair of football boots, had had enough of the violence of the game in 1540 and issued a largely-ignored ban on the sport. However, not every ban was inspired by the disapproval of football’s brutality, but simply because of its popularity. The great warrior king Edward III banned football in 1349 because it distracted men from practicing archery, and ‘national defense depend[ed] upon such bowmen’.
Opposition to football was also common amongst the pious, with the exception of popes (see above). The Bishop of Tréguier not only banned football in 1440 but threatened to excommunicate anyone caught playing it in his diocese, describing the game as ‘dangerous and pernicious’. Oliver Cromwell, once a noted footballer during his days at Oxford University, banned the sport (along with almost all recreational activities, the miserable git) when he became Lord Protector of the Commonwealth in 1653. The game was also used as an insult by Shakespeare: in King Lear, Kent calls an opprobrious servant a ‘base football player’.