old football

It’s (fairly) well known that football as we know it today evolved over the course of the nineteenth century, with most of the rules being codified in England.  However, Scotland and Ireland also played significant roles in this nineteenth century development and, of course, there was what is referred to as “medieval football” – the mass of bodies wrestling and fighting to force a “ball” towards a specific “goal,” the latter being sometimes a river or a hole in the ground or the boundaries of two opposing villages.

In Scotland, this medieval football was called “the ‘Ba game” and it is still played in Orkney and the Borders to this day.  However, Aberdeenshire can also lay claim to having an interest in this proto-football, with records from the early 17th century showing that in either 1633 or 1636 (opinions differ as to which is the correct year), there is some evidence of schoolboys in Aberdeen playing a football game. The original source is in Latin, but roughly translated it suggests that handling of the ball was allowed, as was charging into the opposition, and the ball may have been “passed” from player to player. The word used for the goal in the original source is (in Latin) “metum,” which was the pillar at each end of the circus course in a Roman chariot race.  As any Spanish scholars will know, the word for goal in that language is “meta.”

Even earlier than this, in June 1607, a group of youths in Aberdeen were charged with ‘drinking, playing futte-ball, danceing, and passing fra paroche to paroche.”  In other words, they were wandering through the city from parish to parish, drinking, dancing and playing football.  It sounds like a pretty ordinary Friday night, pre-pandemic, if you ask me …

Julie Skinner, Benefits and Resourcing Specialist, RGU