Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Why is soccer called soccer? And wehre were football's rules made?

The Royal Mail has a new series of pictorial stamps.  I'm so excited -- not because I'm a stamp collector, but because the theme is Landmarks of Britain.  I published a book of that very title in 2005; I'm not claiming copyright but have still got a proprietary interest in the subject.  I've blogged about it for the Daily Mail Online.  But I can't resist sharing a favourite landmark with anyone reading the blog here.  

This is the place:
Parker's Piece, Cambridge.

And why is it a landmark?  Read on.

Victorian England was a place of rules.  Rules were certainly needed for the game of football, whose origins lay in the anarchy of the Middle Ages, when teams of any size kicked an inflated pig’s bladder into their opponents territory.  More recently, it had become popular at public schools.  But the tendency for each school to play a different version of the game led to difficulties when players met at university.  On Parker’s Piece – the open ground where football was played at  Cambridge – the confusion became too much for H. De Winton and J.C. Thring, two University footballers.  In 1848 they met with representatives from other schools, and after an interminable meeting drew up the first set of rules for association football.  Today, football is still played according to Cambridge Rules.

Football is still played according to Cambridge Rules although the original Rules were somewhat different from their present form.   It was permissible to catch the ball, shoulder barge opponents, and any member of the team could act as goalie, when occasion offered.  These rules were revised in 1863, at a meeting which took place in the Freemasons’ Tavern, Great Queen Street, near the Royal Opera House in London.  The Football Association was born.  Footballers who persisted in playing by different rules found that their game was now called rugby. 

For the time being, soccer retained some of its original gentlemanly overtones.  The very word ‘soccer’ derives from assoc + er (as in Association Football), following the public schoolboy’s delight in diminutives such as brekker for breakfast.  But a new era was dawning.  The first issue of Country Life, published in 1897, contained an article asking whether football should go professional.  In fact professionals had been tolerated by the Football Association since 1885.  The game  acquired a new following from fans who watched as well as played.  In the course of the next hundred years it would become the most popular ball game in the world. 

Incidentally, this was Parker's Piece at the time of Queen Victoria's Coronation.  Any chance they could recreate it for the Jubilee?

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