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We tend to think of Association Football as being the ordinary football of the masses whether played by favourite teams at the weekend or by children on the school field. Knockabout football in the playground or the recreation ground or in the street is thought of as a common or amateur version of the real thing but that may not be the case. Football in England goes back well beyond 1863 when the Association rules were drawn up and was played at least as long ago as the 1100s. It was an activity of the rural community and was one of the Calendar Customs.

The 'game' was played by a variable (and large) number of players on each side. Villages would divide into two sides or rival villages would make up the two teams. The pitch is a large area of terrain, typically anywhere between two pubs or other fixed points. The time of year is not consistent, but Shrovetide seems to be by far the most popular.

  • 1st January, Kirkwall, Orkney
  • Hocktide, Workington, Cumbria
  • Shrove Tuesday, Bromfield, Cumbria

Apart from Bromfield, there are traditions at Ashbourne in Derbyshire which is called 'Royal' after the Prince of Wales played in 1928, Atherstone in Warwickshire, Alnwick in Northumberland and Sedgefield in Durham.

There are very few rules so the game is quite dangerous. Apparently the Highways Act of 1835 banned playing football on the public highway and that killed off many of the games. There may have been public order concerns as well. Shrove Tuesday Football was played along the street at Chester-le-Street in County Durham and preparations for days beforehand included boarding windows. In 1891 a footbridge was destroyed in the melee. It was eventually banned by the Police in 1932.

See also: Haxey Hood