…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World
Whilst pit-stopping for some coffee whilst on my travels this week the topic of a recent “alleged biting” incident in a game of rugby cropped up. I remarked how the sport is often referred to as “the gentleman’s game” and compared it to football (or soccer if you’re an American reading this), which is not.
I’ve never had any interest in either football or rugby; I could kick a ball straight since I actually enjoyed kicking a ball around, or back and forth between a brother, my dad, or a bus stop wall, and could dribble pretty well, but I shied away from any physical contact with others, perhaps being conscious of my slight build when along side my class mates at school.
When I started a new school (middle school) at a random point in the year, the male students were quick to ask me which team I supported; there was strangely a choice of only two (if you wanted to be cool), and I randomly picked one; my brother did the same and still supports them to this day.
Out on the playground during break times I had no interest in joining in with the cool kids though, much preferring to enact imaginary scenes from Back to the Future with the few kids that were as fun as me, but there was one memorable footballing moment as I walked alongside the edge of the playground whilst the usual game of football was well under-way; at that moment the ball headed my way and without a moment’s thought I kicked it (straight) into the goal, much to the bemusement of the “other” players who didn’t know what to make of it; I had unwittingly decided the match.
Then there was the not so fun moment whilst kicking a ball between a couple of guys on my estate when all of a sudden it was kicked towards me harder and higher and I raised my hands to stop it and, well, my wrist hurt for a few days.
Then, whilst reading Ronald Hutton’s book about “a history of the ritual year in Britain” called The Stations of the Sun, I came across this paragraph which explains a lot. I think it’s describing the time of John Aubrey which is some 400 years ago, and follows an explanation of cock fighting around Shrovetide.
Football provided another release for sadistic impulses, with teh added attraction that the victims were human and the drawback that they might include one’s self. Governments and writers interested int he reform of manners were generally agreed that the risk to bones and property involved outweighed the advantages of recreation. The game in its traditional form had no clearly defined teams and effectively no rules; and goals, if they existed at all, were of secondary importance to the thrill of fighting for possession of the ball. Its proscription by Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry VIII. The reiteration of these prohibitions gives an ominous indication of their effectiveness, and James I was content to forbid it within the precincts of the court, remarking that it was ‘meter for laming than making the users thereof’. In 1531 Sir Thomas Elyot, writing to encourage the development of a better-educated and more polished social elite, described it as ‘nothing but beastly fury and extreme violence, whereof procedeth hurt, and consequently rancour and extreme malice do remain’.
Hutton goes on to quote Philip Stubbs, “campaigning in 1583 for a more godly and better ordered society”:
It hardly seem surprising then when violence remains, either through ungentlemanly acts on the pitch, to those among some fans (who, ironically, get described as giving the sport a bad reputation.) Rugby football came later.