Glendale Local History Society

Alnwick's Shrove Tuesday football match. Picture by Jane Coltman
Alnwick's Shrove Tuesday football match. Picture by Jane Coltman

On a bleak March evening, Professor Gavin Kitching gave an interesting and philosophical account on the origins of traditional football in the North East to members of Glendale Local History Society.

We were taken on a journey which started from a hypothesis on the origins of the game, through various detours and oddities including a philosophical approach to the language of football and finally the recognition of a mistake in the original premise which led Gavin to a simple conclusion as to why football is so popular.

At the start, Gavin outlined his original proposition that the social history of the recent past in the North East could be viewed through the lens of the development of football. He also questioned how football had come to the region and become so popular.

We were told the first clubs (1852) in the region were rugby clubs and contrary to popular belief were not just the haunt of the well-heeled but attracted all members of society.

He went on to question whether football was an old game that had a previous long tradition and had just been ‘swept up’ by these clubs. The conclusions reached were illustrated by a series of oddities recorded from football matches.

Some games had been played over a number of days with varying numbers of players ranging from one up to a great number.

There did not appear to be a long tradition of the game as played today.

We were next taken on a detour to consider the Shrovetide football matches played in Northumberland and the Borders.

These games traditionally involve not just kicking the ball but handling it and the opposing players. In common with other games of football it did involve the scoring of goals and differing teams.

These games, while not representative of football today, seem to have been played from medieval times to the present day.

The rules governing football as we know it did not evolve until the mid-19th century.

The 14 rules of football were adopted by the Football Association (FA) on the evening of November 28, 1863.

Over the next few years, those rules were amended a number of times, though the changes did not necessarily lead to changes in how the game was played.

However, by the late 1870s, most games were played in accord with the FA rules.

Consideration of the origins of the word football and associated terms led to the principles of linguistic economy, ie in the development of language we tend to make use of existing words and give them a new twist rather than develop new words.

If this is the case, then the common factors in football which must have been present over a long period of time are the presence of two teams engaging in a game and the scoring of goals.

The conclusion reached by Gavin was that his original hypothesis that football was linked to the social history of the North East was incorrect.

The game described and played as football in the distant past was not the game played today.

As to why football is so popular in the North East and elsewhere then there is only one simple conclusion to be reached. Football is an attractive game which people enjoy playing and watching.

Our next meeting will be on April 14, when Neil Munro will talk about Old Street Names of Newcastle. Visitors are most welcome.