During the late Middle Ages, Europeans often played a sport now called folk football for recreation.

The early history of football

Early games resembling football were played in ancient China, Greece, and Rome. By 1000, folk football was played throughout Europe, brought to England in the Norman Conquest. Various parts of Britain banned football as a "disturbance of the peace", a "frivolous activity", or a "riot" between the early 1300s and the mid-1800s. But by the mid-1800s, schools were developing their own forms of football, and October 1863 saw the formation of the Football Association in England, which set standardized rules for a form of football that came to be called "association football", or soccer for short. See soccer and/or football for the further history.

The rules

When folk football was popular, the rules were never standardized. Here, I do my best to describe some rules that reenactors could use to make a convincing game of folk football, using modern soccer rules to fill in the gaps. I give the rules as differences from the modern soccer rules as published by FIFA.

Modification to Law 1

Folk football was played on the streets of one town or on a road connecting two towns together, along with the surrounding countryside. Though the goal areas were usually agreed upon (often involving a town square for road matches), the boundaries of the playing area were not well defined.

Modification to Law 3

Teams were not limited to about a dozen as in modern football but rather comprised a good portion of each town's population; there was no difference between a spectator and a player. Substitution was continuous as in modern ice hockey, and nobody had the names of all players (of course).

Modification to Law 4

Players typically did not wear uniforms. They had to be smart in order to avoid passing the ball to the opponents. Equipment wasn't nearly as advanced then as it is now.

Modification to Laws 5 and 6

It is not clear how folk football was officiated.

Modification to Law 7

Games could last longer. Much longer. It is not clear how long games were supposed to last.

Modification to Law 11

The "offside" rule (a player is offside unless two opponents are in front of or level with the receiver, and an offside player can't receive a pass) had not yet been thought up; there were usually enough players defending the town square to make it moot anyway.

Modification to Law 12

Fouls were not enforced much if at all in folk football. The game was much more physical (think rugby) than modern soccer.

Modification to Laws 13 through 17

The lack of fouls and clear boundaries along with the sheer size of the playing area makes these rules largely moot. Handling the ball was common, but there may have been a limitation as to how far the ball could be carried, as in Gaelic football.

Works Consulted

  • "Football." http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=de&u=http://www.lexi-tv.de/lexikon/thema.asp%3FInhaltID%3D802%26Seite%3D2
  • Gerhardt, Wilfried. "The colourful history of a fascinating game." http://www.fifa.com/en/game/historygame.html
  • Fédération Internationale de Football Association. "Laws of the Game." http://images.fifa.com/fifa/handbook/laws/2002/LOTG2002_E.pdf
  • "Simplified Soccer Rules." http://www.soccerpal.com/soccerpal.nsf/(pages)/Kids-rules

Polar opposite

See five-a-side football.

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