The Beautiful Game Revisited | Newberry

The Beautiful Game Revisited

From the Library of Sports and Pastimes: Athletics and Football

From the Library of Sports and Pastimes: Athletics and Football

Dear Walter: I recently finished watching the World Cup this summer, and was hoping to feed my newfound love for the game of soccer. What do you recommend?

—Franklin S. Weeper, Fort Collins, CO

My Dear Mr Weeper,

the word’s utterance requires the most oppressive Phonemes of Midwestern speech. It verily takes up residence—establishes a Domicile—in the nasal passages, wouldn’t you agree? As for the Object to which it refers, I am a gentleman of Leisure, a citizen of the Mind, and so cannot pretend to declaim upon it as an Authority. Give me the “Sport” of gathering the final volume of Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire from the topmost shelf in my Study any Day of the Week. However, I grant all queries an equality of consideration, and shall vouchsafe a Reply.

The Newberry does have in its Collection, Dear Franklin, a Volume that may prove edifying to your Soccer-addled mind: Athletics and Football, published in 1894 as part of the Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes series. Perhaps a smattering of background information will be of some Utility.

For a good deal of Time, while the Glorious 1800s (from which yours truly hails) waxed their way mid century, “Football” was played primarily among the youthful Britons fortunate enough to attend a Public School. Of course, in contrast to the Semantics on this side of the Atlantic, British “public” schools were the province of the Elite: those whose Genealogy included William the Conqueror and Beowulf and so on and so forth. The exclusivity of the Pursuit, however, did not suppress a litany of Opinions and Sentiments regarding the Proper way to engage in It. Each school, seemingly, promoted its own Rules, which varied according to the Allowances made for the hands and feet. For reasons that should be Self-Evident, this inconsistency would prove untenable; with the passage of Labor Laws (adieu, 16-hour workday!) and the ensuing Democratization of Leisure, the demand became all the greater for a codification of rules capable of governing a larger collection of Players. Two unified systems emerged: that which we recognize today as Rugby, and…FOOTBALL—ahem, soccer.

A culmination in this movement to Codify the rules of the game arrived with publication of Athletics and Football by Montague Sherman (which includes, lest we forget, “a contribution on paper-chasing by W. Rye”).

Enjoy! Now, if you will excuse me, I’ve grown faint (I feel as though I Myself have raced several Leagues along the pitch), and Gibbon beckons.