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Antique Sports - Old Football Days And Toggery

By W. Porter Ware

( Article orginally published September 1962 )

The origin of football can be traced to England. Edward II in the year 1314 referred to "the great noise in the city caused by hustling over large balls."

Henry VIII, and Elizabeth, enacted laws against the game which was, at that time, fierce and brutal. Sir Thomas Elyot in 1531 mentions football as:

"...nothyng but beastely fury and extreme violence, whereof proceedeth hurte and consequently rancour and malice to remayne with bhym that be wounded, wherefore it is to be put in perpetual silence."

By the time of Charles II, football had a hold in Cambridge, as witness this paragraph from the register book dating 1679:

"That no schollers give or receive at any time any treat or collation upon account of ye football play, on or about Viichaelmas Day, further than Colledge beers or ale in ye open halle to quench their thirsts. And particularly that that most vile custom of drinking and spending money-Sophisters and Freshmen together-upon ye account of making or not making a speech at that football time be utterly left off and extinguished."

The last century saw the beginning of football ias an organized game although at first no regular rules were observed. The object was to drive the ball through the opponent's side to the goal by almost any means.

On Shrove Tuesday both sexes and all ages would take part. Houses were boarded up as a protection from rough play. By 1830, the Shrove Tuesday games died a natural death.

Some schools took on the dribble playing (mentioned later in this story) because courtyards in numbers of these institutions were too hard for tackling.

At Rugby, as we know from "Tom Brown's School Days", the game was developed into a rough tumble about. "Hacking" (kicking at legs) and other brutalities were allowed. In 1877 leg kicking was abolished.

Since Rugby School came closest to furnishing a code or set of rules for the game, even though vague, players in all walks of life outside of the school orbit joined in, with their games patterned after the rulings at this institution.

Harvard secured the rules from Canada and introduced them to the United States. After playing a year or so with the Canadians, Harvard persuaded Yale to adopt the English Rugby rules, and the first match was played in 1876 between these two American colleges, under the Rugby Union rules.

During the following 10 or 12 years the code of football underwent many changes. Since there had been no American tradition to the game, up to that time, definite rules had to be prepared and thrashed out.

College players had spent much time at conventions at which rules were made to solve annoying problems where no solution was offered in the English rules. Thus, the rules increased to double those of the original code. Useless English rules were dropped.

When it was felt that rules were sufficient, from a practical standpoint, thereafter but two or three rules were changed in a year.

The American rules were firmly established by 1888, and the public frequently wondered just how our game differed from the English play. Actually, there remained abroad two types of game--first, the regular Rugby; and second, the Association game, so-called.

These two differed radically. In the Association game players were not allowed to run with the ball in their arms or hands, but moved it rapidly with their feet, executing a "dribble."

Here we should quote Walter a:np in the year 1889:

"When the sport of football was first introduced into our American colleges -- players were called, according to their position, forwards, half-backs, and goal-tends.

"The forwards were also sometimes spoken of as rushers, and the goal-tends as backs. These latter names, apparently, were more suited to the tastes of the players, so they have become more usual, and the terms forward, and goal-tend are seldom used.

"Beyond these general divisions there were neither distinctive names nor, in the early days, distinctive duties. One of the first rushers to receive a special name was the one who put down the ball in a scrimmage.

"Originally the man who happened to have the ball when the down was made, himself placed it on the ground. It soon became evident that certain men were able to perform this duty as well as others, and it was not long before the duty was delegated to one man.

"As he usually stood in the middle, he was called the center-rusher. This name has since given place almost entirely to "snap-back," owing to the universal custom of playing the scrimmage by snapping the ball back with the hand."

At one time the game accommodated 20 or more players per side, and at another time 15, instead of the normal 11, which of course called for more positions. Besides the quarter-back there was ia three quarter-back (a player standing between the half-backs and the backs). When the game returned to the original 11 players this unusual person disappeared.

The position next to assume importance was "end-rusher." Each of the two men who played on the ends of the forward line could, with some imagination, develop their task to a high degree of technique.

More was expected of them because of the opportunities presented. They could make runs, drop back a little in order to catch a short kick, accompany the running of a half-back and perhaps take over the ball from him when it was likely he would be stopped, etc.

So many side lines developed from the position of end-rusher that only the most capable and versatile players were chosen for the role. It was a top position on the team.

There remained four men on the team not really classified as to play, the two men next to the ends and those next to the center. The name of guards was given to the latter since they protected the quarter whenever the ball was snapped. The players next to the ends were named "tackles" because a major portion of tackling befell their lot.

During the very early days of football, when the ball was placed on the ground and everybody had a kick at it almost simultaneously, it was discovered that a player could place his foot in a manner that his toe would drag or snap the ball to the man directly behind him. At first the snap-back lacked sufficient skill for constant dependence upon this play but in short time the action became very accurate.

Old-time players used to speak of the "block game," a system of play used by an inferior team whereby it held on to the ball while making a pretense of getting along with the game.

The evil became so great that in 1882 a rule was made forcing a side to advance five yards, or else retreat 10 (altered to 20 yards) within three scrimmages. Penalty upon failure was loss of the ball to the opposing team. A kick was considered equivalent to an advance. This, of course, is reminiscent of modern football.

In the first stages of football, goals alone were scored. Then touchdowns were brought in, and a match Was decided by a majority of these, with a goal receiving a certain equivalent value in touch-downs.

After that, the scoring of safeties developed, but only in the manner that in case no other point was scored the team executing four less safeties than the opposing team should be declared winner. Camp said:

"A goal kicked from a touch-down had always been considered of greater value than a field-kick goal, but it was not until the scoring had reached the point of counting safeties, that it was decided to give numerical values to the various points in order that matches might be more surely and satisfactorily decided."

Princeton's sports history points to a most unusual development in what they felt was a game of football. As early as ,1858 their college records point to the forming of various clubs and associations, among them being a regular football club of unlimited numbers.

However, the War Between the States interrupted their efforts until 1864 when another club was formed. Matches were played between the various classes.

By 1868, every autumn day at noon the whole college would turn out to play. Dividing from A to M, iand from M to Z, regardless of superiority in numerical strength, over 200 students lined up. The ball was placed between them. At a given signal a rush was made. And for an hour and a half the battle was waged. This was a game in which beef rather than science counted.

The football grounds were the square plot between east and west colleges. The Old Cannon marked the starting point. The only goal posts were iron gutters running down the face of these buildings at a distance of 19 yards apart. In order to score a goal, the ball had to land against the wall between the gutters at a predetermined height.

The heavy ball was made of a bladder covered with thick leather. This gave way to a round rubber ball. The next step was the Rugby ball itself.

In order to make a long story quite short, the last quarter of the 19th century saw the large institutions of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Rutgers, and Columbia competing against each other. The rules, number of players, and equipment differed so markedly, however, that the very act of competition seemed ridiculous.

Especially, we speak of the period 1875-1880. For example, in 1880 Yale, Columbia, and Princeton accepted 11 men as the number of players, while Harvard held out. Just before 1890, the old-fashioned woolen jersey, then used by football players, bowed to the new but less comfortable canvas jacket. These white jackets, laced up in front, gave players a military look.

The leather jacket was introduced at one time, about 1890, but proved to be expensive. It was said to be particularly useful in a rainy game.

Spalding's Official Football Guide for 1896 says this about shoes: "The best are made entirely of leather, of moderately stout material, fitting the foot firmly, yet comfortable, lacing well up on the ankle, and the soles provided with a small leather spike which can be renewed when worn out. Inside this shoe a thin leather anklet laces tightly over the foot, and is almost sure preventative of sprained ankles."

As for trousers, early teams wore woven knickerbockers made of cloth similar to the jersey. These lower garments fitted the player skin tight, but the trouble came in splitting, or in the forming of holes which spread rapidly once they began.

There was little charm or beauty in these trousers topped by the old wool jersey. Protection was lacking, and if the ground were frozen a slide could skin a player's thigh.

After a time, flannel knickerbockers replaced the woven. Later on these gave way to heavy fustian, combined with thick knee padding and thigh protection padding.

Caps ranged from the skull-cap to the long tassel covering known as the "toboggan toque." Stockings were thick but they remained essentially the same over a period of years.

The player in the late 1880's resorted to wearing flannels under his uniform. Where his jacket was loose, or the day quite cold, he could throw in the old style jersey beneath. The early player's food consisted of a breakfast of steaks, chops, stale bread, and coffee for those who cared to drink. Fruit was consumed in the early part of the season but in those days there was no real refrigeration.

At one o'clock a light lunch was served consisting of cold cuts, toast, warm or hot potatoes, and eggs (when fresh). Alcoholic beverages were forbidden, except, on occasion, that a little ale was meted out to a player who was "getting too fine." At six o'clock the players were served an elaborate dinner.

In the early 1890's Spalding sold a round ball, known as the "Gaelic Foot Ball" at $5. It came with polished brass inflater and lacing needle.

Spalding's "Official Association Ball," at the same price, was used in 1891, and advertised as the ball for the large colleges. It was like a giant hard-boiled egg since it did not bear the pointed ends introduced at a later period.

Another ball was the "Official Association Ball," and sold for the same price. It was described as:

"Officially adopted by the American Associated Foot Ball League, and all match games must be played with this ball. We use the highest grade material and best workmanship in the construction of this ball, each one being thoroughly tested before packing. The cover is made in eight sections, with capless ends, making the ball perfectly round, neater in appearance, stronger in every way, and more serviceable."

Spalding had, too, at this time the "Spalding Rugby Football." This was more like modern balls. The cheapest of these sold at $3 each.

In the illustrations presented, we were unable to photograph our annual leather-bound Spalding's Official Football Guide from 1896 to present times, due to the fact that the leather covers block off anything that may be visible otherwise. This was once in the late Gordon M. Clark's collection, the books having been secured from the family in recent times.

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