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Elias%20Folk%20Football - 174 An Essay on Sport and...

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Unformatted text preview: 174 An Essay on Sport and Violence morals stood on one side, morals without manners on the other. Early in the eighteenth century the two traditions began to move closer to each other. The attempt made by Addison and Steele to reconcile morals and manners was only one manifestation of a wider trend. Not only citizens but the landed classes, the aristocracy and the gentry were affected by the pressures which the restraints on the use of physical force and the pressure for greater regularity in the conduct of life imposed on individuals in a politically more stable and rapidly commer— cializing country. ' However, with the trend towards greater regularity, life tended to become duller. Conditions of strong individual excitement, particularly of socially shared excitement which might lead to loss of Self-control, now became rarer and socially less tolerable. The problem was how to enable people to experience to the full the pleasurable excitement which appears to be one of the most elementary needs of human beings without the attending social and personal dangers for others or oneself, and in spite of a conscience-formation that was apt to clamp down on many forms of excitement which, in former ages, had been sources of high pleasurable gratification as well as of upheavals, injuries and human suffering. How could one ensure for human beings .in an increasingly regularized society a sufficiency of pleasurable excitement as a shared experience, without the risk of socially intolerable disorders and mutual injuries? One of the solutions to this problem in England, as one saw, was the emergence of pastimes in the form that became known as ‘sport’. The English form of fox—hunting was only one exam- ple among others of this transformation but it shows very vividly an early stage in the solution of that problem. The change from the emphasis on winning the contest to the greater emphasis on the long pleasurable excitement of the contest itself was, in this respect, highly significant. At a later stage, it found its expression in the well—known sports ethos according to which it was not the victory but the game itself which mattered. The fox-hunters were still able actually to injure and kill, if only by proxy and only animals. Other forms of sport, such as cricket and football, show how the problem was solved in cases where all the participants were human beings. 5 Folk Football in Medieval and Early Modern Britain Norbert Elias and Eric Dunning ' Reasonably reliable references to a ball-game called ‘football’ can be found in English sources from about the fourteenth century onwards, but identity of the name does not in the least vouchsafe identity of the game itself.1 All that we know of the way in which it was played points to a very different type of game. The majority of references to football in medieval English sources come either from official prohibitions of the game in the edicts of kings and civic authorities or from reports of court cases against people who had broken the law by playing the game despite these official prohibitions. Nothing can be more revealing about the kind of game played at that time under the name of football than the constant and, by and large, apparently quite unsuccessful attempts of state and local authorities to suppress it. It must have been a wild game, suiting the temper of the people of that age. The compara— tive helplessness of those among the authorities who made themselves responsible for maintaining the peace of the land is extremely instruc- tive for outlining the difference in the position of state and local authorities vis-c‘z—vis ordinary citizens and above all in the effectiveness of the social machinery for the enforcement of laws in a medieval as opposed to a modern state. One of the earliest prohibitions of the game occurred in London in a proclamation of 1314 issued in the name of King Edward II by the Lord Mayor. It reads as follows: Proclamation issued for the Preservation of the Peace . . . Whereas our LOrd the King is going towards the parts of Scotland, in his war against his enemies, and has especially commanded us strictly to keep his peace . . .. And whereas there is great uproar in the City, through certain 176 Folk Football tumult arising from great footballs in the fields of the public, from which many evils perchance may arise — which may God forbid — we do command and do forbid, on the King’s behalf, upon pain of imprison- ment, that such game shall be practised henceforth within the city.2 An order from King Edward III in 1365 to the Sheriffs of the City of London also illustrates how strongly the authorities disapproved of these unruly pastimes. They were evidently in their eyes a waste of time as well as a threat to peace and they wished to canalize the energies of the people into what they regarded as more useful channels. They wanted the people to train in the use of military weapons instead of indulging in these unruly games. But the people, already at that time, apparently preferred their games to military exercises: To the Sherriffes of London. Order to cause proclamation to be made that every able bodied man of the said city on feast days when he has leisure shall in his sports use bows and arrows or pellets and bolts . . . forbidding them under pain of imprisonment to meddle in the hurling of stones, loggats and quoits, handball, football . . . or other vain games of no value; as the people of the realme, noble and simple, used heretofore to practise the said art in their sports when by God’s help came forth honour to the kingdom and advantage to the King in his actions of war; and now the said art is almost wholly disused and the people engage in the games aforesaid and in other dishonest, unthrifty or idle games, whereby the realme is likely to be without archers.3 However wild and riotous their traditional ball—games were, the people liked them. Their tug-of—war with the authorities in the matter of these pastimes continued intermittently for centuries. The reasons given by the authorities for their opposition to these sports vary. The "danger to public order and the competition with military training in archery are among the most prominent. The following selected list may give an idea of the frequency of these edicts. Their recurrence indicates the relative powerlessness of the authorities at that stage in the development of English society to /enforce permanently the legal prohibition of what today we might perhaps call a form of ‘deviant behaviour’. By applying this term to breaches of the law in a different age, one can see more clearly that, sociologically speaking, the concept of ‘deviant behaviour’ is quite ’ inadequate. The recurrence of special types of law-breaking implies not so much an accidental or arbitrary failure of individuals, as an inability of a society which is organized as a state to allow individual needs to be canalized in a way which is at the same time socially tolerable and individually satisfactory. Folk Football 177 1314 Edward 11 London 1471 James II of Scotland 1331 Edward III London Perth 1365 Edward III London 1474 Edward IV London 1388 Richard II London 1477 Edward IV London 1409 Henry IV London 1478 London 1410 Henry IV London 1481 James 111 of Scotland 1414 Henry V London Perth 1424 James I of Scotland 1488 Leicester ‘ Perth 1572 London 1450 Halifax 1581 London 1454 Halifax 1608 7 Manchester 1457 James II of Scotland 1609 Manchester Perth 1615 L 1467 ' . Leicester ' ondon Although it appeared as asocial behaviour to the authorities, it I remained for centuries a favourite pastime of the people in many parts of the country to amuse themselVes with a football, broken bones and bloody noses or not. As one can see, the state apparatus for the enforcement of such edicts was as rudimentary as their ability to find other, equally satisfying leisure outlets for the citizens. Some people were fined or sent to prison for taking part in one of these riotous games. Perhaps here or there the custom lapsed for a time. If so, it contmued in other places. The exciting game'itself did not die out. We still have records of many court cases against offenders. Two selections from these records, for the years 1576 and 1581, may be enough to show what often happened when the people of these times played with a football although, unfortunately, they do not show in detail the kind of game they played: That on the said day at Ruyslippe, Co., Midd., Arthur Reynolds, hus- bandman, (with five others) all of Ruyslippe afsd., Thomas Darcye of Woxbridge, yeoman, (with seven others, four of whom were husband- men, one a taylor, one a harnis maker, one a yeoman) all seven of Woxbridge afsd., with unknown malefactors to the number of one hundred assembled themselves unlawfully and played a certain unlawful game called football, by means of which unlawful game there was amongst them a great affray, likely to result in homicides and serious acc1dent. I Coroner’s inquisition — post mortem taken at Southemyms, Co., Midd. in v1ew of the‘body of Roger Ludford, yeoman, there lying dead, with . the verdict of the jurors that Nicholas Martyn and Richard Turvey both late of Southemyms, yeomen, were on the third instant between three and four p.m. playing with other persons at footeball in the field called Evanses Feld at Southemyms, when the said Roger Ludford and a 178 Folk Football certain Simon Maltus, of the said parish, yeoman, came to the ground, and that Roger Ludford cried out, cast him over the hedge, indicating that he meant’ Nicholas Martyn, who replied come thouand do yt . That thereupon Roger Ludford ran towards the ball with the intention to kick it, whereupon Nicholas Martyn with the forepart of his right arm and Richard Turvey With the forepart of his left arm struck Roger Ludford a blow on the fore-part of the body under the breast, givmg him a mortal blow and concussion of which he died within a quarter of an hour and that Nicholas and Richard in this manner feloniously slewe the said Roger.4 A number of reports show the recurrent tug-of—war between the people who clung to their Violent customs and the authorities who tried to suppress or to change them. Thus,.a document dated 10 January 1540, issued by the mayor and corporation of Chester, mentions that it was customary in that town on a Shrove Tuesday for the shoemakers to I ‘ challenge the drapers to a match with a ‘ball of letter [leather], caulyd a foutbale’. The mayor and corporation pronounced in the strongest terms against these ‘eVill disposed persons’ who caused such grete inconvenience’ in the city. They tried instead to introduce asfootrace, supervised by the mayor, with what success we do not know. _ An order prohibiting football promulgated in Manchester in 1608 and repeated almost literally a year later shows very much the same picture. One reads there of the great harm done by a. ‘company. of lewd and disordered persons usinge that unlawfulle exerc1se of playing With the ffotebale in ye streets’. The order mentions the large numbers of windows which they broke, how they wronged other inhabitants and committed many ‘great inormyties’.6 _ It is probably useful to add at least one example not connected with football in order to show, in general, the relatively greater ease With which restraints were loosened in medieval England and, accordingly, with which people, within their own country or town, behaved Violently in relation to each other: The King having a resolve to go abroad in 1339 granted a commission to the mayor, aldermen and commonalty of London for the conservation of the peace in the city during his absence and invested them With power to cause due and speedy punishment to be done upon any malefactors and disturbers of the peace in the said city.7 Soon after the King’s'departure, a contest arose between the Companies of the Skinners and Fishmongers which terminated in a bloody skirmish in the streets. The mayor With his I officers hastened to the place of riot and apprehended several of the disturbers of the peace as required by his office and duty; but Thomas Hounsard and John le Brewerer, with some of their accomplices, reSISted the power of the magistrates, and not only rescued the malefactors, but Folk Football 179 Thomas, With a drawn sword, violently assaulted Andrew Aubrey, the mayor, and endeavoured to overthrow him; and in the meanwhile, the said John grievously wounded one of the city officers. They were, after a struggle, secured and conveyed without delay to the Guildhall Where they were indicted and tried before the mayor and aldermen, having severally pleaded guilty, they were condemned to die and being forth- with conveyed to West Cheape or Cheapside were there beheaded. This «sovereignty of the mayor was so well timed for the preservation of peace Within the city ’and for preventing the riots and outrages so frequent in "those days . . . that it gave great satisfaction to the King, who, by his writ ‘dated 4th June ’15 Edward 111 at the tower, not only pardoned the mayor for beheading the above parties, but also approved and confirmed the 8 ,same. The chronicles of medieval England, like those of other medieval societies, describe many scenes such as this. Without reference to the frequency of outbreaks of uninstitutionalized Violence in the Middle Ages one cannot understand the more institutionalized forms of which football was one.9 Semi-institutionalized fights between local groups arranged on certain days of the year, particularly on Saints’ Days and Holy Days, were a normal part of the traditional pattern of life in medieval societies. Playing with a football was one of the ways of arranging such a fight. It was, in fact, one of the normal annual rituals of these traditional societies. To remember this institution helps us to see their manner of life in better perspective. Football and other similar encounters in those times were not simply accidental brawls. They constituted an equilibrating type of leisure activity deeply woven into the warp and woof of society. It may seem incongruous to us that, year after year, people engaged in a kind of fight on Saints’ Days and Holy Days. Our forefathers, at a different stage in the civilizing process, evidently experienced it as a perfectly obvious and obviously enjoyable arrangement. People today, preoccupied with the disagreeable sides of life in big towns and with the disadvantages of living in a mass society, occasion— ally look back nostalgically to the times When most people lived in small communities which resembled in character and social structure What we would call large villages or small market towns. There were, of course, exceptions of which London is perhaps the most outstanding example. But, even in the sociological literature, a notion persists about the way of life in these ‘traditional’ or ‘folk’ societies according to which they were permeated by feelings of great ‘solidarity’. This can easily be interpreted and is, in fact, quite often taken to mean, that tensions and conflicts were less strong and harmony greater within them than is the case with our own societies.10 The difficulty about the use of such 180 Folk Football categories is not that they are wrong but that all such general terms as ‘solidarity’ applied to a different kind of socrety are apt to mislead the reader. Types of institutions and of conduct wh1ch appear to be 1ncom— patible in contemporary industrial societies are by no means always equally incompatible in the eyes of people accustomed to the life in societies of a different type. Our language, therefore, when applied to other societies reflects our own distinctions which may not be applic— able to societies at a different stage of development. Thus, the term ‘solidarity’ evokes in us the impression of permanent unity, of friendh— ness and the absence of strife. ‘As they intimately commumcate With each other, every member [of a folk society] claims the sympathy of all the others,’ as a writer on the subject put it.11 One can, indeed, often observe expressions of strong and spontaneous ‘fellow feeling’ 1n tradi- tional societies. But such expressions of what we might conceptuahze as ‘strong solidarity’ were perfectly compatible with equally strong and spontaneous enmities and hatreds. What was really characteristic, at ' least of the traditional peasant societies of our own Middle Ages, was the much greater fluctuation of feeling of which people wereOthen capable and, in connection with this, the relatively greater instabihtyof human relationships in general. In connection with the lesser stabihty of internalized restraints, the strength of passions, the warmth and the spontaneity of emotional actions were greater in both directlons: 1n the direction of kindness and readiness to help as well as 1n that of unkindness, callousness, and readiness to hurt. That is why terms such as ‘solidarity’, ‘intimacy’, ‘fellow-feeling’, and others like them used to describe attributes of pre—industrial folk societies are rather mapt. They only show one side of the picture. _ Even many institutional traditions were ‘double—faced’ in our sense of that term. They allowed for the expression of mtlmate un1ty and solidarity and for the expression of equally intimate and intense hos- tility, without giving the slightest impression that the part1c1pants them- selves saw anything contradictory or incompatible 1n'these fluctuations. Shrove Tuesday football, a ritualized and, accordlng to our notions, fairly savage brawl between neighbouring groups, is a striking example of this compatibility between emotionally charged act1v1t1es Wthh seem to be incompatible according to present standards. As we have-seen, the secular authorities tried, fairly early and for a long time Without much success, to suppress these riotous fighting games of the people. But one cannot wholly understand the strong survival power of such customs if one sees in them merely games in our sense of the word. Medieval football formed part of a traditional ritual. It belonged to the Shrove Tuesday ceremonial which was to some extent a Church cere- monial and was closely linked to the whole cycle of Samts’ Days and Folk Football 181 Holy Days. In’ this respect, too, a differentiation which appears almost self-evident to us, the differentiation between religious and secular activities in medieval society, had not reached the same stage as in contemporary societies. One can occasionally read that everything medieval people did was ‘steeped in religion’. The same writer has even gone so far as to say that one can express ‘the essence of a folk-society by applying to it the term “sacred society’“.12 This sort of statement can easily give the impression that everything done in these societies had the character of earnest and highly disciplined solemnity which prevails in Church services today. The truth is that even Church services in the Middle Ages were often noisier, less disciplined and far less removed from people’s daily lives than is the case today. On the other hand, people’s daily lives were permeated to a higher extent, for better or for worse, by beliefs in the nearness of God, the Devil, and their various helpers — saints, demons, spirits of all kinds, good or bad — which they hoped to influence by various forms of prayer as well as by white or 1 black magic. With regard to this field, too, the application of abstract terms such as ‘religiOus’ or ‘secular’ which appear to us as exclusive alternatives, blocks the understanding of a kind of life which does not conform to our standard of institutional and conceptual differentiation into religious and secular activities. If one must express the lesser degree of differentiation in our terms, one can only say that, in the folk societies of the Middle Ages, secular activities were more religious and religious activities more secular than in contemporary societies. The same applies t...
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