Kevin Martin: The Name of the Game

By Kevin Martin

I have a curious piece of history to share with you today. Let’s see if you can guess what I’m talking about.

During the quarter-century between A.D. 1016 and 1042, Denmark had successfully invaded and taken over England. It was a pretty rough invasion and hatred towards the Danes lingered for quite a while. Where is this going you ask? Well, now the Danes are gone and an Englishman, we don’t know who, was digging around in one of the old battlefields and unearthed the skull of some long-dead Danish soldier!

This Englishman was old enough to remember the days of Danish occupation and as he thought about what had happened, he got very angry. He threw the skull on the ground and kicked it as hard as he could. It felt so good that he did it again and again and again.

Well of course someone saw him doing this and wondered why. When told of the reason, he joined in! As you can imagine the toes of the shoes were not that sturdy back then. This new “game” caught on and everyone got sore feet. That’s when someone came up with the idea of inflating a cow’s bladder. I think you can guess where this going. That day when a group of Englishmen got together and kicked a skull around the pasture started the first game of football. Soccer here in North America. But this isn’t the whole story.

The early games were kicking games and the hands-off restriction wasn’t lifted until late in the evolutionary pattern, so let us go forward to a Rugby School in England in 1823. The rule was that all games had to end precisely at the stroke of 5. William Ellis received the ball at exactly the first stroke of 5 and was so upset that his team would lose that he did something he shouldn’t have done. He grabbed the ball and tucked it under his arm and ran for the goal and scored just at the last stroke of 5. Cries of foul could be heard. Bill was in major trouble. What he did was irregular and illegal. No one had ever run with the ball before. It was a shocking violation of the established order.

Nevertheless, it got people talking. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea, after all, taking the ball in your hands and running with it! And of course, we know what happened after that. That one-time indiscretion became the innovation that is still with us today.

It’s kind of funny to think that after 800 years of kicking, the first time someone got his hands on it… it became what we know as football. North American style!

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