Back in the land of my birth, there was recently a burst of patriotic pride followed by deep disappointment after the England national football team made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup, and then lost to Croatia during the last minutes of the game. National pride took another hit when England’s nemesis, France, went on to beat Croatia to win the World Cup Championship last weekend.
As most people know, “football” means “soccer” in the UK. England is considered to be the original home of both British and American style football, with records of the game from as early as the 12th Century. This early version, which was extremely competitive and often violent with very few rules, was often played between neighboring towns and villages. It involved trying to get an inflated pigs bladder from one end of town to the other.
Kicking or punching the bladder or ball was permitted, as was doing the same to your opponents! However, the modern rules of “Association Football”, aka soccer (which was coined from the word “association”) can be traced back to mid-19th century England.
In 1848 Cambridge University led the way in standardizing the many different rules that existed at that time so that the great “young gentlemen’s” schools of England could at last compete with each other on a fair and level playing field, and without constant disagreements on the rules. Outside of this elite population, things were less organized but by 1886, the International Football Association was formed after a meeting in Manchester between The Football Associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Visit www.historic-uk.com for more information.
I would compare the popularity of soccer in England to America’s love of American football, baseball and basketball combined. Traditionally every schoolboy played soccer, which in recent years has become very popular with schoolgirls as well. And playing soccer continues on into English adulthood - GB Magazine claims there are over 40,000 registered soccer clubs in the UK.
Perhaps this is why the English feel so strongly about the game and display extreme national pride during the World Cup, which only takes place every four years. In fact, England have only won the World Cup once in 1966 but hope springs eternal.
Over this summer, many employers gave their employees time off work to watch the games, restaurants and pubs had “World Cup” themed menus, and fans painted their faces with the white and red English flag of St. George (NOT the British Union Jack - this was a very English celebration, and England is only one part of the UK). Homes, businesses, entire towns and even pets were decorated with the English flag, a big shift from the normal sense of traditional English reserve.
I say goodbye this week with a quote which is extremely well known and often quoted back in England. Bill Shankly, a professional soccer player turned manager in the 1950s and 1960s, once said “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that.”
God Bless America!