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La Soule, Shrovestide football, mob football, American Football (modern variant), Soccer, (modern variant)

steel engraving from 1835 shows “La Soule”, which was a violent form of football played in Normandy and Brittany in medieval times.[1]
Football, at least in the medieval sense, had more in common with American style football than soccer. Medieval Football can generically be called by any number of local variants including Folk Football, Shrovetide Football, and more.



There is not much surviving pieces about how the game was played, it was more an agreed upon rules game where townfolk would get together on holidays and play a game. The number of players ranged drastically and the only real rule was don't kill anyone. It is this game Myrc was referencing when he stated “tenessyng handball, fott ball stoil ball and all manner other games out churchyard” [2] chastising those who would play sports in a churchyard. The game of football stretches back in time the Greeks called it "episkyros", the Romans “Harpastum”, its hard to say for sure if the Romans brought the game to Britain or not but if they did the Anglo Saxons turned it into a violent mob game. Legend has it that the first game of football was played in the 3rd century with the severed head of the defeated Danish prince. The game really seems more pan-european than simply a game developed in Britain, or Normandy, or Saxony [3]. Shrove Tuesday was a particularly popular date to play football, and in fact this is where the popular version known as Shrovetide Football, that is still played today, gets its name. This was definitely a game of the people, not a game nobles would be caught dead playing. That is what traditional historians have always believed to date, however there is new evidence that calls some of the established beliefs about the history of Football into question.

Richard McBrearty, curator of the Scottish Football Museum has uncovered extant documentation for organized and civilized football dating back as early as 1497. After researching the history of Football in Scotland he has unearthed a document that states that King James IV purchased a bag of "fut ballis". Also unearthed was a diary from Sir Francis Knollis, who was ordered by Queen Elizabeth I to watch over Queen Mary of Scots who was under house arrest, an account from 1568 states that a game of football was played for Mary's amusement. The game witnessed by Sir Francis Knollis was played with a mere 20 players and lasted two hours, on a relatively small 50 meter long pitch. Further new evidence is an account from 1580's of a fight that King James VI broke up between two nobles over a play made during a football match. This evidence flies in the face of traditional beliefs about football and demonstrates that the game was played by nobles, in Scotland at least, much earlier than previously believed, but it does help explain how a football that has been dated to the 1540's, the oldest known extant example of a football, was found in Stirling Castle in the bedchamber that was used by Mary Queen of Scots.[4]

How To Play

The goal of football is simply get the ball to the opposing sides goal. The goal can be anything from a church balcony, to just the other side of the field. Kicking picking it up and running are both fine and acceptable under medieval rules, any method short of murder is valid. Obviously the similarities to American Football and Soccer can be clearly seen, demonstrating the ties between the two variations of Football.

SCA Playability

This game can definitely be played with the rules as they are, although probably want to ensure that no one tackles anyone with intent to injure. The creation of a ball suitable for play is the only requirement.


  1. National Football Museum, Preston, UK.
  2. Block, David, Baseball Before We Knew It, 2005
  3. Dr. Gerhardt, Wilfried, FIFA News, The colourful history of a fascinating game, 1979
  4. Football was being played in medieval Scotland, research reveals, October 18th 2011,

Additional Sources

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