As England becomes delightfully enthralled by the potential outcomes of our national soccer team, I am wondering if the Ancient Celts played football on these islands.
There are stories of medieval towns kicking a pig’s bladder from one end of town to another, with few rules (hands, feet, heads and violence all permitted in the attempt to get a ball between two posts on either side of town). But this was a few hundred years after the Celts were first trading.
Before that the history can stretch back to 2500BC (pre Celtic civilization) with the Greeks, Egyptians, and Chinese all playing games involving a ball and feet and sometimes a stick. The FIFA website says that a lively early form of the great game was brought to Britain by the Romans. It did involve feet sometimes but it was more interested in ‘trickery’, played with a smaller ball by two teams on a rectangular field marked by boundary lines and a centre line.
As I reflect on those early Christian missionaries coming after the Romans, I imagine that maybe they did play a bit of soccer. As they got out of their small boats and stretched their legs, they’d have been glad to be on dry land. They also needed to regain ‘land fitness’. Whatever game they played would have been a reflection of their faith culture and so a team game that was regulated would have been a likely outcome.
I like to think that in the sixth century you might have seen some rough looking Christian men with strange tonsures that went sideways across their heads, daubing themselves in paint and getting ready to kick a pig’s bladder. If they were on Iona, there is some flat land at the North end of the island, at the ‘Bay at the Back of the Ocean’ where the waterspouts are. Here they might have set up a pitch with posts at either end. Maybe St Columba would have been the referee. They would begin their game after morning prayer and before the day’s work had started.
Come on Engerland.
Navigators of Faith are looking forward to this Saturday coming (7 July). The World Cup Final will be on the day that Andy gets back aboard (15 July) and a few hours before we are on our way again.