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Death by Football

Posted in This months highlight on 31 May 2011

If you too are in pain at the end of the 2010/11 football season - my problem is Reading FC - then how about this to put life into perspective. 

Medieval and early modern football made tackling from behind look like a good luck handshake. The basic principle had been established: try and get the ball/bladder over a set marker, and then you win. Often the marker was a post or other feature, and the pitch typically spanned one end of a village to the other. 

In between the markers on either side, there were two groups of players who might loosely be described as teams. It was their job to get the ball the other side of the marker, and pretty much anything went in terms of tactics and behaviour. 

Sometimes, though, things got very out of hand. In May 1598, probably as part of traditional May Day festivities, a football match was held in North Moreton. We know this because the parish register records the burials of both John and Richard Gregory, and says that they were 'killed at footeball'. 

The register notes that a man known only as 'Ould Gunter' had drawn his dagger on the field of play, apparently after his own son had been involved in a fight with the Gregorys. A few seconds later, and Gunter had stabbed both the Gregory brothers in the head. One died on 20 May, the other on 25 May. 

The period of old Gunter's FA suspension is unknown.