Wednesday, November 14, 2012

When was Football first played in Hertfordshire?

When was the first "football" match played in Hertfordshire? One of the problems is that the accounts that survive from the past often fail to mention the everyday activities of the ordinary people and football is no exception. The first description of what might today be called a football match was written by William FitzStephen in approximately 1170. While visiting London he noticed “after dinner all the youths of the city goes out into the field for the very popular game of ball.” He also pointed out that every trade had their own football team: “The fathers, and the men of wealth come on horseback to view the contests of their juniors, and in their fashion sport with the young men; and there seem to be aroused in these elders a stirring of natural heat by viewing so much activity and by participation in the joys of unrestrained youth.” Two centuries later a monk wrote that football was a game “in which young men ... propel a huge ball not by throwing it into the air, but by striking and rolling it along the ground, and that not with their hands but with their feet.” The monk claimed that the game was “undignified and worthless” and resulted in “some loss, accident or disadvantage to the players themselves."

Early in the 14th century Edward II banned the playing of football and several later monarchs took similar actions and we can be pretty certain that the game was played in Hertfordshire, but there are no early direct references to the game.

At the HALH Symposium on Sport in Hertfordshire David Short described a different approach - which was to try and track down old football fields by looking at old field names. He noted that a field in Ashwell listed in the tithe map was called "Football Close" and was able to trace the name to a terrier of 1628. Searching other similar records revealed another "Football Close" at Baldock mentioned in a 1568 deed.   However another term, dating back to Saxon times, may well indicate places where games such of football could have been played.  The name "Plaistowe" could well comes from the Saxon words for "battle place" and it would seem could be used for what we would now call a sports field. David found a "Plaistowe" in Hertford dating back to 1461, Another at Yardley dating back to 1630 and one is listed in Norton's Survey of Barley which dates to around  1600. In listening to the talk I got the impression that most were or the order of two acres and close to the parish church.


  1. Football is a very ancient game and various forms of it have been played for centuries. The Rules began to be codified in the 19th Century.

    As far as Association Football is concerned, there were a variety of different sets of Rules around the country before a meeting was called at the Freemasons Tavern in Great Queen Street, London on October 26th 1863. None of the Clubs present were from Hertfordshire.

    An indication of how difficult it was to bring together the different sets of Rules is that it was not until the fifth meeting that an agreed set of Laws of the Game was produced. It was at this point that Blackheath withdrew as the Laws prevented hacking. This can be seen as the separation of Rugby Football from Association Football.

    A Hitchin Football Club was founded in 1865 and by 1870 they were members of The Football Association together with another Hertfordshire Club, Totteridge Park F C.

    In those very early days ony friendly fixtures were played but on 20th July 1871 a proposal was made to establish a Challenge Cup competition and there then followed an explosion of interest so that by 1881 128 Clubs from around the country had joined the Association.

    The first competitive match played by a Hertfordshire Club took place on 11th November 1871, when in torrential rain Hitchin played out a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace in the 1st Round of the inaugural F A Cup. Both sides were allowed through to the 2nd round.

    The Hitchin F C side was: C F Reid, W T Lucas, F Shillitoe, W Hill, G D Baker, H E Baker, C A Baker, W G Hassirigg, T C Mainwaring, G Jackson and E Woodgate.

    The first competitive football match in Hertfordshire played under F A Laws took place on January 10th 1872 when Hitchin entertained Royal Engineers at Top Field in the second round of the F A Cup. Despite only 60 minutes play being possible, Royal Engineers were 5-0 ahead when play was brought to a halt. Hitchin could field only 8 men (F H Lucas, W Hill, H Mainwaring, H O Crow, E Woodgate, T McKenzie, A Baily and A Dawson). The result stood and the Engineers went on to reach the first F A Cup Final where they lost 1-0 to The Wanderers.

    NB; This Hitchin Football Club folded in 1911.

    The Hertfordshire County Football Association was founded in 1885.

    Roger Reed

  2. Whoops! The match .v. Crystal Palace was in fact played at Hitchin so this is the first competititve association football match to be played in Hertfordshire.

    Roger Reed


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