Pre-Professional Fouls

"The Football Match"
Dave & Toni Arthur

Anyone who's ever complained about thuggish play or negative tactics in the modern game could learn something from the traditional tune, "The Football Match," as recorded by folk duo Dave & Toni Arthur. Specifically, they should learn to be grateful that at least Robbie Savage and Nigel De Jong weren't armed.

We've already looked at one traditional tune from Scotland. This week, an English traditional soccer tune in a setting by folk-song collector A. L. Lloyd shows us the violent roots of the beautiful game.

The roots of the song most likely reach back past the Football Association's first Laws of the Game to the Shrovetide or festival football games that were played in rural England. These games sometimes involved whole towns, as does the two-day version that is still played every year in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, between the "Up'ards" who live north of the stream that divides the town and the "down'ards" who live to the south. These games have a ball and a goal (of sorts), but very little else in the way of rules; in 1928, when the Prince of Wales showed up to open the Ashbourne game by throwing out the ball, he left the resulting scrum with a bloody nose. (Stanley Matthews, Brian Clough, and the current Prince of Wales have all served the same function but escaped without injury).

Many versions of this song exist; Lloyd chose and edited the song to make it more familiar for fans of the modern game. The song starts with a festive scene:

It's of a football match, most delightful to be seen,
Of twenty-two young rippling lads who played on Salisbury plain.
Oh, the ribbons and the favors they was fluttering o'er the plain;
Here's a health unto those rippling lads, and so the game went on.

So far, the song seems to have a more positive view of the game than we saw in "Football Crazy," where the main concern was with the player's health and welfare. But as the game goes on, a bit of the more violent, less rule-bound festival game bleeds through, literally:

The ball it being booted up, the goal it did draw nigh,
Young Williams stuck a penknife into young Jackson's thigh.
He lashed out at the lively ball, a score was his intent,
Young Williams missed his aim, he did, and through the goal he went.

Lloyd's version was recorded by husband and wife folk duo Dave & Toni Arthur on their first album, Morning Stands On Tiptoe.

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