THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

15 June 2018

A football match in 18th century Ireland

In 1720 Irish writer and lawyer Matthew Concanen published the mock-heroic 'A Match at Football: A Poem in three Cantos'. It describes a match between Lusk and Soards in the County of Dublin.  Football in the 18th century was a violent game without set rules, with ball-handling and creative methods of tackling being perfectly acceptable.

  A Match at Football'A Match at Football' reprinted in Matthew Concanen, Poems upon Several Occasions (Dublin, 1722)  Noc

You can read the full poem online. But here are some extracts to give you a flavour.

Ye Champions of fair Lusk, and Ye of Soards,
View well this Ball, the Present of your Lords.
To outward View, Three Folds of Bullocks-hide,
With Leathern Thongs fast bound on ev’ry Side:
A Mass of finest Hay conceal’d from Sight,
Conspire at once, to make it firm and light.
At this you’ll all contend, this bravely strive,
Alternate thro’ the adverse Goal to drive:
Two Gates of Sally bound the spacious Green,
Here one, and one on yonder Side is seen:
Guard That Ye Men of Soards, ye others this;
Fame waits the Careful, Scandal the Remiss,’
He said, and high in Air he flung the Ball;
The Champions crowd, and anxious wait its Fall.

First Felim caught, he pois’d and felt it soft,
Then whirld it with a sudden Stroke aloft.
With Motion smooth and swift, he saw it glide,
'Till Dick, who stop’d it on the other Side,
A dextrous Kick, with artful Fury drew;
The light Machine, with Force unerring, flew
To th’adverse Goal where, in the Sight of all,
The watchful Daniel caught the flying Ball. 
He proudly joyful in his Arms embrac’d
The welcome Prize, then ran with eager Haste.
With lusty Strides he measur’d half the Plain,
When all his Foes surround and stop the Swain;
They tug, they pull; to his Assistance run,
The strong-limb’d Darby and the nimble John.
Paddy with more than common ardour fir’d,
Out-singl’d Daniel, while the rest retir’d:
At Grappling now their mutual Skill they try;
Now Arm in Arm they lock, and Thigh in Thigh.
Now turn, now twine, now with a furious Bound,
Each lifts his fierce Opposer from the Ground…

And now both Bands in close Embraces met,
Now Foot to Foot, and Breast to Breast was set;
Now all impatient grapple round the Ball,
And heaps on heaps in wild Confusion fall…

Thy Trip, O Terence, fell'd the lusty Neal,
Kit dropt by Felim, Hugh by Paddy fell;
Toss’d down by Darby, Dick forbore to Play,
John tugg’d at Cabe; while thus confus’d they lay,
Sly Le’nard struck th’unheeded Ball, and stole,
With easy Paces, tow’rds th’unguarded Goal.
This Daniel saw, who rising from the Ground,
(Where, like Antaeus, he new Strength had found),
Flew to his Post, and halloo’d to his Crew.
They start, and swift the flying Foe pursue:
Le’nard observing, stood upon his Guard,
And now to kick the rolling Ball prepar’d,
When careful Terence, fleeter than the Winds,
Ran to the Swain, and caught his Arm behind;
A Dextrous Crook about his Leg he wound,
And laid the Champion grov’ling on the Ground…

How many features of the beautiful game from 300 years ago will you spot during the World Cup?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Matthew Concanen, Poems upon Several Occasions (Dublin, 1722)
Andrew Carpenter (ed.), Verse in English from Eighteenth-century Ireland (Cork, 1998)