As Christmas approaches, on this week’s main listening report, we take a look at football at Christmas through the years: folk football and rioting, a football game in the middle of war, and Boxing Day. This report has a transcript below, as well as explanations of key vocabulary (in bold) can be found at the foot of the post, while other key phrases (in blue) also have meanings explained.
This weekend will see Christmas celebrated around the world. It is of course a christian tradition, but many non-christians enjoy the holiday. There are many traditions associated with the celebration – Christmas trees, lights, the giving of presents, and so on, but what about association football? Well, football also has its Christmas traditions and stories.
Folk Football and Rioting
Before it became the game we recognize today, football was a very different and more violent pastime known as folk football, played by large groups of men battling each other to move a ball across a large space of ground, often half the village men would play the other half, or married men fought against unmarried. It was played on holidays such as Easter and Christmas because this was a traditional time for celebration, drinking, eating to excess and letting down your hair, and because the men were not working for several days in a row. This tradition was threatened in 1644 when the Puritan ruler Cromwell banned the celebration of Christmas and the playing of football. This ended up with violent riots in many places as people took their football into the streets and fought with magistrates.
The Christmas Football Game in No-Mans-Land
During Christmas in 1914 and 1915 as World War I raged across western Europe, there were many unofficial truces at Christmas, where soldiers from both sides stopped fighting and even, in one instance, played an impromptu game of football. Here is how one British soldier described it: “Tommy and Fritz kicked about a real football supplied by a Scot. This developed into a regulation football match with caps casually laid out as goals. The frozen ground was no great matter. The game ended 3-2 for Fritz.” The idea that ordinary soldiers stopped fighting and joined together to play football is a powerful image for how the game can bring people with different cultures together – even if they are in the middle of a war.
A Boxing Day Feast of Football
The day after Christmas, the 26th of December, is known as Boxing Day in the UK. It has long been a public holiday and a day for sport and particularly, football. There is always a full round of football just after Christmas, and while it used to always be on the 26th, recently some games are played on the 27th. Whenever they are played, the Christmas season and Boxing Day has long been connected with football. The Christmas holidays also mark the start of two weeks of games, where as many as five matches may be played. While most European leagues take a break, this is when the English leagues enter their busiest period.
So, in Britain, riots, peace and goodwill, and a packed schedule – all traditions associated with football at Christmas!
pastime: hobby, activity
let down your hair: relax, be uninhibited, forget your problems and enjoy yourself
riots: violent protests, mass fights
magistrates: police, people who administer the law
impromptu: unplanned, informal
Tommy: a nickname for British solldiers
Fritz: a nickname for German soldiers
no great matter: not a problem, not important
a full round of football: a week when all teams in the league play