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Early Public School Football Codes

PUDDINGS, BULLIES & SQUASHES: The Tonbridge Essay written by David Walsh

1 Dec 2020



A new book has been published about early football codes in British public schools.

The book can be ordered through bookshops and from other outlets, including Amazon.

Puddings, Bullies and Squashes contains essays from twenty different schools, telling the story of how public-school football evolved from each school's idiosyncratic code to choosing between the nationally recognised forms of the game established by the formation of the Football Association in 1863 and the Rugby Football Union in 1871.

The Tonbridge essay is written by David Walsh, using sources in The Tonbridgian and other school publications. The Tonbridge code was noted for its violence, as the game was played out on a rough gravel playground within the school, and the essay outlines why Tonbridge chose to play rugby rather than soccer.

Football’s pre-eminence in the world has often been ascribed to its simplicity – the rules are easy to grasp, the game in its rawest state easy to play. Britain is not necessarily the birthplace of football, but it is where the two principal codes of football, association and rugby, were given shape, form and discipline.

The cradle for the codification of football was the nineteenth century public school. Rugby School is well known as the originator of its eponymous code, but in the mid-nineteenth century there was a remarkable set of locally varied rules under which “football” was played. Some, such as the Eton Wall Game, have survived but most have withered away, assimilated into the now highly professional sports of football and rugby.

This is the story of twenty of those schools, from Dublin to Dorset, Edinburgh to East London, and their versions of football. Many were shaped by the space available to them, whether grass or stone, large or small, kicking or handling. All of them were robust, vigorous and hazardous. This book is a collection of new essays that traces the evolution of the modern games.


Photo: Tonbridge Football XII 1867

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