Early ‘football’ was more violent than today

Echoes of our past
William & Joy Wangemann  for The Review

Autumn and football go together as do ham and eggs and coffee and cream. Where you find one you find the other.

But did you ever wonder just where football came from. The origins of the game go back to ancient China when in the year 200 BC a game known as Tsu Chu (literally “kick ball”) was played between two 30 foot high bamboo goal posts.

In many countries such as Greece, Italy, and England a game was played in which two opposing teams tried to advance a ball down the field by kicking it between two goal posts.

In 12th Century England a game evolved that was more like a riot than a game. Two teams, usually from two different villages, would form and there was no limit as to how many players each team could have.

There also seemed to be no rules to how much violence could be used. The two teams would square off and begin to chase the ball through villages, rivers and bogs.

It seems the only rule was that the players had to kick the ball and frequently each other. Injuries and even death were not unheard of.

In most of the world the game which is referred to in America as soccer is known as football.

Football, as we know it in this country began in our colleges and is loosely based on English Rugby.

These early games began before the civil war and were played at many eastern colleges such as Harvard and Princeton.

At Harvard a tradition was established in which a game similar to football was played on the first Monday of the school year and became known as “Bloody Monday”.

Soon after the civil war students at Princeton University led the way in establishing rules for the game and American football was born. By 1895 professional teams were being formed.

In 1911, after a college football game at the University of Minnesota, the dean of women was appalled by young co-eds cheering at football games.

She said it was downright unwomanly and that these young ladies should confine themselves to the singing of college songs and waving their college banners. The young ladies however did not agree with the dean and the cheering continued.

At about this same time Mike Murphy, a veteran football trainer, gave the opinion that a forward pass is a violation of the principals of football.

It never was or will be anything but a haphazard play and it disorganizes any team’s defense”.

In the early 1900’s football in Sheboygan’s high school was watched by hundreds of eager spectators.

In Wisconsin the Acme meat packing company sponsored a football team which was known as the Acme Packers.

On August 11, 1919 the team was formally reorganized and officially named the Green Bay Packers.

One of the first games the Packers played was against the Sheboygan Merchants. The score: Green Bay 89 Sheboygan 0!

That wasn’t too bad when you consider that when Green Bay played Fond du Lac the score was 92 to 0. Now you know why the Packers are still going strong!

In 1920 the American Football Association was organized and in 1922 this organization was renamed the National Football Association

In the early 1920’s a semi-professional team (semi-professional meaning the players received low or no pay) was formed and began to play teams from neighboring cities.

The Sheboygan merchants played until the start of World War II when many of their team members were drafted.

Many of the Merchants football players were former high school stars who had played in a day when few high school students went on to college.

The Sheboygan Merchants were widely followed by many Sheboygan residents and played most of their games at the athletic park on Sheboygan’s North West side. city. The Sheboygan Press of September 27, 1930 had numerous articles about the opening of the football season against the Milwaukee Badgers.

The game was scheduled for Sunday, September 28th at the North Side Athletic Park. The price of a ticket was 50 cents for gentlemen, 25 cents for ladies and 10 cents for children. Times sure have changed.

Today’s Tidbit: In 1897 the Sheboygan Times carried an article stating that women attending football games should wear a gown that is above reproach and without a suspicion of dowdiness- which she can call her football dress.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to contact me at 920-458-2974 or e-mail me at wangemann@yahoo.com

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