2. Setting the Ball Rolling: Football in prehistory
We may now guffaw at such ridiculous beliefs, but perhaps if we could turn time around, it would be the ancients that would be laughing at our own stereotypical images of our ancestors all being sun-worshipping heathens that based their agricultural science on prehistoric touchdowns.
Much has been written about the prehistoric origins of football. The problem is that. They are prehistoric, which by definition means ‘before documented history’. In other words we don’t really know, and most of what has been written on the subject is mere speculation, usually based on historians recycling the fanciful claims of other historians. But as far as solid evidence goes, there is not an awful lot to work with.
It is often written that football began as a fertility rite. The ball symbolised the sun, the scoring of goals ensured a good harvest and the opposing teams represented the dual forces of nature.
But it would seem that if there were any ritualistic associations, then these were added later, just like national anthems are sung before matches today or a minute’s silence is respected in honour of the dead. And in much the same way that important games between clubs and nations today can often reach beyond the bounds of the game and symbolise other conflicts and rivalries, so did the games of our forefathers.
And all these theories seem highly patronising. Our ancestors had exactly the same brains as we did, and most of them had a much better understanding of how nature worked than many people in our modern world. For most of us, the potato harvest means nothing more than popping into the local supermarket. Thankfully, agriculture in the Dark Ages was not really based on how far people could kick a bladder, and the human race managed to survive.
Then there’s the idea that football grew out of some kind of head kicking cult, often employing the heads of vanquished foes as a game. Again, there is no real evidence of this, and even if it were true, surely this was simply because freshly cut heads made for handy balls rather than being the reason to invent a new game?
Judging by the way primitive and not-so-primitive ball games were played by just about every human civilisation from Alaska to Australia, it would seem that games resembling football are a natural part of human nature, and man’s desire to exercise and compete.
Play is a natural part not only of human development, but that of almost all intelligent species. And when we note that the humanoid forms that predated our own homo sapiens had vastly better developed brains than any other creature we know to have walked the planet, it might not be a question of when did man start playing football, but at which stage of his evolution did he start playing it? Yes, football is older than mankind itself!
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