The Library’s first edition of Positions … Necessarie for the Training up of Children (London, 1581) by the sixteenth-century schoolmaster Richard Mulcaster contains a nice passage on the subject of football.
Mulcaster attributed the sport’s popularity to its benefit ‘both to health and strength’ but criticised the current state of the game: ‘with thronging of a rude multitude, with bursting of shinnes, & breaking of legges, it be neither civil, neither worthy the name of any traine to health’. He goes on to recommend several reforms to improve the sport: a ‘judge over the parties’ (i.e. a referee) and a ‘smaller number’ of players ‘sorted into sides’. He concludes that football, properly conducted, could be ‘good for the bowells’ and ‘helpeth weake hammes’.