Just how old are the sports and games we play today? And from where do they derive? You may be surprised to learn that most of them have their roots in ancient history — a fact that’s often overlooked, because sport is not usually the stuff of history books. In part 1 of this series, we looked into the origins of tennis, cricket, soccer and golf. I have had thousands of requests from a few people for a part 2, so here goes.
Hockey (possibly derived from the ‘hooked stick’ with which the game is played; cf. hoguet, Old French for shepherd’s crook.) Its origins reach far back into antiquity. Having trawled through the archives for your delectation, I find that crude forms of the game were played in Egypt 4,000 years ago, in Iran, circa 2,000 BC and in Ethiopia, circa 1,000 BC.
The Romans had a game very similar to hockey which was played on frozen ground or on the ice and there are a scattering of archaeological remains in museums to suggest that a game similar to hockey was played by the ancient Greeks, not to mention the Aztecs, several centuries before Columbus arrived in the New World. Some form hockey has been known to most of the northern peoples of Europe and Asia. In Scotland the game is known as Shinty and is a national game in Ireland called Hurling.
The modern game of hockey emerged in England in the mid-18th century and is largely attributed to toffs and the growth of public schools, such as Eton.
The game owes its growth to the formation of the Men’s Hockey Association in England in 1886. The Women’s Hockey Association was formed, in 1895. The rules drawn up by the Wimbledon Club, in 1883, still obtain in essentials.
ICE HOCKEY developed out of a basic combination of field hockey and soccer. It was first played, in 1860, by British servicemen at Kingston Harbour, Ontario, the game originating in Canada. The first recognised team was McGill University, in 1880. A five-team league began in Britain, in 1903, the International Ice Hockey Federation was founded, in 1908 and the British Ice Hockey Association, in 1914. World and Olympic championships began, in 1920 and the sport mushroomed at indoor rinks.
The national game of the USA was played in the USA and England before 1839 and it was founded on the old English game of rounders, which became popular in Britain in the 18th century and the earliest reference to the game was made in A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, source dating to 1744, in which it was called 'base-ball'.
At first rounders, or 'base-ball' had only a vague form, with players making up their own individual rules as they went along. The Rounders Association of Liverpool and Vicinity and the Scottish Rounders Association were formed, in 1889, with specific rules being fixed.
However, baseball, as Americans know it, was first played at the Elysian Fields, Hoboken, New Jersey, in June 1846, between the Knickerbockers and the New York Nine. The Cincinnati Red Stockings were the first all-professional team and, in 1869, they became the sport's first invincibles, having played 64 games without a loss.
The standard size and weight of ball was adopted in 1872. The catcher’s mask was first worn, in 1875. The National League was organised in 1876. The first chest protector came into use in 1885 and the American League became a major league, in 1901. The World Series began, in 1903 and is played between the champions of the National League and the American League to determine the 'world champions.'
Boxing was first known as pugilism (Latin pugil, fighter with a cestus) and was first practised by the Greeks at the ancient Olympic Games and also at the extremely savage Roman gladiatorial spectacles, not only with the naked fist, or a soft thong, but also a kind of glove was worn, known as the cestus, made of leather and sometimes loaded with iron or lead (think knuckleduster used by thugs) and of course this often produced fatal results. (pictured left, a Greek amphora c 500 BC of two boxers fighting with soft thongs for gloves.) Pancratium, a mixture of boxing and wrestling, was also introduced at the early Greek games and indeed wrestling was a permitted part of prize-fighting until the introduction of gloves. Bare-knuckle contests continued from that time and reached their height of popularity in the mid-19th century.
It was in England that the Noble Art, as it became known, first attained a high standard of proficiency and organised contests began on a noticeable scale in the early 18th century. James Figg opened an academy in Tottenham Court Road, London, in 1719, which became extremely popular, especially among the sporting aristocracy and was patronized by the four Georges in turn, George I setting up a public ring in Hyde Park, in 1723.
The first recognized prize-ring champion was Jack Broughton (1704-89), sometimes called the ‘father of boxing’. After killing an opponent in the ring, he introduced his famous Rules, 1743, the essence of all subsequent boxing rules. He also introduced gloves—‘mufflers’ as they were then called—to safeguard his aristocratic pupils from facial damage. His Rules were superseded, in 1838, by the London Prize Ring Rules.
All serious contests, however, were fought with bare knuckles until 1867, when the 8th Marquess of Queensberry allowed his name to be given to a revised and less brutal set of rules that were subsequently accepted universally. Before then prize-fighters fought until one collapsed from weakness; contests terminated when one contestant could not come up for the next round and rounds ended when one was knocked down or thrown. It must have been particularly galling to the Marquess of Queensbury that his son, 'Bosie', had an intrigue with Oscar Wilde.
From the deep blue rollers of Waikiki Beach to the cold grey Atlantic off Newquay, England, surfers have a strange bond with the sea. They are part of a tradition which stretches back to the people of the Pacific islands, who prayed to the gods that they might help produce the best waves. From the beginning of the 16th century, Hawaiian legends and songs describe surfing, or he’enalu, literally wave sliding, as an obsession making surfers forget everything, including work and family.
Then as now, the lure of the surf also seems to have been rather sexual. In 1865, the first Hawaiian language newspaper reported a competition in which mixed pairs of men and women surfed, sharing a board, before engaging in carnal activities among the swaying palm trees.
The first European explorers to come upon Hawaii thought that the islands were floating and because their inhabitants were so at home in the water, they were thought to be strange hybrids of people and fish. Later, Victorian missionaries arrived and in a typical bout of culture-destroying puritanism, banned surfing, claiming that it was 'barbaric and shameless’. This marked the beginning of the decline of surfing in the islands.
In 1911, though, America discovered surfing. The journalist and novelist Jack London devoted an entire chapter to surfing in his book The Snark Hunt. Soon the craze swept through California and beyond and surfing has never looked back. Generations of surfers now think of Hawaii as the Mecca of their sport and the libidinous sequel of surfing the wave remains unabated in the California sun.
Perhaps like most people you thought that the boomerang was Australian? Au contraire! When archaeologists opened the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Nebamon (dating back to 1400 BC), they were surprised to discover a painting of the pharaoh out hunting - using a boomerang to bring down waterfowl.
But the boomerang is commonly associated with Australian Aborigines. It is thought to descended from a device called the killing stick. This was a large L-shaped piece of wood with a heavy end. A traditional Aborigine weapon, it was thrown horizontally, and could glide up to 150 metres to club game or an enemy. Sooner or later, a design appeared that travelled some way back to its owner if it missed the target.
Boomerangs were also used in the Basque region to catch birds that flew straight into nets, having been forced to dive to escape an apparent hawk attack.