Poetry | ‘View well this Ball, the present of your Lords …’

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Matthew Concanen the Elder, “A Match at Foot-Ball, &c. Canto II,” in A Match at Football: A Poem. In Three Cantos (Dublin: n.p., 1720), 20–24.

Transcribed in 2006 from a British Library copy, the composition is said to be a satire of Alexander Pope and reflects an eighteenth-century football match in Ireland. The opponents are Lusks and Soards, described in an annotation as “two baronies in the County of Dublin whose inhabitants are the most fam’d for dexterity at this game and are always at variance for a superiority of skills.” Peter Seddon in his Football Compendium (2d ed., British Library, 1999) writes that the 42-page poem reflects a disciplined six-a-side game rather than the frenzy associated with period folk football (see the review of Uppies and Downies: The Extraordinary Football Games of Britain, by Hugh Hornby). The excerpt below comes from “Canto II,” as the match gets under way.

By the way, Soards wins 1–0 on a late strike from Terence. (Italics in original.)

While the bold Youths arrang’d on either hand,
Around the field in decent order stand,
Amid the Throng lame Hobbinol appear’d,
And Wav’d his Cap in order to be heard.
The Green stood silent as the Midnight-Shade,
All Tongues but his were still, when thus he said,
Ye Champions of fair Lusk, and Ye of Soards,
View well this Ball, the present of your Lords.
To outward view, three Folds of Bullocks-Hide,
With Leathern Thongs fast bound on ev’ry side:
A Mass of finest Hay conceal’d from sight,
Conspire at once, to make it firm and light.
At this you’ll all contend, this bravely strive,
Alternate thro’ the adverse Goal to drive,
Two Gates of Sally bound the Spacious Green,
Here one, and one on yonder Side is seen,
Guard that Ye Men of Soards Ye others this,
Fame waits the careful, Scandal the remiss;
He said, and high in the Air he flung the Ball,
The Champions Crowd, and anxious wait its fall.
First Felim caught, he pois’d and felt it soft,
Then Whirld it with a sudden stroke aloft.
With Motion smooth and swift he saw it glide,
Till Dick who stop’d it on the other side.
A Dextrous Kick with Artful fury drew,
The light Machine with force unerring flew,
To th’adverse Goal; where in the sight of all,
The watchful Daniel caught the flying Ball,
He proudly joyful in his Arms embrac’d,
The welcome Prize; then ran with eager haste.
With lusty Strides he measur’d half the Plain,
When all his Foes surround and stop the Swain;
They Tugg, they Pull, to his assistance run,
The Strong Limb’d Darby, and the Nimble John.
Paddy with more than common ardor fir’d,
Outsingl’d Daniel, while the rest retir’d,
At grapp’ling now their mutual Skill they Try,
Now Arm in Arm they lock, and Thigh in Thigh;
Now turn, now twine, now with a furious bound,
Each lifts his fierce Opposer from the Ground.
Till FLORA who perceiv’d the dire debate,
Anxious and trembling for her Darling’s fate;
Round Daniel’s Leg, (unseen by human Eyes)
Nine Blades of Grass, with artful Texture ties:
From what flight causes rise, our Joy or Grief,
Pleasure or Pain, Affliction or Relief;
Th’ entangled Youth, but faintly seems to stand,
Bound by one Leg, Incumber’d in one hand;
For yet he held, nor till his hapless fall,
Dropt from his Arms, the long contended Ball.

As when a Mountain Oak its ruin finds,
Which long had brav’d the fury of the Winds:
In vain it stands against the dreadful blast,
And tho’ reluctant, must submit at last.
Such Daniel was thy fall, nor can it be,
To thy reproach, since by the Gods decree.

And now both Bands in close embraces met,
Now Foot to Foot, and Breast to Breast was set;
Now all Impatient grapple round the Ball,
And heaps on heaps in wild Confusion fall.

Thus when of Old the Cloud-begotten Guest,
Disturb’d the Revels, and embroil’d the Feast;
With sudden frenzy sir’d, All rife to Arms,
And rend Heaven’s Azure Vault with loud alarm,
With Drunken Rage and Resolution Steel’d,
The mingling Warriors bustle thro’ the Field.
Centaur’s and Lapithæ (a dreadful sight)
Mix in the throng and Void of order Fight;
Thro’ the wide waste, Death and Confusion Reign,
And cover all around with heaps of Slain.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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  1. [...] a much older game than the Shrove-variety.” (See Matthew Concanen the Elder’s canto A Match at Football for an account of a six-a-side game in Dublin in the early 18th [...]

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