East Anglia has played a pivotal role in the formation of modern football games, through the popular sport of Camping.
In previous times, Camping, or Camp-Ball, was a popular, but violent, pastime. The sport appears to have died out in other areas of England, superseded by different forms of football, whereas in East Anglia the game remained a feature of sporting life well into the nineteenth century.
The word ‘Camping’ is cognate with the Germanic word Kampf, meaning ‘to fight’ or ‘struggle’ (thus Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf means ‘my struggle’). It is from this word, via French, that we have the English ‘campaign’. The writer and dialect historian, Robert Forby, in his Vocabulary of East Anglia, defined Camping as 1) To play at the game so called; 2) To kick in general.
So what, exactly, was camping? This is a difficult question to answer. It appears that the game had many variants and interpretations, but most commonly two teams of equal size would line up opposite each other and ‘rush’ forwards for the ball. The object of the game was then to kick or throw the ball into the opponents’ goal. Edward Moor has provided an account of a Suffolk variant: ‘Goals were pitched at a distance of 150 or 200 yards from each other – these were generally formed of the thrown off clothes of the competitors’.
Forby has also described the game: ‘In a line are ranged the combatants; for such they truly are. The number on each side is equal; not always the same, but very commonly twelve. The contest for the ball begins and never ends without black eyes and bloody noses, broken heads or shins, and some serious mischiefs. If the ball can be carried, kicked, or thrown to one of the goals, in spite of all the resistance of the other party, it is reckoned for one’.
But was it football? Joseph Strutt, in Sports and Pastimes of the People of England states that ‘Camp-ball…is only another denomination for foot-ball’ whereas Forby suggests that, at the time of writing (1830), there were two versions of the game in use, rough play and civil play, and that ‘in the latter there is no boxing’ and acknowledges that ‘some varieties in the mode of playing it always existed’. It could be argued that Rugby and Association Football share a common ancestor in Camping, but Forby would disagree – ‘It is to be feared that the name [camping] is sometimes most abusively misapplied to the common foot-ball, and that kicking that ball, and occasionally the shins or breech of an adversary, is called camping – a great insult and indignity to that ancient and noble exercise.’
All the books mentioned are available via Norfolk Library and Information Service.