“Under the Association rules”: Lismore v Mallow, 1877

Mallow V Lismore Small
Cork Constitution, December 4 1877.

This notice appeared in the pages of Cork’s premier Unionist newspaper on December 4th 1877. It is, to the best of my knowledge, the earliest recorded report of a game of football, played “under the association rules” in Cork, and possibly Munster, that was not a game played by military sides.

This notice forms the basis for the beginning of my book, Soccer in Munster: A Social History, 1877-1937. In the course of doing some online promotion of my book, I noticed that the excellent Cork City Libraries website, Cork Past And Present, make mention of my find. The find was made in the upstairs room of the Cork City Library on the Grand Parade, during the course of researching and writing my book, so this is particularly nice.

I am doubly delighted that my small find is now a part of the soccer story in Cork, and indeed the wider soccer story of Ireland. As Paul Rouse has noted in his recent book, Sport & Ireland: A History, that while there is substantiation for the claim of soccer being a ‘garrison game’ in the 1880s and 1890s, it was “emphatically not just a ‘garrison game'”. Indeed, as Rouse notes, “sometimes it was spread by virtue of exhibition matches and the distribution of rule books; on other occasions, schools, army regiments, and businesses took on the game…”

This game which took place in Mallow in 1877 is a perfect example of this spread of the game by means other than the garrison. There are a few curious notes to be made about the game as reported in the Cork Constitution. First, you will notice that while it was undoubtedly a soccer game, it was played by “two Fifteens”, rather than the eleven players we are used to. It is likely too that whoever wrote the report, most likely the schoolmaster visiting, had a particular affinity for the Association game from their own youth in either an English or Irish public school. This we can discern from their passing remark that “it is pleasant to find, at a time when the fascination of Rugby rules enlists the sympathies of most of our young friends, that the beautiful game of foot-ball proper possesses such able  exponents as met in this match.”

Given the game ended in a draw, and was played with “the most un-broken good humour and hilarity prevailed throughout the whole contest”, it was clearly a first attempt by both schools to try this version of football. No report, that I could find, appeared of the return leg in Lismore. But, little did these thirty odd young boys know then that their game, played late in November of 1877, would form the backdrop to a much wider story – the story of how soccer came to be one of the most popular sports on the island of Ireland, and eventually, throughout the world.

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