Harrow School ball
Harrow School ball c. 1870s
Diameter 27,5 cm (at widest)
Weight 820 g
Of all the ‘muddied oafts’ immortalisted by Kipling, none were muddier tha the boys of Harrow School. The cause was clay; the claggy earth upon which the playing fields were laid organised sport took hold in the early 19th century.
While other public schools developed their own peculiar stands of football – the handing game at Rugby, the Wall Game at Eton – at Harrow it was the prevalence during witer of thich, underlenting mud, sometimes reportedly up to a foot deep, that gave rise to a guirky blend of dribbling, catching and kiching.
Such conditions called also for a special type of ball, heavy and tough enough to withstand the mire. Shaped more like a cheese – although the relic shown here would have been nearly spherical when its bladder was inflated – the Harrow ball was closer in from to those cork-stuffed balls used in much longer established folk football games, such as at Atherstone, Ashbourne and Kirkwall.
In 1887 Montague Shearman described it as ‘nothing more than a blader enclosed in three pieces of thick shoemaker’s leather, two being circular and a third a broad strip equal in lenght to the circumference’. Not a ball for the meek, then, and certainly not for heading.
As it transpired, although no teams outside the school ever played Harrovian ‘footer’, several of its rules formed the basis of what became known as Association football, or ‘soccer’, when eventually, in 1863, represenatives from various public schools and clubs formed the Football Assotiation in London. An Old Harrovian, Charles Alcock, was the first Secretary of the FA and, in 1872, capitan of the first winners of the FA Cup.
Since then the scool has embraced both soccer and rugger, which are at least played by other schools. But inter-house ‘footer’ clings on still, albeit a rather different affair since the advent of modern drainage techniques.