For those who don’t know, the Field Game is a form of football devised and played only at Eton College. With the rules dating back to as early as 1847 (potentially 1815, but this is disputed), the Field Game is one of two early ancestors of football to have emerged from the school.
How is it played?
Very similar to football. There are two teams of eleven playing on a football pitch with small, square, net-less goals at either end. Instead of a normal football, a Gaelic football (which is harder and smaller) is used. In a word, Field Game is football but with a scrum – only, one of the teams has to stand upright in the scrum, depending on whose ‘heads’ (possession) it is.
It is such intricate nuances as these that create lifelong Field Game fans, once they overcome their initial bewilderment when the rules are first explained to them!
The scoring is very similar to rugby, with 3 points awarded for a goal and 5 for a ‘rouge’ – which is when the scoring team touches the ball down if it has deflected off an opposing player and then rolled off the end of the pitch. This can then be converted for 2 points by deflecting the ball, again off the defending player, over the end of the pitch.
Who plays and when?
Since the Field Game is played exclusively at Eton (with only one counterexample to date), boarding house matches are the scene of the majority of the time. Almost every day of the week in the Lent Half, Field Game is being played in a variety of different competitions across all age groups and abilities. However, each Saturday involves a quite unique event: Old Etonians from across the country form up and try their best to give the current Year 12 and 13 boys a run for their money.
Why is it that people come back to play? What makes them enjoy it so much?
The answer is very unclear. In search of it I decided to ask certain members of my house why they liked field game, to which many responded that they very much don’t!
And so, I continued my inquiry further, and sought out some fellow Field Game enthusiasts in order to understand a little better why some come to love it.
Perhaps it’s the uniqueness? Maybe it’s the exercise? Probably not.
One thing is for sure, the complexity and subjective nature of the laws is puzzling to anyone who has never played the game. For most, it takes two years to fully grasp some of the more nuanced aspects of the game. A prime example of this is the fact that one can be effectively offside in two directions. ‘Sneaking’ and ‘cornering’ are the two terms given to such laws. They refer to being ‘offside’ medially and laterally respectively. Proving once again that Field Game is a test for the mind and for the body.