April 26, 2011

We All Come From One

Peteca, Tlatchi, Cuju, Shrovetide, the human history is filled with games that involve a chasing a ball. Whether at one point we all started off kicking it or throwing it, or if it was oval shaped or round, it seems to be unknown to history. Or perhaps instead of branching off from one main descendant, the game spontaneously evolved at multiple points in the world.

What got me thinking about this was when I stumbled upon something called the Anzac Day Game of Aussie Rules Football. Now, I know two versions of football fairly well, and the insane, fast-paced melee that I was watching through my computer stream was neither.

As I was watching, I was simultaneously on a message board of ozzies who were chiming in with commentary of the match. One of them posted this video clip of a previous year's climactic ending. It took me a minute to try to piece together what I was watching, but I became curiously intrigued.

I've only a typical American understanding of rubgy - i.e. I have no clue the rules and regulations. But after reading a few quick beginner's guides to Aussie Rules, I was able to keep track with the pace of the game. A few things like foul calls and defensive strategy still elude me, as well as why sometimes players catch the ball in the oval and get a free kick, but in all I could feel the same elements of soccer and football and every other playground sport that involves moving an object towards a goal. It was fast-paced, exciting, but most of all, it looked fun.

While I don't think I'll be learning to punch a football after watching my first Aussie Rules game, it did lead me to go on a 2-hour internet search through Wiki pages and YouTubes to try and discover the divergent history of these games. I mean, the whole theory that one game evolved association football (soccer), American football, rugby union, rugby league, Gaelic football, Australian football, all kinds of variations of badminton and futsal, street soccer, etc. It seems wild that there is no one concrete source for how this happened.

To be honest, I've never actually done the proper academic thing and spent time in a library doing research, but I did a bit of internet googling previously searching for the origins of soccer. Which was how I stumbled upon the game of Tlatchtli, the supposed ancient Aztec game of putting a ball through a basketball like hoop, but by using feet and head. From historical accounts, it was a raucous and primitive game of mob strategy, not too unfamiliar when you think about the early forms of rugby (and thus American football) and soccer. Stick massive amounts of people onto a field and give them a ball to chase.

In fact, that is the exact premise of one of the earliest forms of football as we know it. Shrovetide football can hardly be called a game, but it is the in the traditional sense in that it is played annually on religious holidays, such as Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Different towns in the UK play different versions, but it is essentially the same. In fact, just watch this insane video below.

So maybe there is some sort of primordial soup of human energy and the joy of games, that no matter where you are in the world, there is a sport that involves a goal, a team, and a ball. And maybe just as we could have all evolved from the same ancient Adam and Eve, we all carry some inherent and innate fabric in our brains that tell us to kick, punch, and chase a ball. But still, I think it doesn't matter where it is played, or whether the ball is an oval or a sphere, or even if the goal is a hoop, net, or a pair of sticks, it's the fact that we all are born knowing how to do this that surprises me the most. Just as we all are born knowing how to smile, laugh, and cry.