Scotland is known for its passionate football (American soccer) fans, and it is recognized as the birthplace of golf and home to the most famous golf courses in the world. Did you know that both sports were once illegal throughout the land?
King James I outlawed football with the Football Act of 1424. It was passed by the Parliament of Scotland and became law on May 26, 1424.
The law reads, “it is statut and the king forbiddis that na man play at the fut ball under the payne of iiij d.” That is to say that playing football was forbidden by the King, and punishable by a fine of four pence.
The Act remained in force for several centuries before being repealed by the Statute Law Revision (Scotland) Act 1906.
Football was not the only sport that was targeted. Four further Acts (in 1457, 1470, 1490, and 1647) explicitly prohibit both football and golf. The 1647 legislation, for example, decreed, “…it is ordanyt and decretyt that Wapinschawing be haldin be ye lordis and baronys spirituale and temporale four tymes in ye yeir. And [th]at ye futebawe and ye golf be uterly cryt done and not usyt And [th]at ye bowe markes be maid at all parochkirks a pair of butts And schuting be usyt ilk Sunday … And touchand ye futebaw and ye golf We ordane it to be punyst be ye baronys unlaw. And if he tak it not to be tain be ye kings officars.” Translated into modern English, it says, “…it is ordained and the decreed that the lords and barons both spiritual and temporal should organise archery displays four times in the year. And that football and golf should be utterly condemned and stopped. And that a pair of targets should be made up at all parish churches and shooting should be practised each Sunday … And concerning football and golf, we ordain that [those found playing these games] be punished by the local barons and, failing them, by the King’s officers.”
The reason for these decrees was not because the government had any particular problem with the sports, per se. The problem was that the activities were too popular. In an age when military training was mandatory for all males over the age of 12, military officers found, to their dismay, that people were playing football and golf so much that they neglected their archery training.
Additionally, the sports had a tendency to be played in enclosed public spaces where the grounds were cared for. This usually meant streets and churchyards. As the popularity of the sports increased, so did injuries to bystanders who just happened to be in the way.