As with many things in life, I came across this somewhat bizarre little newsreel clip while I was looking for something else entirely (I was actually searching YouTube for videos of football being played in extreme weather – you can find my playlist of that here). When I saw this frankly odd snippet of film, I couldn’t resist posting it here for your enjoyment too!
Since we are in the midst of the Rugby Union Autumn Internationals and the Rugby League World Cup (England have reached the final!), it seemed like the perfect time to share this quirky look at what has to be one of the most unpleasantly cold and uncomfortably violent crossover sports imaginable (and I’ve played actual rugby. In the actual mud).
Filmed at the Streatham Ice Rink in south London (I honestly can’t see this type of game being played on the beautiful green reaches of the Twickenham pitch!), and, according to the narrator “a mixture of rugby and American footer”, this 8-a-side match between the Senators and the Royals doesn’t actually seem to have much in the way of tactics going on – unless you count falling over in a heap and shoving the opposition off the ice at 25mph as tactical play!
Falling on your backside on an icy surface while trying to kick a ball of some kind is, unsurprisingly, nothing new. There is evidence of people playing games of football and also an early form of ice hockey on the frozen River Thames in London during sixteenth and seventeenth century Frost Fairs, and games of various types had almost certainly been played on the ice-bound river for many decades of cold winters before that.
It’s clear that people have been getting freezing cold and covered in painful bumps and bruises while playing their favourite sports on less icy ground for centuries, but playing on a slippery surface such as your local ice rink or frozen pond simply makes that post-match trip to A&E much more likely. You just have to look at some of the icy antics posted on YouTube to see that people still love to slip and slide around on a frozen pond or river (and still frequently fall in).
In some cases, however, the result of such fun and games ends up being far more serious than a broken wrist or ankle, as this sad account, originally from an 1840 edition of the Morning Chronicle, clearly shows. That winter was obviously a cold one, as the Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park had frozen over, and a large group of people had taken advantage of this to play a slippery game of football. But then the ice cracked and broke, plunging many of the players into the freezing water:
Upwards of a dozen men and boys were struggling for their lives […] All were restored to life, with one exception, a lad who had been at least six minutes under the water.
Pulled out of the lake by rescuers with boats and ladders, the majority of the soaked players were rushed off to be wrapped in blankets and put in warm baths. But one lad, reported by the newspaper to be 14-year-old David Caird, tragically could not be saved and was “removed in a shell to the dead-house”.
A sombre end to this story of what should have been a fun day – and a sombre end to this post too.
Just be careful out there this winter…