Sport Origin Handbook – WIF Sports

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Origin Stories of

Famous Sports

Whether people play, or just watch, sports are a big part of many people’s lives. Besides just being entertainment, sports are also tied to many countries’ national identity, and are a billion dollar industry. Have you ever wondered how these sports got their start? Even if you think you know, what’s interesting is that the origins of sports are filled with myths and legends. These are the real stories about how these beloved games were invented.

10. Lacrosse


Lacrosse is North America’s oldest team sport and originated with the Eastern Woodlands Native Americans and some Plains Indians tribes. The game was played by warriors of the tribe to keep them fit and strong. Many of the rules were different from modern day lacrosse. Notably, the field of play could be 0.6 miles long. Besides just ensuring that the warriors stay in shape, the game was also important to their society. It helped strengthen diplomatic alliances, supported social conformity, and they used it to honor the gods.

In the 1840s, Europeans became interested in the game. The first recorded match between Europeans and members of the Mohawk tribe happened in August 1844. In 1856, the Montreal Lacrosse Club was formed in Quebec, Canada. When the Prince of Wales visited Montreal in August 1860, lacrosse’s popularity grew even more. A month after the Prince’s visit, a dentist named William George Beers wrote the first official rules and instructions for the game and replaced the deerskin ball with a rubber version. Since then, the game has grown in popularity and there are currently two professional lacrosse leagues operating in North America.

9. Golf


The origins of golf are highly debated. The Scots take total credit for it, and they are kind of right. The modern foundation of the game started in the mid-15thcentury in Scotland. Those rules included swinging a club at a ball and moving it from point A to point B using the least amount of strokes possible.

However, there is evidence that the roots of the game sprouted in the small town of Loenen aan de Vecht in the Netherlands when it was played there in 1297. That year was the start of an annual tradition, where, on Boxing Day, the townspeople played a game named “colf.” The game consisted of two teams of four players who took turns hitting a wooden ball with a wooden stick towards several consecutive targets. Besides the mention of colf in 1297, there is other evidence of golf-like games being played throughout the Netherlands centuries before the game of golf first appeared in Scottish literature in 1636. However, as we mentioned, this is highly debatable and many Scottish people don’t believe it to be true.

8. Ice Hockey


Canadians are generally considered polite and modest people. However, one thing that many Canadians are gleefully boastful about is their ice hockey heritage. According to them, it’s their game. They are the best at it, and they invented it.

However, according to a book that was published in 2014, hockey was probably invented in England. There are references to the game all the way back to as early the 1790s, and beyond that, it is unclear who created the game. What is known is that the game was popular in England for centuries. Notable people who played included King Edward VII and Charles Darwin.

As for why it’s called hockey, the theory is that in the early games, a cork bung was used as a puck. Bungs were most commonly used as a stopper in beer casks and a popular drink at the time was hock ale.

Why Canada is often associated with hockey is that the first organized public gamewas played in Montreal on March 3, 1875. Before that, games were just played casually. About 40 people attended the the first game, which is a few more than the Arizona Coyotes get now.

7. Rugby


Rugby supposedly got its start in 1876 when 16-year-old William Webb Ellis was playing soccer at the Rugby School in Warwickshire, England, and he picked up the ball and ran with it. Unfortunately, the story can’t be true because Ellis died in 1872, four years before he was credited with inventing rugby.

The real story is that the game did grow out of the Rugby School and it was promoted by the school’s headmaster Thomas Arnold. The rules were first written in 1845 and it’s believed that the game grew out of soccer, but it’s unclear who was the first person to pick up the ball and run with it.

After boys attended the school and learned the game, they wanted to continue to play as adults. This is how the first intercounty games were organized, leading to the first clubs, which resulted in the formation of the International Rugby Football Board in 1884.

6. Cricket


To many people in North America, cricket is a bit of a mystery and seems quite complicated. However, it’s beloved in many other countries around the world and watched by billions of people. In fact, it is the second most popular sport in the world.

Cricket is believed to have gotten its start in the 13th century in rural England, where it was played by shepherds. The wicket gate of the sheep paddock was used as a target and then a ball of rags or wool was pitched at the target. An opposing player would use a shepherd’s crooked staff to prevent the ball from hitting the target.

The game was popular regionally and continued to be played throughout the centuries. The first recorded 11-to-a-side match was played in 1697 in Sussex for a prize of 50 guineas. Eight years later, the first intercounty match happened between Kent and Surrey. Rules were probably already established at this point, but the oldest known written rules for the game are dated 1744.

5. Tennis


It’s believed that the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all played some form of tennis. However, the linage of modern tennis starts around 1000 A.D. when it was played by French monks in a monastery. They would play with their hands and a wooded ball, so it was more like volleyball. The net was usually just a rope that stretched across a courtyard. This is also where tennis got its name. While playing, the monks would yell ‘tenez’, which is French for ‘to take’, while they served the ball. Over the next two centuries, the game gained popularity throughout Europe and by the 13th century there were 1,800 indoor courts. By 1500, wooden frame racquets that were laced with sheep guts became common, as did balls made from cork.

However, the game was much different than it is today. According to The History Channel:

Games took place in narrow, indoor courts, where the ball was played off walls with roved galleries and a number of openings. Players won points by hitting the ball into netted windows beneath the roves, with the net being five feet high on the ends and three feet in the middle, which created a pronounced droop.

Modern tennis didn’t really start to emerge until 1873 when the rules were first published. In 1877, the first tennis tournament was held at Wimbledon, where they decided on the court shape and size and adopted tennis’ method of scoring.

4. Basketball


We bet it wasn’t really a surprise that Canadians claimed to be the inventors of hockey. However, did you know that a Canadian actually invented one of America’s most beloved sports, basketball?

Dr. James Naismith of Almonte, Ontario was born in 1861, and after years of working as a lumberjack, he got his degree in physical education from McGill University in Montreal. After graduating, he moved to the United States, where he got a job at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts.

There, he was tasked with finding a suitable activity for a group of “incorrigibles.” The winters were cold in New England and the boys had to stay inside and quickly became bored with all the indoor games of the day. Naismith developed basketball based on a game he played as a child called Duck on a Rock. Naismith had the school’s janitor hang up two peach baskets high up at each end of the gym and a soccer ball was used. The first game was played on December 21, 1891, and the final score was 1-0. So, both teams were slightly better than the Philadelphia 76ers. Eventually, the peach baskets had holes cut in the bottom because the janitor got sick of climbing up a ladder to retrieve the ball.

From there the game grew in popularity and Naismith was alive to see it adopted into the Olympics in 1936 in Berlin. Naismith, who was the first coach of the Kansas Jayhawks basketball team, also saw the birth of NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship. He passed away on November 28, 1939.

3. Baseball


The most common legend of the start of baseball is it was invented in Cooperstown, New York, during the summer of 1839 by Abner Doubleday. After inventing the game, Doubleday went on to become a hero in the American Civil War. The only problem is that none of that is true. In 1839, Doubleday would have still been at West Point.

Baseball probably descended from two games from England. The first is a game called rounders that was a children’s game that came to New England with the colonists, and the second is cricket.

The foundation of modern baseball started in 1845 when a group of men in New York formed the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club. The most influential member of the club was a bank clerk named Alexander Joy Cartwright who came up with many of the rules that are the foundation of baseball. This included a diamond shaped infield, foul lines, and the three strike rule. Another rule that he removed, which certainly would make baseball a lot more exciting today, is that he got rid of the rule that players were allowed to throw the ball at a runner to get them out.

2. American Football


The first game that would eventually become American Football, or gridiron football, happened on November 6, 1869, between players from Princeton andRutgers. However, that was more of a soccer game. After that game, Yale developed their own sport that was called “The Boston Game.” It was like soccer, but if a player was being pursued by an opponent, he could pick up the oval ball and run with it, or throw or pass it. If he wasn’t being pursued, he had to kick it with his feet. Then on May 14 and 15, 1874, Yale hosted McGill University from Montreal and they also had their own set of rules for football. On the first day, they played the Boston Game.

On the second day, they played McGill’s version of football, which had more of a rugby element to it. It had 11 men per side, used an oval ball, and a player could pick it up and run with it at any time. After the games, the Yale team decided they liked McGill’s version better and adopted it. Yes, you read that right. The foundation for American football was developed by a Canadian university.

Yale’s football Captain from 1876 to 1881 was Walter Camp. He was responsible for the Intercollegiate Football Association adopting two important rules. He got rid of the opening scrum and introduced the rule where the team had to give up the ball if they didn’t move it a certain amount of yards after a specific number of downs. Camp was also responsible for many other innovations that makes football what is today. This includes 11-men-per-side, the quarterback position, the line of scrimmage, offensive signal calling and football’s unique scoring system

One thing that you may be wondering is, why is association football called soccer in North America? Well, it may be surprising to know that it is a British term. It was what they called the sport for nearly a century. Essentially, the sport is formally called Association Football, or for short, Assocc and at the time, it was common for people at English schools added “-er” to the end of words. Then, Assoccer gradually morphed into soccer. British people used soccer interchangeably all the way into Post-World War II. North Americans always called it soccer to differentiate between it and gridiron football. After World War II, America had a cultural explosion, and the British started to adopt the word football because soccer had become too American “too American.”

1. Soccer


Soccer is the most popular sport in the world today, and it could be because it’s an innate part of the human experience. Games similar to soccer can be dated all the way back to 2,500 B.C. in Ancient Egypt, where people kicked a ball around during the feast of the fertility.

In China, from 476 B.C. to 221 B.C., people played a sport called cuju, which roughly translates to “kick the ball with foot.” The point of the game was to kick a leather ball stuffed with feathers through a cloth hung between two posts. They could use any part of their body, except for their hands. Soldiers used to play it in order to keep in shape.

A similar game was played in Ancient Rome as well. There were 27 players on each team and they only had to get the ball in the other team’s goal. Because this was Ancient Rome, people were injured and killed while playing it, which sounds way more exciting than watching modern soccer.

Games similar to soccer continued to be played all the way through the middle ages and the contemporary age of soccer started in 1863. That’s when rugby football and soccer splintered off and the Football Association in England was formed. This governing body gave more rules and regulations, giving birth to modern day soccer.

Sport Origin Handbook

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– WIF Sports

WORLD WIDE WORDS Issue 871 – WIF Style

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Issue 871

Issue 871




Issue 871: Saturday 1 March 2014

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1. Feedback, Notes and Comments.

2. Hypnopompic.

3. Wordface.

4. Blind Freddie.

5. Sic!

Sporting words J Hogan followed up a recent item: “Regarding verbs learned from Olympic winter sports (aside from the curious usage, to medal), one new to me is to ragdoll, referring to what a slopestyle skier or snowboarder does when an edge goes just a bit wrong and the contestant suddenly flops sprawled onto the hillside. If he or she stays loose when this occurs, the athlete may escape injury; but it’s alarming to witness it.”

Cricket Batsman

Haymaker From Anthony Holt: “I believe that haymaker was alive and well in the 1950s when I was at school in Brighton. It was used exclusively on the cricket field and was applied to a batsman who made wildly reckless and risky strokes in his innings, trying to knock every ball into the next county. The end result was usually his dismissal, but it could also result in an exciting and match-winning time.” The Oxford English Dictionary’s first example is from 1954 and I remember it from the same period. My impression is that it has now fallen out of use.

Paddy Crean wrote, “Here in Ireland the term ‘haymaker’ has had only one meaning to me, a very heavy thundery shower of rain in spring or early summer, which would be guaranteed to produce plenty of green grass in due course.”

Fain Jan Matthews commented: “Your example of fain brought my childhood flooding back. My father taught me to lisp the following at a tender age as a party piece. ‘Recite Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ would produce:

Scintillate, scintillate globule vivific,
Fain would I fathom thy nature specific,
Loftily poised in the ether capacious,
Strongly resembling a gem carbonaceous

Memory-imprinted forever — and uselessly — of course!”

A memory of fawn came from D A Brown: “As a schoolboy many years ago I overheard two women discussing parents’ day interviews with their daughters’ teachers: ‘Now, I like Miss ——. She doesn’t fornicate all over you.’ ”

Neknominate Margaret Neville countered my view of the origin of this: “I disagree that the name is an abbreviation of neck and nominate. I am confident the nek part was taken from another recent social-media term, nek minnit (next minute), used when referring to an immediate consequence and made popular by New Zealand street skater, Levi Hawken. Hence, neknomination definitely means ‘next nomination’, as the purpose of the game is to film oneself consuming a beverage and then issuing a challenge by nominating the next person to do so.”

River run The biggest response by far in this week’s postbag was to a throw-away comment I inserted at the end of a Sic! item that featured the sentence “As a native of drought-ridden Southern California, the Colorado River has always loomed large to me.” It’s a classic misplaced modifier, of course (the writer meant to say that she is the native, not the river), and I tried to point this up by saying that the Colorado River wasn’t a native of California, but of Colorado, in which state its source conventionally lies. Lots of people sent me detailed descriptions of the route of the river to show that it had connections with five states and Mexico. I meant native in the sense in which I always use it, a person associated with a place by birth (which I equated with source for the river), not merely somebody who is a local inhabitant. Perhaps I was being too literal, or too obscure.

2. Hypnopompic

One of the curses of life today was outlined by the Times in 2013: “Modern alarm clocks destroy dreams because they rip you through your hypnopompic sleep state so fast.”

The hypnopompic state is that drowsy, half-alert, comfortable state you’re in as you awaken slowly and naturally. It’s the opposite of the one you drift into as you gradually fall asleep, which is the hypnagogic state.

Both words derive from Greek hupnos, sleep. Hypnopompic combines it with pompē, sending away, while hypnagogic adds agōgos, leading. The former was coined by Frederic Myers, a philologist and one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research, while the latter was the creation of Alfred Maury, a French researcher into dreams. Hypnagogic came into English from French hypnagogique. Though it’s conventional to lose the final o from prefixes like hypno- when they’re put before a vowel, many users spell the word hypnogogic. That may be because hypna- is very rare in English (the only other in the Oxford English Dictionary is hypnaesthesia, which in any case is now often spelled hypnesthesia) and they’re swayed by all the others beginning hypno-. And few people now know the Greek root begins with a vowel.

The terms are most often applied to hallucinations during these states that seem completely real to their subjects. They may hear music or their name being called or see images of people. Repeated or particularly vivid episodes may lead some to fear that they’re mentally ill. Such hypnagogic or hypnopompic experiences turn out to be common, though the former occur more often. It’s thought that some reports of ghosts come from such experiences.

3. Wordface

Impulsive An article in last week’s New Scientist included the mildly alarming word electroceutical. It’s a device implanted in the body that sends electrical signals along nerves for medical purposes. Early research is beginning to show that nerve impulses can control the body’s immune system and that such generated signals can tell organs to suppress infection or abnormal activity. The article reports some success with arthritis and asthma and that one pharmaceutical firm, GlaxoSmithKline, is hoping to find treatments for other chronic diseases, including diabetes and hypertension. The term, known in research circles since about 2007, belongs to a wider field of study more generally called bioelectronics, which also covers the use of nerve signals to control prosthetics such as artificial limbs.

Smith, surround them! The Press Association reported on Tuesday that two anti-fracking protesters had been convicted of besetting a drilling site. The writer put the word in quotes, twice, to mark a word he or she thought odd or unfamiliar. I had to stop and think about it myself. Beset is common but almost always appears either in the grammatical passive or referring to some agency that acts on a person: “he was beset with worries”; “doubts and confusions that often beset us”; “the hazards that beset early travellers”. These all come from the original sense in Old English of surrounding or encircling, or of assailing on all sides, such as an army besetting a fortress. What we don’t often encounter is a single person, or even two, described as actively besetting somewhere. It turns out to be a legal term and — despite its etymological origins — it’s indeed legally possible for one person to beset a place.

4. Blind Freddie

Q From Matthew Brand: A relatively common expression in Australia describes something obvious as one that even Blind Freddy could see (“even Blind Freddy could tell that their marriage wouldn’t last”). I was wondering, has anyone ever traced an actual visually impaired man by that name, or is it simply unknowable?

A My feeling, from half a world away, is that the idiom is slowly falling out of use and is now mainly found in the speech of older people. But it’s still easy to find examples in newspapers:

The proverbial Blind Freddie could have anticipated these consequences as a result of callow policies designed to appease public opinion.
The Australian, 19 Feb. 2012.

The first known use of the idiom I’ve found is this:

The present system has to go. There’s no other way. It MUST go. Even Blind Freddie can see that.
The International Socialist (Sydney, NSW), 8 Mar. 1917.

One candidate often put forward is the India-born Eton-educated Sir Frederick Pottinger. He joined the Grenadier Guards but went through a fortune gambling on horses and had to emigrate to Australia, where he became a trooper in the New South Wales police force. Once his title became known locally, he was promoted to inspector, seemingly beyond his competence, though he was a dogged man who wanted to do well in his job. He made several unsuccessful tries at catching the bushrangers “Wild” Ben Hall, John Gilbert and Frank Gardiner, which unfairly made him a comic incompetent in the press and among local people. He featured in a satirical ballad, The Bloody Field Of Wheogo, about the failed attempt to capture Gardiner, which contains the lines:

But the Ranger proud, he laughed aloud,
and bounding rode away,
While Sir Frederick Pott, shut his eyes for a shot,
and miss’d — his usual way.
Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Aug. 1862.

Pottinger died in 1865, having accidentally shot himself with his own pistol while trying to board a moving coach. Many of the stories told about him are later elaborations, as is the belief that he was the original Blind Freddie. If he was, it’s strange that the first written reference should have appeared half a century later.

A more plausible origin was put forward by the famous Australian lexicographer Sidney Baker:

According to Sydney legend, a blind hawker named Freddy operated in the area bordered by Market, King, Castlereagh and George Streets in the 1920s, selling ties, razor blades, hair oil and other items. Although blind, he is reputed to have been able to find his way around with great ease and to have recognised scores of customers by their voices.
Australia Speaks, by Sidney Baker, 1953.

The creation of a huge collection of searchable historic newspapers by the National Library of Australia, appropriately called Trove, has led to my being able to find out much more about this man. He must surely must be the one described in this newspaper article, which contains the first recorded use of the nickname:

One of the best known identities of the Sydney boxing game during the past quarter of a century is ‘Blind Freddie,’ who never misses a fight of even minor importance, and whose ears assist his mind’s eye to such an extent that exciting situations work him up and he can laugh as heartily as anyone else at amusing occurrences. ‘Blind Freddie’ is not an old man; he lost his sight 28 years ago, when 11 years old. The sightless sport enjoys life as much as most men, and feels many a hearty hand grip and hears many a cordial greeting as he roams round the city alone, for ‘Freddie,’ who follows the calling of a general dealer, is popular with everybody.
The Referee (Sydney), 12 Apr. 1911.

Although the evidence is circumstantial, there can be little doubt the idiom originated with this man, partly because early appearances of the term Blind Freddie are in and around Sydney and partly because later reports reinforce that he was a well-known character.

The next reference in print to a person called Blind Freddie came in 1933, when newspapers reported him as being seriously ill and said that his real name was Frederick Solomons. The funeral notice posted by Solomon’s family in the Sydney Morning Herald on 4 December that year identified him as Blind Freddie.

An article reporting his illness described him as “one of Sydney’s most remarkable characters”, in part because his acute senses allowed him to undertake seemingly impossible feats:

Mick Dunn, champion fighter of bare fist days, told today how about 35 years ago this blind man drove a hansom cab from Bathurst street along Pitt street to the railway station without mishap. He has been known to tell whose horse was approaching by its trot. His senses of touch and smell are two of his greatest assets. He can identify people by the touch of their hands or their clothing.
The News (Adelaide), 21 Aug. 1933.

Another article reported his death with the comment,

He could walk to any business house in the city, unaccompanied and without hesitation, and it is said that one day finding another blind man waiting at a corner he led him across an intersection.
The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers’ Advocate (Parramatta), 14 Dec. 1933.

Though few people remember him as a real person, his nickname lives on. I am delighted to have rediscovered the individual behind it.

5. Sic!

• Pattie Tancred found this sentence alongside a copy of the Rosetta Stone in the Egyptian Museum, Turin: “Written in three different scripts, (hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek), the French scholar J-F Champollion used the Greek text to decipher hieroglyphics.”

• The Brunswick News of 25 February, Joel T Keys tells us, had a story about the local submarine base headlined, “Kings Bay prepares for possible terrorist attacks with drills.”

• A photo caption in a story in CTV News online could have been better worded: “In this Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014 photo taken with a cellphone camera, an Indian policeman tries to charge a leopard with a stick that was spotted at a hospital in Meerut, India.” Thanks to Silas DeRoma for that.

• Tony McCoy O’Grady found this in the Sky TV programme guide for 21 February: “Fred Dineage examines the murders of Peter Manuel who was hanged for killing seven people in Scotland in the 1950s. He later confessed to killing many more.”

• Department of unnecessarily redundant superfluity, via Bob Lee from the Calgary Herald of 19 February. In reporting the investigation on a homicide, it said that “The couple’s children are not suspected suspects at this time.”