La soule

La soule, later choule, is a traditional team sport that originated in Normandy and Picardy. The ball, called a soule, could be solid or hollow and made of either wood or leather. Leather balls would be filled with hay, bran, horse hair or moss. Sometimes the balls had woolen pompons.[1]

"La soule en Basse Normandie" 1852
1852 la soule match in Normandy

Early records

It would appear that ball games such as la soule developed naturally as a pastime, if only tossing the ball around. Such a game would be played wherever crowds of people met, e.g., after church services on Sundays or on religious holidays. La soule was played chiefly on the Christian holidays of Easter, Christmas, or on occasion at weddings or the day of the patron saint of the parish. The play could be aggressive, sometimes violent. It involved getting a ball to the opponents’ goal, using hands, feet or sticks. It was not uncommon for participants to be injured, and broken limbs were often reported. The sport seems to have been a very important stress release for the common villagers.

  • 1147 – A charter specifies the payment of an amount of money and handing over of "seven balloons of greatest dimension".[2]
  • 1283 – The only reference to a game in Cornwall dates from this year. A man named Roger was accused of striking a fellow player in a game called soule with a stone, a blow which proved fatal. The details were recorded in the plea rolls no. 111.[3]
  • 1393 – In Paris, a game took place in front of Saint-Eustache.[2]
  • 1396 – The rules of the game were codified. The soules were getting large as people were trying to exceed their predecessors, but this zeal had to be restricted. A rule dated 1412 limited the size of the ball or soule, stating that it had to be small enough to be held with one hand. This habit disappeared within the 16th century.[2]
  • 1365 – Documents record the game of soule as an ordinance of Charles V "that the solles cannot appear among the games which serve the exercise of the body." Moreover, it does not appear that the Breton sovereigns (Brittany being independent at the time) continued the game, as it was not under the same ecclesiastical authority.
  • 1440 – Another prohibition by the bishop of Tréguier made it clear that this game had been practised for a long time. He threatened the players with excommunication, or very severe punishment, and 100 grounds of fine. La soule was very appreciated at that time, if it was necessary to inspire fear to put an end to play, but that did not stop the eagerness of the souleurs.
  • 19th century – From this time on, the majority of the soules were taking place at Morbihan in spite of their prohibition. Only the war put an end to this play because the young men all were mobilized.
  • 1841 – At Bellou-en-Houlme contestants numbered up to 800 and there were said to be 6,000 spectators. The ball was three feet around and weighed 13 pounds. In this game, the losing side would often cut the ball in half with their knives. To prevent this, the ball was sheathed in tin.


The rules of la soule were relatively simple. Generally two teams competed, often two parishes. The aim of the game was either to bring the ball back to just in front of the team's parish church, with or without the use of sticks (the ball was usually made from a pig's bladder, covered with leather) or to deposit the ball in front of the opposing team's parish church, which was sometimes quite far and entailed going through fields, forests and over rivers and streams. Occasionally, but not always, there were posts. The game was started at the geographical border between the two parishes; it was also sometimes organised between teams of single versus married men. The size of the team could vary from 20 to 200 players. However, sometimes three parishes played in a single game. In Auray, a soule involved 16 parishes, possibly with more than 500 participants. Nothing was forbidden by the rules, and the game could last for several days, until the players were completely exhausted.

All the parishes' inhabitants came out to watch and encourage players. A large crowd surrounded the player that threw up the ball to begin the game.

Before its prohibition, the clergy and nobility also took part in the sport. Members of the clergy could take part or at least launch the ball once at the beginning. In Vieux-Viel, the soule was launched at the door of the castle, and was then taken to the cemetery by the priests and the officers of the parish. Finally, the soule could be placed with the presbytery or a vault. In Vitré, it was displayed in the church the day of Saint-Étienne. However, in spite of the importance of the play, nobles and members of the clergy gave up participation during the 18th century.

Playing areas

Traditional games seem not to have had any particular pitch or defined playing field. Soule was practised in meadows, woods, moors, and even ditches or ponds. The goal was to bring back the ball to a place indicated; the hearth of a house or any other place chosen by the players. In certain cases, it was even necessary to soak the soule in a spring or pool of water before placing it in ash. The play was thus only one immense scrimmage intersected with more or less keen frays. The ball could be made of leather, fabric, or wood, a pig bladder filled with hay, or even a wooden block.

Fixed playing grounds were not necessary because the game was played in a wide, variable area. However, the game's start was always in a fixed area; the town square, a cemetery, castle, or meadow. Rules were not always precise. The dates of play were set often early in the new year, before springtime. After this time many of the souleurs would be busy in the fields.

Modern revivals

The last recorded games seem to date from between 1930 and 1945. One of the last recorded games was between the villages of Saint-Léger-aux-Bois and Tracy-le-Mont in the Oise department of Picardy which is situated 35 miles north of Paris.

There have been several attempts to revive the game in some form or other:

  • To see the usual practice to day in Normandy since 2001 go to see, facebook federation des jeux et sports Normands. Championship since 2011 with 6 teams. A Normandy festival is held in Jersey, Guernesey or Normandy every year, normally involving some re-enactment of choule.[4]
  • An attempt to revive choule to celebrate the Football World Cup 1998, held in France.
  • Tricot, a village in the Oise, still plays la soule on the Sunday after Shrove Tuesday.
  • La soule was played in 1994 in Vouillé in Vienne
  • Since 2003, the villages around Vendôme (between Le Mans and Blois) have been playing the game annually in early September.[5] The French recognise similarities between la soule and the game of Royal Shrovetide Football as played in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. An open invitation was extended by the Vendômois French in order to increase numbers and popularity and players from the Bulldogs Rugby Club, Twickenham, UK, have taken part since 2008. La soule at Vendôme typically takes place in a flooded woodland area with two teams each of around 40 players chosen at random using a pack of playing cards, i.e. red or black team. The "ball" is a heavy pyramid-shaped leather sack stuffed with straw which becomes extremely heavy when wet and difficult to handle. Goals are designated by painting a single tree red at either end of the pitch and a goal is scored by touching the opponents' tree with the ball by whichever means possible. There is no referee or timekeeper and although there are few rules, good sportsmanship is encouraged. The game ends by mutual consent once a side is deemed too far ahead on goals to be caught; games usually lasting 2–3 hours.
  • On 11 February 2017, 16 players met for a revival of the soule and played during 4 periods of 15 minutes, in the village of Saint-Césaire-de-Gauzignan. Although the beginning seemed messy, the players quickly understood the rules and the game went well.


  • Choule crosse – 'Choule [with a] stick'. Five players with substitutes able to enter constantly. The ball was made of string or packing and rag surrounded of leather, approximately 10 cm in diameter with a weak rebound. Personnel included a field referee and two goal referees.
  • Grande choule – played with large teams, and very rough like rugby. The ball could be played with hands or feet.
  • La petite crosse, or petite choulethe – An early version of cricket, played with bats and wickets. No records of it exist except in early engravings.

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ a b c Jusserand, Jean-Jules (1901). "Chapitre VI: Paume, soule, crosse et leurs dérivés". Le sport et les jeux d'exercice dans l'ancienne France (in French). Archived from the original on 7 February 2008. Retrieved 12 July 2016 – via L'Encylopedie de L'Agora (and the Internet Archive). Full text available via Project Gutenberg.
  3. ^ Elliot-Binns, L. E. Medieval Cornwall. London: Methuen & Co.
  4. ^ "Fédération des Jeux et Sports Traditionnels Normands et Vikings (choule…)".
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-03-30. Retrieved 2009-08-21.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)

Further reading

  • Jeux de balle en Picardie. Les frontières de l'invisible, a French book on the subject by Marie Cegarra. ISBN 2-7384-6420-3

External links

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Attempts to ban football games

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Baseball Before We Knew It

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Cornish hurling

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Once played widely in Cornwall, the game has similarities to other traditional football or inter parish 'mob' games, but certain attributes make this version unique to Cornwall. It is considered by many to be Cornwall's national game along with Cornish wrestling. An old saying in the Cornish language goes "hyrlîan yw gen gwaré nyi", which translated into English means "hurling is our sport"In August, 1705, a fatality occurred during a hurling match at Camborne. The parish burials register contains the following entry 'William Trevarthen buried in the church. "Being disstroid to a hurling with Redruth men at the high dounes the 10th day of August". This is the only recorded death of a player during a hurling match.

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Shelford's kī-o-rahi test jersey made him the first kī-o-rahi/rugby double international for NZ. The women's team coached by Andrea Cameron (Head of PE at Tikipunga High School) also won by 33–0. These were the first historic test matches between NZ and France.

Lay Abbey

A Lay Abbey (Fr: Abbaye laïque) was a basic component of the Middle Ages in the western foothills of the northern Pyrenees. The adjective lay indicated that the property did not belong to a religious order. It is possible to identify a hundred lay abbeys, some only by conjecture due to the disappearance of the texts.

List of sports

The following is a list of sports/games, divided by category.

According to the World Sports Encyclopedia (2003), there are 8,000 indigenous sports and sporting games.

List of types of football

This is a list of various types of football, most variations found as gridiron, rugby, association football.

Medieval football

"Medieval football" is a modern term used for a wide variety of localised football games which were invented and played in Europe during the Middle Ages. Alternative names include folk football, mob football and Shrovetide football. These games may be regarded as the ancestors of modern codes of football, and by comparison with later forms of football, the medieval matches were chaotic and had few rules.

The Middle Ages saw a rise in popularity of games played annually at Shrovetide throughout Europe, particularly in Great Britain. The games played in England at this time may have arrived with the Roman occupation but there is little evidence to indicate this. Certainly the Romans played ball games, in particular Harpastum. There is also one reference to ball games being played in southern Britain prior to the Norman Conquest. In the ninth century Nennius's Historia Britonum tells that a group of boys were playing at ball (pilae ludus). The origin of this account is either Southern England or Wales. References to a ball game played in northern France known as La Soule or Choule, in which the ball was propelled by hands, feet, and sticks, date from the 12th century.These archaic forms of football, typically classified as mob football, would be played between neighbouring towns and villages, involving an unlimited number of players on opposing teams, who would clash in a heaving mass of people struggling to drag an inflated pig's bladder by any means possible to markers at each end of a town. By some accounts, in some such events any means could be used to move the ball towards the goal, as long as it did not lead to manslaughter or murder. Sometimes instead of markers, the teams would attempt to kick the bladder into the balcony of the opponents' church. A legend that these games in England evolved from a more ancient and bloody ritual of kicking the "Dane's head" is unlikely to be true. These antiquated games went into sharp decline in the 19th century when the Highway Act 1835 was passed banning the playing of football on public highways. In spite of this, games continued to be played in some parts of the United Kingdom and still survive in a number of towns, notably the Ba game played at Christmas and New Year at Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands Scotland, Uppies and Downies over Easter at Workington in Cumbria, and the Royal Shrovetide Football Match on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday at Ashbourne in Derbyshire, England.Few images of medieval football survive. One engraving from the early fourteenth century at Gloucester Cathedral, England, clearly shows two young men running vigorously towards each other with a ball in mid-air between them. There is a hint that the players may be using their hands to strike the ball. A second medieval image in the British Museum, London clearly shows a group of men with a large ball on the ground. The ball clearly has a seam where leather has been sewn together. It is unclear exactly what is happening in this set of three images, although the last image appears to show a man with a broken arm. It is likely that this image highlights the dangers of some medieval football games.Most of the very early references to the game speak simply of "ball play" or "playing at ball". This reinforces the idea that the games played at the time did not necessarily involve a ball being kicked.

Pig bladder

Pig bladder (also pig's bladder) is the urinary bladder of a domestic pig, similar to the human urinary bladder. Today, this hollow organ has various applications in medicine, and in traditional cuisines and customs. Historically, the pig bladder had several additional uses, all based on its properties as a lightweight, stretchable container that could be filled and tied off.

Royal Shrovetide Football

The Royal Shrovetide Football Match is a "Medieval football" game played annually on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday in the town of Ashbourne in Derbyshire, England. Shrovetide ball games have been played in England since at least the 12th century from the reign of Henry II (1154–89). The Ashbourne game also known as "hugball" has been played from at least c.1667 although the exact origins of the game are unknown due to a fire at the Royal Shrovetide Committee office in the 1890s which destroyed the earliest records. One of the most popular origin theories suggests the macabre notion that the 'ball' was originally a severed head tossed into the waiting crowd following an execution. Although this may have happened, it is more likely that games such as the Winchelsea Streete Game, reputedly played during the Hundred Years' War with France, were adaptations of an original ball game intended to show contempt for the enemy.One of the earliest references to football in the county of Derbyshire comes in a poem called "Burlesque upon the Great Frost" from 1683, written after the English Civil War by Charles Cotton, cousin to Aston Cockayne, Baronet of Ashbourne (1608–84):

Two towns, that long that war had ragedBeing at football now engagedFor honour, as both sides pretend,Left the brave trial to be endedTill the next thaw for they were frozenOn either part at least a dozen,With a good handsome space between 'emLike Rollerich stones, if you've seen 'emAnd could no more run, kick, or trip yeThan I can quaff off Aganippe.

Shrovetide football played between "Two towns" in Derby is often credited with being the source of the term "local derby". A more widely accepted origin theory is The Derby horse race. Whatever the origins the "local derby" is now a recognised term for a football game played between local rivals and a Derby is a horse race.

A previously unknown tentative link between Royal Shrovetide football and La soule played in Tricot, Picardy was established in 2012 by history and sociology of sport lecturer Laurent Fournier from the Universite de Nantes. Whilst undertaking a study of "folk football", he noticed that the Coat of arms of the Cockayne family (seated in Ashbourne from the 12th century) painted on a 1909 Shrovetide ball displayed in the window of the Ashbourne Telegraph office contained three cockerels in its heraldic design. He recognised this matched the emblem of Tricot (also carrying three cockerels) where La soule is played on the first Sunday of Lent and Easter Monday. He was welcomed to Ashbourne by the Royal Shrovetide Committee and was a guest at the Shrovetide luncheon. Research into Royal Shrovetide Football's lost history is ongoing (August 2012).

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