FOOTBALL matches between the cotton towns of yesteryear bore little resemblance to the soccer we know today. It was war. Bloody, brutal and barbarous.

Nearly 200 years ago, about the time that handloom weaving was giving way to mills and machinery, Darwen faced Tottington, a team from Turton, Bolton and Bury in a challenge match in a field at Round Barn off the Blacksnape Road for 50 shillings a side.

The baying crowd was numbered at more than 5,000.

A contemporary report at the time was recounted in the Darwen News in July 1948. The match took place on “Collop Monday,” the day before Shrove Tuesday, and was nominally of 20 a-side. An iron clog was worn on the right foot and a shoe on the other.

The object was to “up” a goal and the “first business” was “to get as many men disabled as possible”.

One spectator, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, told the reporter: “Mon, id wer lahk Backle o’ Watterloo.”

The report went on: “There were no such inconveniences as umpires or referees. The game was played in ding-dong fashion with many a punce and many a blow to keep the spectators amused.”

The ball could be picked up and thrown, but had to be grounded before being kicked.

At one point Darwen called for Tottington to “place up hands” so they could be counted. Rather reluctantly they did and were found to have 24 or 25 players !

Said one of the Darwen lads: “Id were no bother. Wi could ‘a beaten 30 of ‘em.”

As the match progressed, it wasn’t very clear what was going on other than a mass brawl, but it appeared that Jem Hargreaves dashed past five men towards the “upping” line where he passed to George Taylor who “upped it in fine style” over a rope which was presumably doing duty for the goal-line.

Call that 1-0.

It didn’t go down well with Tottington or their supporters who began “a general onslaught on the Darwen men, closing in upon them and beating them unmercifully. Sticks and staves were used most freely.”

The Darwen lads, clearly outnumbered, were last seen “running full tilt up Tea Pot Brow with the enraged mass at their heels.”

Football was even dafter and rowdier in the earlier years of the century.

An annual match played at Darwen had two goals, about four miles apart. One was at Moulden Water near the Blackburn boundary and the other was at Cadshaw Bar, high on Bull Hill.

The ball was “upped” at Livesey Fold, near to Dove Cottage, and the two teams of hand-loom weavers fought it out from dawn till dusk for several days.

Thanks to Tony Foster for all his reaearch