Definition of 'scrimmage'

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Definition of 'scrimmage'

Postby Cinneide » Thu Jun 08, 2017 8:39 am

Can anyone explain what a scrimmage was in the early days of football?

In 19th century newspapers I often see references to scrimmages, often when describing goals that are, more often that not, not credited to individual players. I had it in my head that this activity would be similar to a rugby scrum, where open play had broken down, and several players would be hacking away trying to get possession of the ball.

However, I recently came across a description which suggests there was more to it, and perhaps rules around it.

From the Glasgow Evening Citizen 1 October 1887, from the report of the Partick Thistle v Cowlairs game:
The Cowlairs next had a look in, and their chances were augmented by a foul immediately in front of goal. In the scrimmage which followed McPherson accidentally touched the ball, and this gave relief to the other side.


Any insights welcome.

Niall
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Re: Definition of 'scrimmage'

Postby bluedragon » Fri Jun 09, 2017 1:14 pm

I have only seen "scrimmage" used to describe the play you have set out, i.e. a close-quarters struggle for the ball. The Partick Thistle v Cowlairs match was a few years before the introduction of the penalty kick in 1891. I read the newspaper description as: a foul was committed, a free kick near the goal was awarded, there was a tussle ("scrimmage") for the ball until McPherson (Cowlairs) handled and another foul was awarded this time in favour of Thistle. So I do not see scrimmage having a meaning within the early rules but I have not checked. It will be interesting to hear what others say.
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Re: Definition of 'scrimmage'

Postby BMCCOLL » Fri Jun 09, 2017 8:30 pm

I was always under the impression that a scrimmage was basically a free for all in an effort to get the ball away from the goal. I've seen reports that mention of scrimmages taking place with the end result of the goalkeeper and ball being bundled over the line!
http://scottish-football-historical-archive.co.uk
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Re: Definition of 'scrimmage'

Postby Cinneide » Sat Jun 10, 2017 6:54 am

bluedragon wrote:I... until McPherson (Cowlairs) handled ...


It hadn't crossed my mind that McPherson's touch could have been handball but that explanation would make sense if it was. Thanks.
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Re: Definition of 'scrimmage'

Postby Snuff » Sat Jun 10, 2017 4:30 pm

Might a "scrimmage" be, for want of a better description: "a mass or multi-player stoat-up"?
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Re: Definition of 'scrimmage'

Postby Cinneide » Sat Jun 10, 2017 8:19 pm

Snuff wrote:Might a "scrimmage" be, for want of a better description: "a mass or multi-player stoat-up"?

Yes, that was my understanding, but it doesn't explain why play would have stopped because a player touched the ball during the scrimmage, as suggested in the report.
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Re: Definition of 'scrimmage'

Postby Alan McCabe » Sat Jun 10, 2017 8:43 pm

I've got to say that I always considered the 'scrimmage' being akin to the scrum in rugby.
I'm sure I've read stories of teams effectively surrounding the ball and edging towards goal whilst the defending side attempts to hold them at bay. It would explain why so few goalscorers are actually identified. From the odd sketch that you see of the association game in the early years, I think it's common for all the players to 'follow the ball', a bit like kids in a school playground, meaning there could be many players it close proximity.
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Re: Definition of 'scrimmage'

Postby BMCCOLL » Sat Jun 10, 2017 9:32 pm

Maybe he was in an offside position, although it would be hard to say from the mass of bodies. But could be telling if the ref was a 'homer' :lol:
http://scottish-football-historical-archive.co.uk
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Re: Definition of 'scrimmage'

Postby ScottishFA » Sun Jun 11, 2017 9:33 am

I would equate it to 'stramash'. At that time, there were of course no penalty kicks, and a free kick could be awarded anywhere for handling 'under any pretence whatsoever' ie even by accident. Also, the distance at a free kick was six yards rather than ten, with the proviso that nobody needed to stand behind their own goal line.

So when there was a free kick close to goal, the defending team would mass on the goal line and rush forward as soon as the ball was kicked. The attacking team would counter this by trying to keep the ball protected in their own mass of players and gradually move it forward. Hence you have all the players in a tight group, trying to clear the ball or score a goal. These scrimmages could last several minutes with the ball completely hidden from view.

A bit like rugby, really, except handling was not allowed.
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Re: Definition of 'scrimmage'

Postby Boris57 » Sun Jun 11, 2017 11:48 am

I reckon Andy spot on there with "stramash" - first word I thought of too when I read the thread. Good old Arhur Montford! Going by my research over the years the term "scrimmage" is invariably used when a goal is scored from very close range with numerous players in the vicinity & the reporter doesn't have a scooby-do who got the last touch. You can just imagine it - bit like fitba in the playground back in the day with about 15 bairns kicking lumps out of each other trying to get the tennis baw through the strageically placed bags/coats acting as posts!
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Re: Definition of 'scrimmage'

Postby Angusfifer » Sun Jun 18, 2017 6:15 pm

Reminds me of my records from season 1909-10 where Alex Mitchell and Murray are credited with half a goal each in the opening day 1-1 draw v St Johnstone in the Central League. Presumably a scrimmage took place...
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