County of Brant Public Library Digital Collections
"Don’t Touch My Shins!" by Mel Robertson, from The Burford Times

Robertson, Mel, Author
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Item Type:
From the 1970s through the 1980s, Mel Robertson wrote many articles for the Burford Advance and Burford Times on the history of Burford Township. This clipping contains the article "Don’t Touch My Shins!" describing the history of soccer in Burford. The article may not have been republished.

Newspaper clippings donated by Liz (Robertson) Brown; reprinted with permission from The Burford Times.
Date of Original:
September 26, 1990
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.0834 Longitude: -80.49968
Provided by Liz Brown
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Protected by copyright: Uses other than research or private study require the permission of the rightsholder(s). Responsibility for obtaining permissions and for any use rests exclusively with the user.
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The Burford Times
Recommended Citation:
Robertson, Mel. (1990, Sep. 26). "Don’t Touch My Shins!". Burford, Ontario: The Burford Times.
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Full Text


Burford has a rich history of broken shins - and lots of fun

DON'T TOUCH MY SHINS! By Mel Robertson

A few weeks ago the World Cup Soccer championship was played in Italy. Thousands of soccer fans gathered - some to watch the games, some to get drunk and some to fight. Obviously soccer is a game that is played and admired in many countries. In Bur-ford Township it was one of our earliest sports with a history going back almost 200 years.

It is not known when the first soccer game was played in this area but it is known that as early as 1798 the Burford Block that is bounded by King St. West, William St. Dufferin St. and Jarvis St. was a park-like area where, in addition to militia parades, cricket, lacrosse and soccer were played. No reports of games exist -but there is a reference to the sport in the description of the activities of the Rev. St. George Caulfield who was Rector of Holy Trinity Anglican Church form 1847 to 1852. Caulfield was described as a rough and ready participant in games of lacrosse, cricket and soccer. It was said of him that he played lacrosse "like an Irishman" and when we think of the Irish versions of lacrosse "hurley" - that says a great deal. People who saw Caulfield play said that it was hard to tell what game he was playing when he took the field. As a person who has played cricket and soccer I find this hard to believe. One can only conclude that the reverend gentleman took the dragon-slaying attributes of his namesake to heart and did not hesitate to leave his mark on the shins of his parishioners.

The first newspaper reports of soccer in Burford Township can be found in the "Burford Times" of 1886. These indicate that soccer teams existed in almost every village, hamlet and cross-roads of the Township. These reports make interesting reading for it is obvious that the correspondents of the day had little knowledge of either soccer or baseball. When we read that "Harley beat New Durham by 22 goals" we don't know if this was a runaway soccer game or a baseball game. Words such as "runs" and "goals" were interchangeable and the reader had to make up his own mind as to what sport was being described. I say "his" for in 1886 Women did not seem to pay much attention to sports.

Soccer got off to an early start in 1886 with a report that the Mt. Vernon Eleven were practising for a game with New Durham on April 29th. This enthusiasm for soccer was remarkable, for other newspaper items of the day indicate that the spring of 1886 was a bad one. Roads were almost impassable, bridges were down on the 9th Concession, knee-deep lakes existed at the corner of King St. and Maple Ave. in Burford and "the bottom" had fallen out of the Harley road. Mud was so bad that the Mt. Zion correspondent to the paper reported that a Woodbury man who was escorting a Mt. Zion girl home from church, found the walking so tough that he gave up and let the girl walk home alone.

Heavy storms were frequent and in Hatchley J. Pringle lost his barn roof. However, despite the weather, Mt. Zion was practising for a game with New Durham. This was part of a triple challenge for the winner was to play a team from "Oriel" whose location is not known. In Fairfield soccer practice began on May 20th in preparation for a match with the Dutcher Settlement on the 9th Concession. The same issue of the "Times" noted that Mt. Zion would play Big Creek on May 24th at Richard Radford's farm and that soccer practice in Mt. Vernon had become so rough that the universal slogan was "Don't Touch My Shins". Rough soccer practice at other places produced some nasty accidents and on June 20th the Mt. Zion correspondent reported one such incident at a team practice. A young man had received a "Furious kick" from someone unknown and the correspondent had been warned that he would receive a similar kick if he reported the name of the person who was responsible. (A "furious kick" was one to the lower part of the body, fore or aft. Kicks to the head, shins or any other part of the body, were just kicks.) In this instance the correspondent wrote that if this threat was carried out the would retaliate in a like manner. However, he did go on to write that he hoped the injured man would recover quickly so that a certain house would not be lonely on Sunday night. This leads one to believe that the "furious kick" had been intended to cool the ardor of a young man who was in competition for the hand of a young lady.

The threat of physical violence in Mt. Zion seemed to have a deadening effect on soccer reporting from that area, for all references to either games or practices ceased and Mt. Zion soccer enthusiasts had to rely on other local correspondents for news of their team. Reports from other centres continued with news of games at garden parties and other social gatherings. Unfortunately, detailed information was rarely given other than notes that "a good soccer game was played". This lack of detail may have been due to the fact that most of the "Times" area correspondents were women who would not have considered attending a soccer game unless accompanied by their husband, brother or some other chaperone.

As 1886 moved along, soccer coverage improved and reached its high point with a report on Sept. 19th of a "World Series" of three games between the Mt. Vernon "Clippers" and a team from Pleasant Ridge. This was a home-and-home series with the third game being played in Bishopsgate. The games, which drew large crowds, resulted in one win for Mt. Vernon and two ties. The final game was described as "a hot one" which lasted "almost an hour." Officials were Mr. Smith - Referee, Mr. Alpaugh - "Umpire for Pleasant Ridge", and Mr. A Sharpe - "Umpire for Mt. Vernon." The report that the game lasted "almost an hour" gives the impression

that there was no pre-set time limit and the reference to "umpires" sounds strange in a soccer game.

The Mt. Vernon-Pleasant Ridge "World Series" did not end the 1886 soccer season in this area. The Burford Eleven, which had been practising since Aug. 26th, challenged the Mt. Vernon "World Champions" and played them to a draw. This game, like the final Mt. Vernon-Pleasant Ridge match, was described as "a hot one" and Burford went so far as to claim victory since they had the ball "very close" to the mt. Vernon goal when time can out. Encouraged by the Burford effort against Mt. Vernon, Pleasant Ridge challenged Mt. Vernon again and on Oct. 7th beat them 3-0. It is hoped that this game was "a hot one" for the "Times" reported that it was played in a heavy early snow-storm.

The early onset of winter in 1886 put a stop to the soccer season and players began to turn their thoughts to hockey and debating. Here it is strange to note that whereas teas, oyster suppers and other social events were held to honour, or support, almost any organization or cause, there are no newspaper reports of any such fund-raising events being held to support soccer teams. One gets the impression that the fearless soccer players who were ever-ready to make much of their kicks, were quite content when winter came to go to Epworth League or Literary Society meetings and debate the value (or otherwise) of "Reciprocity." It may (or may not) seem strange that debates on this early form of "Free Trade" could generate heated confrontations in church basements. Soccer flourished in Bur-ford Township until the early years of the 20th century. Unfortunately, I do not have sufficient information on file to present a proper continuity of events, but the year 1909 would seem to have been typical of the soccer interest in the area. Newspaper reports indicate that soccer games were a feature of almost every garden party, being played just after the sit-down supper and just before the musical part of the evening. They served to fill in the time and keep the crowd interested while the ladies put away the supper tables, the older men got the chairs and benches set up for the concert and the front porch or platform prepared for the entertainers. When we consider that for the admission price of 25 cents, people got a big, hot, sit-down supper, a soccer game and a concert, 1990s' people must shake their heads in astonishment. Some of the many garden party soccer games were the following -On June 17th, 1909 at a Cathcart garden party on G. Read's lawn, George Force refereed a game between Princeton and Creditville which the latter won 1-0. On July 19th at a Garden party in New Durham, Hatchley beat the local team 2-0 and on July 22nd at a Salem garden party on Mrs. Poole's lawn hosts 1-0. This latter game drew special attention from the Salem correspondent to the "Advance" who made special reference to the large number of Fairfield people who were present. While giving credit to other events of the evening the correspondent went on to say that the Fairfield people were not drawn by the Bur-ford Band or by the concert but rather by the popularity of their soccer team. In any case the garden party took in $112 which was a very good income seeing that the average "take" for a 1909 garden party was about $70. A few days after their Salem victory the Fairfield team took on Scotland and beat them 2-0. Scotland was not disheartened by their defeat and on Sept. 6th the village was host to a combined soccer and baseball tournament that drew large crowds and netted "a tidy sum" for the village.

In 1910 lawn tennis and lawn bowling began to take over sports coverage in the Burford "Advance", possibly due to the fact that the editor was a lawn bowler and a tennis enthusiast. Area correspondents made scant references to soccer games, confining most of their literary efforts to items about who visited whom on a Sunday afternoon and what young men "got left" by their lady friends on Sunday nights. Now and then soccer managed to make the news such as the game on July 5th (continued on pg. 7)


A rich history of soccer action here

(continued from pg. 5)

at a Strawberry Festival on G. Shellington's lawn in Harley and one at a Sunday School Association picnic in Harley when the host team beat Hatchley 2-1.

The big soccer news for 1910 was unfortunately bad news for in a game between Harley and Hatchley, Ernest Savage, son of Mr. and Mrs. George Savage of the with Concession, received an accidental kick that resulted in his death on Aug. 26th. This injury was completely accidental and the name of the player who kicked Ernest was published along with sympathy for both families.

The accidental death of Ernest Savage was not the only soccer fatality in early Bur-ford soccer. At least two deaths were attributed to soccer injuries and there were reports of several near-fatal accidents. Most of the injuries were due to the fact that in early days many players thought it "unmanly" to wear shin guards or other protection. Men took considerable pride in their ability to absorb pain without flinching. Indeed, one of the early tests of manhood was the shin-kicking contest. This so-called sport, which had been imported from "the Old Country", consisted of two men grasping each other by the shoulders and then trying to tick each other's shins until one gave up.

While most "furious kicks" involved competition for a young lady's affection some were used to "pay off other "scores". One such example took place in the early 1900s. My grandfather C.N. Woodin had a little spaniel dog who was everyone's friend. One day, for no reason at all, a Mt. Vernon man shot it. The little animal managed to drag itself home but Dr. Joe Porter the veterinary surgeon was unable to save it. Dr. Porter was a Burford soccer player and in the next Burford-Mt. Vernon game Dr. Porter deliberately kicked the Mt. Vernon man in the groin, nearly killing him. Dr. Porter never hesitated to admit this retaliation and as a child I heard him talk about it. Needless to say, the Mt. Vernon man never shot another dog, or played another game of soccer.

Local interest in soccer began to wane in 1911 and a perusal of Burford papers gives no coverage from any of the area correspondents. Burford village had a team but interest in the game had become so slight that the Local Eleven was reduced to placing ads in the "Advance" asking for opponents. These ads failed to produce results and the last appeared on July 21st. Baseball seemed to have been taking over as the Township's favourite sport, but that is another story.

It is not known what sort of playing fields existed in the early days. Apart from the Burford field on "the Old Parade Grounds" most other soccer fields were informal ones traced out on some farmer's pasture. In all likelihood they were measured by someone pacing off the field and marking the corners with stakes or big stones. Lines would have been made with whitewash or some substance that would not harm pasturing cattle later on. Goals were posts driven into the ground with a cross-bar on top. It is doubtful if any club had goal nets. Referees indicated stoppages in play by ringing a cow-bell and whistling through their teeth. "Umpires" or linesmen probably waved handkerchiefs to indicate when a ball was out of the field.

From information that I have been able to collect it would appear that most teams were outfitted with matching sweaters and knee-length pants. Boots were everyday work boots. By modern standards early soccer sweaters would seem to have been very heavy but we must remember that lighter materials were not available.

The waning interest in local soccer seems to have coincided with the reduction of immigration from "the Old Country" that became noticeable in the years just before the first World War and which did not reach its previous rate after the war. Local soccer became dormant in the Township until after the Second World War when immigrants from many soccer-playing European countries began to move into the area. For a couple of years in the 1960s Bur-ford had a team called "Burford United" that played in an area league and in more recent years the game has flourished at Burford District High School. However that is another story which I must leave to someone with files to cover it.

Soccer is a good game and it is heartening to note that it is making headway all over panic ularly among quite young people. One of my grandsons sent me a picture recently of his peewee Ottawa team outfitted like Manchester United. In return I sent him a picture of the McMaster University Senior Intercollegiate team on which I played in the 1930s. I imagine that David found it rather primitive for my son tells me that his interest in soccer is so great that he would like to sleep in his team sweater. Let's hope that there is similar local interest.

P.S. - In looking over pictures of soccer teams I note that goal-keepers always pose with their arms folded. Does this mean that they are sturdy and resolute or that they have given up hope of stopping any more shots?

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"Don’t Touch My Shins!" by Mel Robertson, from The Burford Times

From the 1970s through the 1980s, Mel Robertson wrote many articles for the Burford Advance and Burford Times on the history of Burford Township. This clipping contains the article "Don’t Touch My Shins!" describing the history of soccer in Burford. The article may not have been republished.

Newspaper clippings donated by Liz (Robertson) Brown; reprinted with permission from The Burford Times.