What does open field mean in football

The Eton Field Game has many similarities to the soccer game, although it also knows the scrimmage and calls it bully. This refers to the urge that is still part of the rugby game and American football today.

This post is a small series about the three types of football in public schools, which are very similar to association football. Using a description written by Montague Shearman in 1887, the varieties from Eton, Winchester and Harrow are presented.

Eton Field Game


  • "Dribbling game"
  • The playing field is an open field, approximately 100-120 yards long and 80-100 yards wide, the edges of which are cut into the lawn as a narrow line. The gates are 12 ft wide and 6 or 7 ft high (changed in the rules), each bordered by two posts and a lath.
  • Eleven players play on both sides, with no upper limit for ordinary games.
  • The ball has a circumference of 13-14 in, which is half the size of that of the association game. So it fits easily between the legs of Bullys.
  • The ball must go out between the posts and below the crossbar.
  • Number of players: 11 to 15.
  • Duration: indefinite, but so that 2-3 games can take place per afternoon.

To the game

Eleven players arrange themselves as follows:

  1. The bully (“mix”) (consisting of a “post”, “back-up post”, and two or three “side posts”, a total of four or five players);
  2. the outside of the face-off, ie a "corner" on both sides of the face-off (corresponds exactly to the position of the half back in a rugby union game) and the "behind-the-bully" or "flying man" behind the face-off stands; and
  3. the "behinds", three pieces, namely "short behind", "long behind" and "goals"

The game begins with a face-off at the center of the playing field: The ball is placed in the middle of the face-off by one of the "orders" and the game begins. The goal of the face-off players is to force the ball through their opponents, the ball usually being held firmly and moving as in rugby union; the rest of the players are waiting ("awaits events") in their respective positions. The bullies usually only last a few moments, and the ball can be played immediately and finds its way to the side or, if it finds its way backwards, the "flying man" starts immediately at full speed and dribbles it right in front of his Feet to the goal of the opponent. The game is now essentially becoming a dribble and it is wrong for a striker to let the ball go more than a few steps in front of him. It is also important to run the field as straight as possible, which of course the opponents would like to prevent.

When the player starts dribbling, the rest of his team follows him in his slipstream, ready to take his place if he falls or loses the ball.

Etonians in the Association game

Because of their experience with bullies, Etonians were sought-after backs who could very well fight fair duels. On the other hand, they weren't good at dribbling.



  • Shearman, Montague: Athletics and football. London 1887. pp. 272-279, 288-290.
  • Westby Martin: England’s Oldest Football Clubs 1815-1889. A new chronological classification of early football (Folk, School, Military, County, Rugby, & Association). 2019.

Photo credits: The Telegraph - The Old Etonians football team that won the FA Cup in 1879. URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Old_etonians_1879.jpg.

by Petra Tabarelli

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