When was the first "football" match played in Hertfordshire? One of the problems is that the accounts that survive from the past often fail to mention the everyday activities of the ordinary people and football is no exception. The first description of what might today be called a football match was written by William FitzStephen in approximately 1170. While visiting London he noticed “after dinner all the youths of the city goes out into the field for the very popular game of ball.” He also pointed out that every trade had their own football team: “The fathers, and the men of wealth come on horseback to view the contests of their juniors, and in their fashion sport with the young men; and there seem to be aroused in these elders a stirring of natural heat by viewing so much activity and by participation in the joys of unrestrained youth.” Two centuries later a monk wrote that football was a game “in which young men ... propel a huge ball not by throwing it into the air, but by striking and rolling it along the ground, and that not with their hands but with their feet.” The monk claimed that the game was “undignified and worthless” and resulted in “some loss, accident or disadvantage to the players themselves."
Early in the 14th century Edward II banned the playing of football and several later monarchs took similar actions and we can be pretty certain that the game was played in Hertfordshire, but there are no early direct references to the game.
At the HALH Symposium on Sport in Hertfordshire David Short described a different approach - which was to try and track down old football fields by looking at old field names. He noted that a field in Ashwell listed in the tithe map was called "Football Close" and was able to trace the name to a terrier of 1628. Searching other similar records revealed another "Football Close" at Baldock mentioned in a 1568 deed. However another term, dating back to Saxon times, may well indicate places where games such of football could have been played. The name "Plaistowe" could well comes from the Saxon words for "battle place" and it would seem could be used for what we would now call a sports field. David found a "Plaistowe" in Hertford dating back to 1461, Another at Yardley dating back to 1630 and one is listed in Norton's Survey of Barley which dates to around 1600. In listening to the talk I got the impression that most were or the order of two acres and close to the parish church.