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First episode taken from The Wizard No. 1185 - September 11th 1948.

The School of the Future

Phil Mason, a tall boy of sixteen, looked at the clock on the instrument board of his helicopter. It was ten minutes to nine; school at Birmingham started at nine and he had promised to pick up Lawrie Hill whose own machine was out of order. The gleaming, white buildings of the city of Coventry in the year 2148 lay beneath. Phil saw a warning red light, telling him to keep clear, flash from the dome on the roof of the Air Station, and he operated the controls so that the helicopter hovered in the air. From the marble front of the Air Station flashed the cylindrical, streamlined shapes of an air train – just a local, Phil noted as the air train came past with London-Paris-Lisbon destination boards on the aero-locomotive and its three trailers. When it had gone, Phil flew on a mile, and then shut off the helicopter’s power. As the machine dropped he saw that Lawrie was waiting for him on the flat roof of his home. A moment later Phil landed, and stopped, then threw open the door of the helicopter. Lawrie slung his plastic satchel into the cabin; under his arm was a round parcel. “You’ve left it a bit late, Phil,” he said as he climbed in. The helicopter soared as Phil put on power. “We’ll get to school in time.” He said. “What’s in the parcel?” “You’ll see in the history period,” Lawrie replied mysteriously. “I’ve been doing some research.” Phil made a quick turn as a ponderous green air van crossed in front of his machine. “Let Macey’s of Melbourne Move You.” Was the slogan painted on the van. “Silly idiot,” Phil growled. “He wasn’t looking where he was going.” The loud-speaker in the cabin of the helicopter broke into sound. “Keep to your channel, C-Twenty-Nine,” said a gruff voice. “Keep to your channel.” Lawrie laughed. “That’s for you, Phil,” he said. “I got ticked off by the air cops yesterday, too,” grunted Phil. “They always seem to be prowling round Birmingham. I nipped over to Dublin last night to fetch something for dad and they got on my tail on the way back.” Now the only sound was the swish of the slipstream as the helicopter glided along. Visibility in the smokeless sky was good, but it was the morning rush hour and air traffic was thick. Phil saw a gap between an air taxi and a red air bus and swung round with the traffic in the traffic circus over the city square. He circled the lofty glass and steel tower of Birmingham Town Hall and turned north. In the green expanse of the Midlands, with its parklands and speedways lay the white buildings of Birmingham College for boys. Phil hovered over the big, square roof while he searched for a gap among the scores of helicopters already parked. With a skilful bit of manoeuvring he put the machine down and he and his friend jumped out. Down a flight of transparent, plastic steps they ran into the shadowless corridors. Other boys in the dark blue uniform of the school were making for the classrooms. With half-a-minute in hand, Phil and Lawrie stopped to look at the notice-board. The only fresh notice, signed by the sports master, Mr James Granger, was as follows:- RIPOSTA The team to play Chicago Academy at riposte on Saturday will be:- Derek King (Captain), Phillip Mason, Lawrence Hill, Clifford Parker, Tom Ramsay, Maurice Naylor, Noel Lang and Guy Chesterton. Air coach leaves 10.30 prompt. “We’re in the team again, Lawrie,” chuckled Phil, “I thought there might be a change or two after the tanning we got from Oslo last week. Lawrie nodded. The Swedish boys had won by 25 points to 15. Riposta was played with long-handled rackets in a big, concrete court and points, flashed up on a scoring board, were scored when the ball struck targets at either end of the building. A buzzer sounded and Lawrie and Phil turned into their classroom. They were last to come in. Twenty other boys were laughing and talking. Derek King hailed them. “Don’t go straight off home this afternoon,” he said. “We’re having an extra riposta practice after school.” “We need it, too!” declared Maurice Naylor, a dark frowning boy. “Our guards were rotten at Oslo.” “The attackers weren’t smart either,” Derek declared. “Our shooting was awful.” Tom Ramsay pointed to Lawrie’s round parcel. “What’s that?” he asked. Somebody’s head?” The question remained unanswered because of the entry of Mr Burleigh, a keen looking teacher of about forty-five. “Good morning,” he said briskly as he went to his desk. “I’ll put the answers to last night’s arithmetic problems on the screen and when you’ve marked your work we’ll spend the rest of the session on history.” Mr Burleigh sat down, took out a stylo and wrote the answers on a plastic card. He slipped this into a miniature projector on his desk and, as he pressed a button, the figures were thrown on to a screen. The teacher waited until the boys had checked their answers and asked Phil to collect the books. “Now to proceed with our history,” he said. “You will each have a paper to write on a subject to be chosen by yourself at the general examination in a month’s time and you’ve had time to choose your subject and to start making notes. Hill, I understand you’ve been haunting the library. What have you in mind for your paper?” Lawrie took a notebook from his pocket. “I’m thinking of writing about “Football, sir,” he replied. Phil Mason turned and looked sharply at his friend. “Football? What’s football?” he muttered. Mr Burleigh pointed to Lawrie. “Go on,” he said. “This sounds interesting.” “Well, it began like this, sir – I thought I might write a paper about ancient sports and pastimes,” began Lawrie. The teacher nodded enthusiastically. “Quite a sound idea, Hill,” he remarked. “Sports and pastimes can offer a very good clue to the spirit of a period and from what you say you’ve discovered something about some ancient pursuit.” Mr Burleigh always encouraged discussion and Derek King joined in. “Football’s a queer name for a game,” he said. “Have you any idea when it was played?” “Well, from what I’ve discovered already it was played as long ago as 1863,” replied Lawrie. “The first clue I obtained relates to that year.” “Um, that’s going back a bit – nearly three hundred years,” said Mr Burleigh. “Where did you find this information, Hill?” Lawrie smiled. “There’s a shop in Coventry that sells antiques,” he said. “They’ve some very interesting things there – even a machine called a bicycle that people used to propel along with their feet.” “Was it used in this football game?” asked Phil. “Oh, no,” replied Lawrie. “Well, what happened was this – I was lost for a subject for my essay and it suddenly struck me that the antique shop might give me an idea, so I went in and looked around. The owner, who happens to be a friend of my father, took pity on me -” he grinned. “And gave me the loan of a scrap book for a few days.” “A scrap book?” exclaimed Maurice Naylor. “Yes,” replied Lawrie. “Mr Karney – he’s the antique dealer – explained that a scrap book was a collection of newspaper or magazine cuttings of interest pasted into a book. It seems that long ago it was common practice for people to make these scrap books on subjects in which they were interested. The book Mr. Karney has is very old, of course and consequently is of great value.” It was here that Mr Burleigh interrupted. “Newspapers and magazines,” explained the teacher, “were the predecessors of our televised journals. Yes, Hill go on.” Lawrie took a pad of plastic pages from his pocket. “This is the bit I copied out from one of those newspaper cuttings,” he said. “It was dated 1863.” He read out the following:- “As a result of the greatly increased popularity of football it has been decided by a number of clubs to form a society to agree upon rules for the game and to obtain some measure of uniformity in its control. “There seems to be general agreement that a team shall consist of eleven players consisting of a goalkeeper, one back, one half-back and a pack of forwards. “There is already agreement that the name of the new organization shall be the Football Association.” Mr Burleigh nodded interestedly. “Is that all the information you have, Hill?” he asked. “No, sir, that’s the bit that started me off,” said Lawrie. “The information in the scrap book covered several years and I discovered that a football club called Nottingham County was formed in 1862 and another called Nottingham Forest in 1865. In 1863 Stoke had a club and 1870 a team with the strange name of Sheffield Wednesday was organised.” Maurice Naylor yawned. “This is dry stuff,” he muttered. Mr Burleigh encouraged Lawrie to go on. “Are these the end of your researches?” he asked. “Not quite, sir,” replied Lawrie. “I found right at the end of the scrap book, this other cutting dated 1883.” Lawrie read out the following: - “In the English Football Association Cup Final played at Kennington Oval, Blackburn Olympic beat Old Etonians by two goals to one. An Extra half hour had to be played to decide the game. The rigid crossbars that were used instead of tapes between the goalposts proved to be a great success and stopped much argument. This year, 1883, is the first year in which a Northern club has won the trophy.” “Oh, so evidently the object of football was to kick a ball through a goal and a goal appears to have been constructed with two goalposts connected by a crossbar,” exclaimed Mr Burleigh. “That’s right, sir,” declared Lawrie excitedly. “When I took the scrap book back to the shop, Mr Karney had unearthed another book – an encyclopaedia. It wasn’t as old as the scrap book, being dated 1948, but the leaves were very torn and discoloured. However, I did manage to make out some of the printing and it said that Association football was played on a pitch with a minimum length of a hundred yards, that the goals were eight yards wide and eight feet high and that the ball was twenty-eight inches in circumference.” Lawrie stooped and picked up his parcel. “As a matter of fact, sir.” He concluded. “I’ve attempted to make a football.” Mr Burleigh chuckled. “I hardly think the ball could be attached to a historical essay.” He said. “Still we’ll have a look at it.” Lawrie held up a ball with metal panels that gleamed like silver. He dropped it and, after striking the floor, it bounced nearly to the ceiling. “Very ingenious,” was the teachers comment. “What metal did you use?” “Baronium, sir.” Replied Lawrie. “Father helped me. By fitting a valve we filled it with ultrahelium gas.” Mr Burleigh gave an appreciative nod. “What you’ve said has been most interesting.” He stated. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t make football the subject of research by the entire class this term. If we delve into the subject it might give us many interesting side-lights on past life in this country. We know now that football was played in 1863, that it was becoming a popular game then and that rules were being drawn up regarding how it should be played. What we do not know is for how many years the game was a popular sport, and, this is very important, why football apparently died out – for die out it must have done at some unknown date in the past.” “Seems dull stuff to me.” Naylor whispered. “I was going to suggest that we could play football during the interval,” said Lawrie. “Not a bad suggestion,” agreed Mr Burleigh. “The game evidently had a fascination for our ancestors and by playing it you may obtain ideas as to the reason for its popularity.” A red light flickered over the silver television screen and he broke off abruptly. “Time for geography already!” he exclaimed in surprise. “Who takes you this morning? Oh, yes, as you’re doing China it’ll be Professor Chen-Wang speaking from Hong Kong.” On the screen appeared the three-dimensional figure of a portly little Chinese. “Good morning,” he said. “I will just wait for South African schools to join us then we will resume our studies of the geographical features of China.”

Lawrie’s First Game

In the middle of the morning school, there was an interval of half an hour. Swarms of boys descended by the elevators from the classrooms and laboratories in the tower building, mingling with those who had been working on the lower floors. Between two of the wings of the school was a very large ornamental lawn and it was to this stretch of turf that Lawrie hurried his classmates. “What are we going to use for – what did you call them – goals?” asked Phil. “And where are you going to put the goals – in the middle somewhere?” asked Guy Chesterton. “No, I’m sure they must be at the ends of the pitch,” said Lawrie. “That seems commonsense.” “We’ve nothing we can use for goalposts,” remarked Clifford Parker. “Let’s mark the goals with our tunics,” Lawrie said. “They’ll do for now.” The boys took off their tunics and dropped them in piles at the ends of the lawn. “Now each side’s got to have a goalkeeper, a back, a half-back and eight forwards,” Lawrie declared. “Split up. It doesn’t matter about picking teams.” Maurice Naylor shrugged and Derek King had a grin on his face at what he considered to be Lawrie’s whim. The class divided into teams with Guy in one goal and Noel in the other. Phil faced Lawrie. “How do we start the game?” he asked. “Can’t say I know,” Lawrie replied. I’ll give the ball a kick in the air.” Lawrie tossed up the ball and kicked at it with his light-weight rubber and plastic boot. The metal ball flashed in the sunlight as it soared. It came down bounced high and was caught by Derek who started to run with it. “Steady on!” Lawrie called out. “I’m sure you can’t use your hands.” “Why not?” demanded Derek. “I should think it would be called handball if handling were permitted,” Lawrie said. Derek dropped the ball. “Have it your own way,” he said and gave it a kick. The ball bounced across the lawn, Phil and his fellow forwards made a rush for it. Lawrie and the seven other forwards in his team also raced after it. Mr Burleigh came down the steps and blinked at the tremendous scrimmage that was taking place in the middle of the grass. Boys were falling over each other in the middle of a wild melee and Lawrie dropped sprawling on his face when he received a shove in the middle of the back. He grinned as he scrambled up and went haring after the ball. It was so light that a gust of wind caught it, blew it away from him and swept it towards Guy Chesterton. “Stop it!” yelled Lawrie. Guy kicked at the ball and missed it. On it rolled between the piles of tunics. “Goal!” Phil shouted. “I suppose it is,” said Lawrie breathlessly. “Not a bad game, is it?” Maurice Naylor brushed some soil off his knee. “You’re easily pleased,” he sneered. “It’s just a mad scramble.” “Slow, too,” said Derek. “Our ancestors must have been easy to please.” “They must have been savages to want to rush helter-skelter after a ball.” Jeered Maurice. “Let’s go.” “No, if we’ve got to make football a subject for research we might as well find out all we can about it,” said Derek. Maurice scowled. “It’s just like Lawrie to go and dig up football,” he snapped. “Why couldn’t he find something interesting?” Lawrie kicked the ball up to start the game again. By this time swarms of boys, attracted by the spectacle of the seniors rushing about the grass after a big ball, were pouring out of school. From the glass-covered sun-room on top of the tower, others stared down. The ball bounced head high in front of Phil. As Lawrie rushed him Phil grinned and, putting his head under the ball, knocked it up and dodged his pal. “Hi, what are you doing?” Lawrie shouted. “It isn’t head ball -” “Well it just seemed the natural thing to do,” replied Phil. The ball rolled towards Tom Ramsay, who drew back his foot and took a terrific kick. The light ball rose fifty feet in the air and, helped by the wind, was carried right across the grass before it fell and bounced over Noel’s head in the distant goal. “I’ve kicked a goal!” chortled Tom. “There’s something in this game, Lawrie!” The excitement grew when the two packs of forwards clashed again in a tremendous scrimmage. Lawrie got a jab from an elbow as he tried to kick the ball out of the melee, and Phil went over on his back when Derek shoved him out of the way with a two-handed push. The players were battling so keenly to get at the ball as it bobbed about among their legs that they did not see a tall master with a thin, bony face come striding down the steps and hurry out on to the grass. Anger appeared on Mr Granger’s face as he gazed in bewilderment at the encounter. The sports master had been a great athlete. In his day he had been one of the finest riposta players in the world and had captained Europe when they defeated South America in the championship of the world match in 2140 – eight years previously. The sport’s master’s voice rang out angrily. “Stop this nonsense!” he shouted. “What foolery is this?” He strode into the middle of the hot and breathless boys. “What in the name of fortune are you up to?” he demanded. Lawrie Hill spoke up. “We’re playing football, sir,” he stated. Mr Granger scowled. “Football?” he rapped out. “Looked like a common brawl to me. What on earth made you think of a game like this?” “I found out something about it while searching for a subject for an essay,” said Lawrie. Mr Burleigh came walking on to the grass. “I must accept some responsibility for this, Granger,” he said. “I suggested football as a subject for historical research for the class. My idea is that it may provide some interesting sidelights on the customs and pursuits of the past.” Mr Granger shrugged. “I’m not concerned what the boys do for history, though I could suggest a dozen better subjects, but I am concerned with their games,” he said sharply. He glared at the boys. “I’d have been better pleased to have found you practicing in the riposta court,” he said severely. “You need every bit of practice you can get and I’m very surprised that you, King, and the other members of the team should waste time in this mad hurly-burly. Don’t let it occur again.” With a wave of his arm the sports master ordered the boys off the grass, and they straggled away conscious of the grins of the throng of spectators. “Mr Granger’s got his back up properly,” remarked Cliff Parker. Maurice scowled at Lawrie. “You’re a chump,” he said. “You’ve got all the school laughing at us.” “Don’t take any notice of him,” Phil exclaimed. “I enjoyed myself.” “And so did I,” Tom Ramsay declared. “I’d like to find out some more about football.” Lawrie picked up his ball. He noticed that the light metal panels were dented in several places. “I’m going to find out more about it,” he said. “If we go nosing through the museums and libraries we’re bound to find more clues that we can follow up.” It was time to go back into school. As the last of the stragglers entered the building, the doors slid along grooves and became sealed. Air flowed in through air-conditioning ducts. Concealed lighting glowed. In the shadowless classrooms the boys settled down again to their lessons.

The Riposta Practice

At the end of the afternoon Lawrie Hill was last to leave the classroom. He hurried out, stepped on to a conveyor track and was carried swiftly to the changing room at the far end of the building. “Get a move on, Lawrie,” called Derek, who had finished changing. “Everyone else is ready. We’re going to play a full match – first team against the reserves.” Lawrie swerved round the massage table, with the sun lamps overhead and opened his locker. Swiftly he changed, putting on a blue sleeveless shirt and white shorts of a silky texture. He pulled on his ankle socks and zipped-up his shoes. From the locker he took out his riposta racket with its head no bigger than a plate and its yard-long handle. He could hear Mr Granger’s voice as he ran down a short flight of steps into the lofty riposta court. The white walls enclosed a rectangle sixty yards by thirty and soared to galleries from which five thousand spectators could look down on the play on match days. On the end walls were red, black and yellow targets – and above them, let flush into the walls and protected by transparent panels, were the illuminated score boards. At intervals along the side walls, buttresses projected. Mr Granger stood in the middle of the court holding a red riposta ball, three inches in diameter and made of plasto-rubber. “Come along, Hill,” he called. Lawrie was third guard and with Phil on one side and Guy on the other, he stood in front of the North target. The five attackers, with Derek as middle and Maurice as an outer, formed their line across the centre of the court. The reserves, in their scarlet shirts, had Nol Nelson as middle. Mr Granger placed the ball in a metal cup sunk in the middle of the floor, hurried back, and climbed the steps to the judge’s box high over the court. He adjusted his microphone. “Ready!” he snapped and tapped a button. The ball sprang vertically from the cup. With a back handed slash Derek cut at the ball. Swift as a swallow in flight it streaked across the court, struck a buttress and flashed to the far side. Maurice hit the ball as it dropped, and it flew back across the court. Tom Ramsay swerved round a defender and hit it as he ran. The ball missed the target, hit the wall at the side and whistled back head high. Nol Nelson pivoted and smashed at it in mid-air. Lawrie had a split second to divert his shot. His racket swished and he cut the ball against a buttress. Across the court it flicked, and Derek met it squarely with his racket. The ball sped through the guards and struck the inner red on the target. A bell buzzed and an illuminated figure “3” flashed up on the scoreboard. The ball sprang from the cup again and flashed from racket to wall, from wall to player, from player to buttress. At the end of the first quarter, Lawrie leaned on his racket. “Do you know, Phil,” he said, “I’m getting bored with this.” Phil glanced up at Mr Granger. “Gosh, don’t let him hear you say so,” he muttered. “Well, all you have to do is hit the ball,” grunted Lawrie. “It takes some hitting, too,” retorted Phil. “Granted,” said Lawrie, “but once you’ve mastering striking, there isn’t much in the game.” Maurice Naylor had been listening and he sneered. “Hark at out football fanatic,” he muttered. “Well, I thought it was fun running about in the open,” said Lawrie. “If you come to think of it, all our games are played under cover – riposta, skate ball – all of them.” Maurice looked at him in surprise. “Of course, they’re played under cover, you silly ass,” he scoffed. “How could you play games in the open, with the wind blowing and conditions varying all the time? And, every time it rained, you’d have to abandon the game.” “Yes, I suppose they must have played football too in covered stadiums,” Lawrie said. Mr Granger’s voice interrupted the conversation. “Second quarter,” he rapped out. “And make more use of the buttresses and corners. You won’t beat Chicago Academy by tame player-to-player transfers, so buck up your ideas! Ready!”

A Terrific Discovery!

The Birmingham College team made the four-hour journey to Chicago on Saturday and satisfied Mr Granger by winning by 30 points to 28. On the following Monday morning, Lawrie finished breakfast, collected his schoolbooks together and stood in the window of the sun lounge of his home, waiting for Phil. Over the roofs of the houses, a red helicopter marked G.P.O. appeared. It hovered over the roof next door and Lawrie casually watched the postman drop several into the overhead letter-box. The vanes whirled round and the helicopter approached and vanished overhead. Lawrie turned as he heard a swish in the letter chute and a package dropped into a receptacle at the side of the room. Taking out the parcel, Lawrie saw it was for him. It had the London postmark and was addressed in his Uncle Robert’s writing. When Lawrie opened the package, he found it contained an old book. The date on the frontispiece was 2098, so it had been published fifty years previously. The title was “Autobiography of a Wanderer,” by somebody with the name of Stephen Stone. “Autobiography of a Wanderer?” muttered Lawrie. “Looks like a book on travel. I wonder why Uncle’s sent me an old thing like this.” A letter slipped out of the book and he picked it up and read: - Dear Lawrie: - When I saw your father the other day, he happened to mention that you were interested in an old game called football. By a coincidence, I was browsing through some old books when I happened to glance through the “Autobiography of a Wanderer,” Stephen Stone has been dead for a long time now, but he was a well-known traveler and lecturer. On page 117 you will find a reference to football and so I thought I would send you the book. Your affectionate Uncle Robert. Lawrie turned to page 117 and saw that a paragraph had been marked by his uncle. Excitement gleamed in his eyes as he read:- “I was flying across Central Australia, when, on approaching a lonely settlement, my curiosity was aroused by seeing what I believe to be a strange ritual taking place on the field below. Posts had been set up and men were engaged in propelling a ball by means of their feet. “My curiosity was so strong that I landed, whereupon I discovered that the settlement was the home of a number of families of Scottish origin and what I thought was a ritual was a game which they called football. Ian Macpherson, the headman of this Scottish colony, told me that his ancestors had brought the game to Australia with them but that it had seemed to die out and, as far as he knew, was no longer played anywhere else. “I was allowed to examine the ball which I discovered consisted of an inflated bladder inside a case of leather panels ingeniously stitched together. It had great buoyancy when bounced. “It was pouring with rain when I left Burra Walls, the settlement in question, but the tough Scots were going on with their game in defiance of the elements as I flew on.” Lawrie gave a start and looked up as he heard the screech of an air hooter. Phil was leaning out of his helicopter and making urgent signs to him through the window. Lawrie grabbed up his things and bounded up the stairs to the roof. “Come on, Lawrie,” Phil called out. “It’s nearly five to nine now.” Lawrie scrambled into the helicopter. “I’ve made a terrific discovery, Phil,” he said excitedly. “Uncle Robert has sent me an old book and there’s quite a lot about football in it. You’ll hardly believe it, but the ball was made of leather with a bladder inside to blow it up.” “Made of leather?” gasped Phil. “Gosh -” “I can tell you something else,” Lawrie cried. “They even played in the rain!”

There Once Was A Game Called Football 6 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1185 - 1190 (1948)

There Once Was A Game Called Football (Repeat in picture form) appeared in The New Hotspur issues 210 - 216 (1963)

There Once Was A Game Called Football 6 episodes (repeat) appeared in Rover issues 452 - 457 (1969)

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Vic Whittle 2007