A short history of lacrosse in Europe

Lacrosse is one of the oldest games in the World. It evolved in North America among the Native American Tribes and references to the native game were made by the early settlers in Canada as early as 1636 among whom was Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary, who reported upon a Huron contest in Ontario. However the native game was being played in many other areas of North America. The Artist, George Catlin, travelled widely in America recording scenes of Native American life, and states that in his travels over several thousand miles he witnessed a number of games between native teams often consisting of several hundred players, and surprisingly to the same rules.

Choctaw Ball play by George Catlin

Choctaw Ball play by George Catlin

Catlin’s pictures record Native American life in some detail and in particular his three drawings, entitled Ball Play Dance, An Indian Ball Play, and Ball Players (the latter being a graphic picture of three players) give an excellent idea of the way the game was played before the early settlers systematised the game which we now know as Lacrosse. It is generally acknowledged that the first ‘modern’ rules were formulated by a Canadian Dentist, George Beers, when he was quite a young man. George Beers was a very enterprising person and he determined to bring his new game to England, but he was pipped at the post by a Captain Johnson who brought a team of eighteen Iroquis Indians to England in August 1867 having first toured in the United States. They demonstrated their skills in various parts of London to the effect that The La Crosse Association was formed in the Cathedral Hotel, St.Paul’s Churchyard, London on 15th January 1868. Some four Clubs were formed, playing during the season 1867/8 but the game did not succeed in gaining a foothold until George Beers brought two teams to England in 1876 and even then the game did not take off and it was necessary for Beers to organise a second visit in 1883. He was evidently determined that Lacrosse would flourish on this occasion.

On the second visit he brought two teams, one composed of Iroquis Indians and the other of European Settlers drawn from the Montreal Lacrosse Club. During their visit they were partially sponsored by The Hurlingham Club of Putney in London which still exists today, although not as a Lacrosse Club. It is interesting to note that the Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward V11) and his family were among the spectators of the demonstration game held at Hurlingham on 1st June 1883. The teams travelled widely in the United Kingdom over a period of twelve weeks. This time the game prospered with teams being formed in England, Ireland and Scotland but for various reasons the game did not maintain its popularity and the game polarised around London and Manchester until the late twentieth century when a resurgence of interest in Universities has transformed the game in England Scotland and Wales.

Unfortunately the success of Lacrosse in the United Kingdom during the 1800’s appears to have been a closely guarded secret, played only by the wealthy. Surprisingly a similar situation occurred in the USA, according to Donald Fisher, the author of the excellent book, Lacrosse. A History of the Game.

Field Lacrosse in mainland Europe did not start until 1988 when two letters were received in England from Czechoslovakia, as it was then known. The letters stated that Lacrosse was being played in that country; the first letter was thought to be a joke because everyone knew that the game was only played in Canada, the USA, Australia, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. When the second letter was received it invoked more interest, and our current President, Peter Mundy, set about forming a team from among his friends, who were prepared to travel to what was then a Communist country, to see if it was true that Lacrosse was indeed being played in a new area.

A team of no mean ability was formed, all of whom were willing to travel to the Eastern bloc, on the understanding that if the whole thing was a hoax then they would try to make the best of a bad job and have a holiday instead.

Upon arrival at Prague Airport the team were very pleased to see a number of people waving what appeared to be Lacrosse sticks from the viewing area because, as was discovered later ,the Czechs had been forced to make their sticks, many of them being made from a plastic frame supplied by a fishing rod manufacturer and using garden net to take the place of our current mesh kit.

During this first visit to Prague it was discovered that there were indeed three teams in existance all the players being very fit but lacking experience in the field game although very skilful in their game of Czech Lacrosse, which was played with very small sticks closely resembling the original Indian sticks. This had come about because a Professor at one of their colleges was very keen on the North American Indian way of life and had formed an association who emulated this way of life during the summer months, one of the activities being the Indian game of Lacrosse, this game was very popular among the young people and was often played in the country when the flat dwelling population of Prague emigrated from the city.

However, the English visitors had been beaten to the punch by Pierre Filion, the creator of Intercrosse, who had brought a group of players from Montreal in 1987 to teach both Intercrosse and Box Lacrosse to the Czechs,both of which still thrive in the Czech Republic today.

The start of Field Lacrosse in Czechoslovakia was closely followed by the creation of teams in Germany where a number of students at Berlin and Munich Universities who had attended schools in the USA introduced the game to their fellow students. Shortly after this a number of young men who had emigrated to Sweden from the USA started Lacrosse in that country. The enthusiasts who made this breakthrough into Europe were eagerly supported by teams from the South of England who made many visits to the new teams to assist the development potential of the countries concerned.

This happy state of affairs continued for a number of years with the initial developments becoming stronger, until it was decided that it would be beneficial for the game if a Federation could be formed.

Accordingly a meeting was arranged in Prague in 1994 attended by Martin Vavra of the Czech Republic, John Buckland of Wales and Peter Mundy of England with telephone communication to the representatives of Sweden. At that meeting a draft Constitution was formulated which was endorsed the following year at a meeting held in Prague on 3rd July 1995 and the European Lacrosse Federation was inaugurated.

The Founding Members were:-
Czech Republic, Scotland, England, Sweden, Germany and Wales

!!(List of countries as they joined)!!

At the time of writing (2011) there are a number of other European countries where there are developing teams, namely Serbia, Turkey, Croatia, Ukraine and Russia and it is hoped that, given time,each of these Nations will also become members of the Federation.

It is worth noting that all of the Members and developing countries with the exception of England, Scotland and Wales have at some time received grants of equipment from the European Lacrosse Federation. This has been funded by private donation and by annual subscriptions from members , assisted in recent years by contributions from the organisations known as The Friends of European Lacrosse and Die Eiche (The Oaks). The assistance of the Federation of International Lacrosse is also gratefully acknowledged, particularly for the supply of Lacrosse Helmets to a number of Members and developing countries.

By referring to quite recent events in this potted history of European Lacrosse we make no apology, for in time it is hoped people will be interested in how Lacrosse first gained a foothold in mainland Europe, and spread to so many areas, the development of which can best be seen by referring to the Laxmap link on www.europeanlacrosse.org

First English team in Czechoslovakia

The first Field Lacrosse Team from England to visit Czechoslovakia with their hosts 2nd June 1988 in the Tjviktoria Zizkov Stadium, Prague.