Rise of the Invincibles – and the ‘dribbling game’

Having grown up on the football comic Roy of the Rovers and similar strips, I was excited to hear that a friend of mine was writing his own – a comic book history of the early days of the English football league and the famous FA Cup.

Michael Barrett’s Preston North End: The Rise of the Invincibles was published this month, and I had the pleasure of doing some editing work on it. The book’s focus is on Preston North End FC, the first team to win the league and cup ‘double’, but the background is rich in period details of late-19C England: social reform, the cotton mills that inspired Dickens, and home and street life:


The artist is David Sque, best known for illustrating some of the original Roy of the Rovers strips, so the style and tone will have nostalgic appeal for readers of that generation. Rise of the Invincibles captures the excitement on and off the pitch as the new sport of football (‘the dribblin’ game’) develops and turns professional and its early stars become local legends.

The book also has elements of linguistic interest, not least the Lancashire dialect used here and there throughout. It’s quite prominent on this page:


Michael told me that some of the Lancashire (‘Lanky’) usages depicted, such as thas, are really only used in jest nowadays. But it was important to him to make the dialogue authentic for its time and place without overdoing it to the point of obscurity.

Some of the language in the book has deliberate comic value, for instance a notorious remark the Prince of Wales made while watching Preston NE play a charity match as part of Queen Victoria’s jubilee festivities:

I say! That man kicked the ball with his head!

Better known today as ‘heading’.

preston-north-end-the-rise-of-the-invincibles-book-michael-barrett-david-squeBecause Ireland has its own, Gaelic form of football, we often use soccer to refer to what British people call football. America does similarly.

The etymology of football is obvious enough; soccer comes from Association football, just as the lesser-used rugger comes from Rugby football. Language Hat has more on the terminology.

Preston North End: The Rise of the Invincibles would make a great gift for sports fans and history lovers. In many ways it is, as the expression goes, real Roy of the Rovers stuff. You can find out more about it on Michael Barrett’s Invincible Books website.


11 Responses to Rise of the Invincibles – and the ‘dribbling game’

  1. sarahlivne says:

    This ‘thas’ usage is interesting. I just read Dr Seuss’s “The Sneeches” to my son last night, and it says there that the star-belly Sneeches’ bellies had stars, while the plain-belly Sneeches “had none upon thars”, and I wondered about that ‘thars’, whether he just made it up to rhyme or what, as it was the only place I’d ever seen that word. So there really is/was a usage where your => thas and theirs => thars? (and that usage has crossed the Atlantic…).
    And of course – finally I hear a simple explanation to the word ‘soccer’! Thanks!

    • Stan Carey says:

      The origin of soccer is odd even when you know the derivation, since the syllables in question are so different from one another phonetically.
      I don’t think Lancashire thas and Seussian thars are related, though they appear quite alike. Thars is a variant pronunciation, whereas thas is a wholly different pronoun. My guess is that Seuss contrived it to rhyme (and possibly knew of its dialect use).

  2. Chips Mackinolty says:

    And in Australia it is, appropriately, more confusing again: we have four (and two halves*) football codes! All of which, in various contexts, are called “football”.

    The “national game”, Australian Rules, is called footy as well as football, or more colloquially “Aussie Rules”. The “rules” are quite different from other football codes, but have similarities with Gaelic football, and conjectured connections with an Aboriginal football game known as Marngrook. Uniquely, Aussie Rules doesn’t have “off side” rules; 18 players on ground per team; and plays in quarters rather than halves. It also has a unique scoring system for goals (six points) and “behinds”–near misses for goal–for one point.

    Initially focused on Victoria, it now has a national competition, including a tentative national women’s competition. Of all the footballs, Aboriginal people have had the highest success rates in this code.

    Then we have the rugbies–League and Union. Again , both are referred to by their respective followers as “football”, and footy, but have different size teams and rules.

    League has always been touted as a “working class” game, with a very early introduction of professional payments, and still remains largely focused in NSW and Queensland, though now has a very successful Melbourne side. League has also been prominent among Aboriginal sports players.

    Union has generally been regarded as the preserve of toffs and private school boys, and is now a professional game after many years as an amateur sport.

    Soccer … well … its adherents … are pushing through a national federation to adopt “football” as its name, despite being known as soccer since the year dot. Very much a game of European migrants, its popularity is spreading to other groups, especially in schools. The national women’s side has been more successful than its male counterpart in recent years.

    Various attempts to get American football (gridiron) going have been pretty much failures, though a handful of Australians have played for teams in the USA. Thank heavens. Four and two half football codes is surely enough!

    * Two halves? Marngrook, the Aboriginal game, is gradually achieving status, and is now nationally televised. Gaelic Rules is relegated to demonstration matches between Aussie Rules and Irish teams, in Australia and Ireland.

  3. Chips Mackinolty says:

    Damn! It has been drawn to my attention there is another code in Australia: Touch Football. Based sort of on League, it doesn’t involve tackling, is very fast, and played on a small ground. And there is no kicking of the ball. Go figure.

    • John Cowan says:

      Touch (American) football is played in the U.S. at the amateur and primary school level, but there is no formal code.

      It turns out that the similarities between Gaelic and Australian Rules football are what biologists call shared primitive characters rather than showing a genealogical relationship. Humans have five fingers/toes per limb and so do lizards, whereas horses have only one (with two more stubs under the skin), but that does not mean humans are more closely related to lizards (with some well-known exceptions), because five-toedness is a shared primitive character that horses have lost.

      • Stan Carey says:

        Thanks for the overview of the many football types in Australia, Chips, and for the phylogenetic note, John. We have rugby league and union in this part of the world too, but I’ve never heard either called football in Ireland – we reserve that word for Gaelic and soccer.
        I used to watch the Aussie/Gaelic hybrid games, which we sometimes call ‘compromise rules’ here, but lost interest over the years. I hadn’t heard of Marngrook and am reading about it now.

  4. larastillo says:

    Makes me want to read another Dickens novel :) Winter is a great time for it! Another favorite author; love his use of words in detailed descriptions, character names, and dialogues (and how he addressing social issues of the time). You’re involved in many interesting things – glad for your research and shared knowledge:)

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