There’s a tip-top World Wide Words edition this week, dealing with urtication, shemozzle and, most memorably on this last weekend of the football season, early doors.
Weâ€™ve actually got to go back well over a century to find the true origin, to the other suggestion youâ€™ve heard, about theatres. Then as now, a last-minute crush usually developed at the entrances just before the performance started, with the street outside crammed with vehicles. Show bills and advertisements commonly urged patrons to arrive early. Around the 1870s, the idea grew up of charging a small premium to members of the audience who were willing to arrive well ahead of the crowd and so avoid the crush; in return, they were allowed to choose their own seats in unreserved areas â€” the pit and the gallery in particular. This could be a considerable advantage, as sightlines in those areas were often poor or interrupted by pillars.
So Ron Atkinson didn’t make it up. I find this slightly disappointing, but it does seem wonderful that football’s folk memory stretches back right until the mid 19th century, and draws a line directly to the theatre, another form of public spectacle.