Rugby is one of several forms of football. It is named after the English public (exclusive private) school) where some of the modern rules were developed. American football has evolved from Rugby. In many ways it is an anomaly. It became along with cricket, the principal sports (games) played at public schools and of interest to upperclass English. This appears a contradiction in that the sport requires enormous physical strength, extensive physical contact, and played in the English autumn is an often muddy, filthy slog. The public schools in turn rejected football (soccer), an elegant game requiring more finess and with less physical contact. Football proceeded to become the game of choice of the working class and virtually the entire rest of the world, except America.
Rugby football is generally considered to be an English game that appeared in the 19th century. The origins of football, however, go back far before the 19th century and beyond the boundaries of England. Rugby shares a common origin with other similar games such as American fooball, soccer (called football in most counties, Australian football, and other similar games. There is evidence that games like football has been played for centuries in several different countries and cultures. Some such as a game played by the aincient Maya have no comectiion with the English game. Football appears in England during the 11th century and begame emsely popular among the population at large. In the 15th and 16th centuries it was banned in England because of the damage caused during wild matches and because it interfered with the practice of archery. The English archer had played a key role in the wars waged by Engkish kings beginning with the Norman victory at Hastings in 1066. English kings decided that archery not football was key to the defense - vital to the defence of the country before the perfection of gunpowder abd guns.
The history of football is inextricablly intertwined became popular with England's public schools. The public schools were boarding institutions which needed needed recreation for their boys when not studying. Football-like games had been played at public schools for years. Various schools played to their own rules which were developed informally by the boys over time.
Rugby School was one of several schools where the boys played football. Rugby is located in the middle of England which os one factor in the specific game played at the school becoming acceepted throughout the country. The boys at Rugby played on grass using a pig's bladder encased in leather for a ball.
The rules at Rugby School in the early 19th century prohibited handling the ball on the field of play unless the ball was airborne in which case it could be caught. The catcher stood still as did all other
players. The catcher could then retreat from where he had caught the ball and either kick it wherever he wished or place it on the ground
and try to kick it over the crossbar and between the posts which counted as a goal. Until he had passed the spot where he had originally caught the ball no one could move.
In the 1820s boys began catching the ball and instead of standing still, ran with the ball in his arms towards the opponent's goal line. As the rules were not written down, inovations were possible and this one proved popular. William Webb Ellis is credited by Matthew Bloxam as the originator of Rugby football. This is a remarkable story of a 16 year old boy, from Salford, Lancashire, who played soccer and invented a new ball game called Rugby. Bloxam recalls that this happened in November,1823. By the 1840s it had become the norm.
When boys left Rugby and the other public schools, they took the game with them and clubs sprang up all over England and in the colonies where they served in the military or worked as colonial administrators. The popularity of the game at Rugby, the importance of the school, and its central location were all factors in the association of the sport with the school. By 1870 as football grew in popularity, it became an increasing problem that the the game was being played with a variety of rules. This made matches between clubs difficult. The Secretary of the Richmond Football Club, Edwin Ash, a former Rugby boy in 1870 put a letter in the papers which said, "Those who play the rugby-type game should meet to form a code of practice as various clubs play to rules which differ from others, which makes the game difficult to play". On 26th January 1871 a meeting was held in London attended by over 30 people from 22 clubs and schools. As a result of this meeting the Rugby Football Union was founded.
A typical article in the Boys' Own Paper gives a good idea of how Rugby football was seen at the public schools by the 1870s: It was a proud moment in my existence when Wright, captain of our football club, came up to me in school one Friday and said, "Adams, your name is down to play in the match against Craven to-morrow." I could have night him on the spot. To be one of the picked "fifteen" whose glory it was to fight the battle of their school in the Great Close, had been the leading ambition of my life--I supose I ought tonbe ashamed to confess it--ever since, as a little chap of ten, I entered Parkhurst six years aggo. .... ["My First Football Match" by an Old Boy, Boys Own Companio, January 18, 1879.]
In many ways Rugby football is an anomaly. It became along with cricket, the principal sports (games) played at public schools and of interest to upperclass English. This appears a contradiction in that the sport requires enormous physical strength, extensive physical contact, and played in the English autumn is an often muddy, filthy slog. The public schools in turn rejected another form of football--soccer. The game they rejected was a more elegant game requiring more finess and with less physical contact. Football proceeded to become the game of choice of the working class and virtually the entire rest of the world, except America.
Rugby was created in England, but is today played in large number of countries around the world. The countries where it is most popular and wherevit is played with a passion are former British colonies. Of course New Zealand is the country where it is most popular. New Zealand is one of the few countries where rugby is more popular than football (soccer). Even in England football is much more popular than rugby. Rugby is also popular in Australia and South Africa. Rugby has not been enthusiastically adopted in all former English colonies. We notice tht in South aia and the Caribbean, crucket is quite popular, but rugby is not a very important sport. In most other countries like the United States and France, rugby is played bu a small group of enthusiastic amateurs, but is not commonly played by most boys. Rugby is played at some private schools and universities in America as well as a few urban sports leagues.
There were Rugby “Tes tMatches” as in cricket – the big one's being the four United Kingdom nations (England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) against the Southern hemisphere teams – Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (although that led to problems in the Apartheid era – pitches being dug up and such. A British reader writes, "I remember “No Boks" being painted all over the railway bridges near me." The S.A. Team are known as “The Springboks” like NZ are “The All Blacks” etc.). Other strong Southern Hemisphere teams were the smaller countries of Tonga and Fiji. The main competion during the 1970s and 80s (rather than single Test Matches in Britain) was the “Five Nations” - the four British teams
(Ireland played as one team unlike in football where there's Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland seprate teams) together with France– who were always there from when I can remember. It's regional in France--around Toulouse in the Southwest but that's true here too to some extent. But France was always one of the big teams so they must play quite a bit there. Now the “Five Nations” is the “Six Nations” - the big newcomer being Italy who are coming up fast. There is also a World Cup now – like in football – a big newcomer (although they were always around) are Argentina.
Until recently all Rugby Union was played by amateurs (hence it being more of a public school game). There is another version - Rugby League played mainly in the North of England which was always professional like football. It has different rules - it's a faster game (from the little I know!). I suppose the Southern hemisphere teams had a similar competitions.
We do not have information at this time about rugby uniforms in the late 19th century. We have seen uniforms in the early 20th century of boys wearing long-length shorts. After World War II the standard uniform for soccer was a kind of long-sleeved vcollared shirt. The collar was commonly white. It buttoned only part of the way down the shirt. (This became known as a rugby shirt. Grey school shirts were also made in this style.). The shirt itself was made in colored stripes. Schools commonly chose combinations in the school colors. The shorts were commonly cut briefly. Blue was very common. We have noticed other colors including grey. The material was normally cooton, but we have noted wool flannel as well.
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