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Rugby has always had a special connection with the town of the same name. Rugby was not always considered a separate sport from football. Originally it was only seen as a unique brand of football special to the town of Rugby. But rugby would not be a local pastime for long, soon it would spread across the country and eventually, across the world. Certainly, the fundamental aspects of the sports itself played a large part in its popularity. The physicality, technique, and camaraderie are things that would attract any kid playing in the schoolyard. Just as important to the spread of rugby however was the passion shown for it by the young people of Rugby in its early days.
At Rugby School during the 1850s, Cricket and Rugby football were the two major sports of choice. There was only one field, however, so the two sports had designated times of year where they could be played whether they were organized matches or simply for fun. Now cricket had been around centuries longer than rugby football, but the love of rugby spread like wildfire and before long that the majority of the school was far more interested in rugby than it was cricket. Every fall students would clamor for the Rugby School administrators to declare that cricket was out and football was finally in. Fall and lowering temperatures would let the students know that football was coming soon. As September rolls along students begin to pester school leaders about when football will be coming. William Arnold described the growing tides as growls.
“But September is getting on, the questions become a murmur, and the murmur becomes a growl, and growls are always listened to, if loud enough. And by the 15th it is very loud.”
That year, in particular, the students had reached their breaking point. By mid-September, they had stopped going to watch the cricket matches and started telling anyone that would listen that there’s “nothing to do” to stave off the boredom, despite constant cricket matches happening on the field. They said that it was a “shame” that the school kept cricket in just for a few people when everyone else wanted football. Soon all you could hear in the halls of Rugby School were students discussing whether football should start immediately.
The very next day a meeting was organized by the students to discuss if football should start, and to take a vote on the big issue. Students gather and debate, shouting different arguments either way. Students in support of football argue that it’s already “as cold as Christmas” showing that “football has not begun so late for years”. They say that they have the date written down if any would like to see it and “besides if three parts of the school wish it, why shouldn't they have it?” For the vote, each football supporter dons multiple heavy coats in order to show that it is “cold enough for anything - especially football”. The students were prepared to do pretty much anything to get cricket off the pitch and football back on.
Each side was afforded the opportunity to present its proposal before the official vote was taken. A footballist is first wearing 4 heavy coats vehemently declaring “that it is high time that football do instantly and totally commence!” Ruckus applause followed. Next comes the cricket supporter, asking that “football do not commence for a fortnight”. The cricket supporters cheer loudly given their smaller numbers, but it’s clear who has the numbers. Next come the moderates, who suggest splitting the field into two, giving half of each sport. There wasn't much cheering for this option as “good healthy excitement never likes your moderate people much”. Next was the vote, with the football supporters winning by a respectable margin of 49. Next thing anyone could tell football and cricket supporters alike were rushing down to the field and 3 or 4 punt-about games were kicking off.
This is simply a snapshot of that passion that propelled rugby forward to where it is today. The lighting of a match. Three Rugby School boys would write the first official rules for rugby football. Tom Willis, a student at Rugby School, would be credited for bringing rugby to Australia which would eventually spawn Australian Rules Football. On-field terms like “offside” and “touch” would spawn on the Rugby School pitch. The pillars that this sport was built on were forged by the kids who played it from dusk till dawn on the pitches of Rugby. That care and hunger for the game allowed it to continue to evolve to a sport that’s played by millions of people across the globe. Without that passion, rugby would be nothing.
Commemorate the tradition of rugby by checking out the Vintage Sports's rugby collection which contains many collectable pieces of rugby history.
Knox Ashford, a content writer for Vintage Sports, is a regular contributor to the site including stories, product descriptions, and video scripts. You can follow him on twitter @KnoxVSports for regular updates.