Rugby: Where it came from
The eighth Rugby World Cup kicks off at Twickenham on Friday. We take a little look at the name of the game.
The game's name has become a common noun – rugby with a small letter, the way boycott, sandwich, jersey, lynch, cardigan, balaclava and meander have small letters. But it really is a place name – like sandwich, balaclava, meander and so on. Rugby is a town in the Midlands of England, almost at the centre of England.
In prehistory some people lived about there and then in the fourth century the Romans had a place called Tripontium nearby. Then came the Saxons and then the Vikings with their Danish rape and pillage. The by of Rugby is, apparently, Danish originally as berie- meaning farm or town, a settlement of some sort, a fuller form as bury in towns like Salisbury, Shrewsbury and so on.
In the Domesday Book of 1086 the place is recorded as Rocheberie where Roche is stone, rock. That suggests that there was a fortress there. Rocheberie had become Rokeby by the 14th century and then eventually Rugby.
A school was founded there in 1567 and not unreasonably called Rugby School. The school, like many public schools, developed with the increased wealth and population. The school really grew under Thomas Arnold, its famous headmaster from 1828 to 1841. When he took over the school's numbers were severely down. He built them up.
He developed the prefect system and used games to develop the muscular Christians who could go out and govern an empire.
His pupils left the school leaders and games players. This was at a time when top schools had games called by the generic term football, with rules suited to their needs and available ground. Winchester, Marlborough, Charterhouse and Eton all had their versions of football.
But Old Rugbyeans wanted to play afterwards and so did the old boys from various schools. They need organisation and, not surprisingly, the vigorous Old Rugbyeans took the lead and gave their school's rules to the general group, as happened in 1871 when a football union was founded.
There was already a football association set to organise the playing of the game. That was formed in 1863, the birth date of soccer. But the rugged men of Rugby wanted something more vigorous and led the way in forming a football union. They adopted the rules of the game as played at Rugby School, hence the Rugby Football Union, as it still is.
By 1871 William Webb Ellis was nearly fifty years out of school and not at all involved in rugby football.
Rugby School has given England famous players and administrators – and the white jersey. Chris Robshaw, the captain of England, will ask the captain of rugby School permission to use that white jersey.
One of Rugby's most famous players did not play for England, but died for England.
The poet Rupert Brooke, who wrote in 1904 of the game as played when he was at Rugby:
When I first played I nearly died,
The Bitter Memory still rankles.
They formed a scrum with me inside!
Some kicked the ball and some my ankles.
By Paul Dobson