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FLOTSAM: Rugby

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eggshaped
350373.  Mon Jun 02, 2008 5:16 am Reply with quote

Question: How was rugby invented?

Forfeit: William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran.

Answer:
William Webb Ellis probably died quite unaware of his apocryphal role in sporting history. However the modern game certainly does have roots in the 19th century public school system.


Notes:
According to rugby folklore, rugby football was invented in November 1823, at Rugby School, when 17-year-old player William Webb Ellis - “with a fine disregard for the rules” - first picked up a ball and ran with it. However we can be certain that this is completely false.

Games like Rugby have been played throughout history all over the world. As discussed in the Chinlone notes, the Ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Mayans all had their own versions of the running-with-a-ball game. In the 19th century England, various different forms of football existed, specific to each major public school. The rules varied between institutions, and inter-school matches were unknown (it was only after the invention of the railways that they became possible). Handling the ball was common in most of these games, so to say that Ellis invented this law is nonsense, in fact picking the ball up was the default rule – soccer evolved from these rugby-like games some forty years after Ellis’s alleged rule-breaking.

However Rugby Football is called that for a reason, it was at the school that the laws of the modern game were codified in 1845. Ellis’s story appeared for the first time in 1875, three years after his death, in the school magazine, and there’s a statue in Rugby of Ellis inventing the game, and a plaque commemorating his act at the school. But it seems certain that Ellis died without knowing his supposed place in sporting history.

Strangely enough, another game was invented by a single boy from Rugby School in the 19th century. Aussie Rules was invented by Tom Wills on his return to Australia as a way of keeping cricketers fit during the winter. This game was probably an amalgam of the game played at Rugby and an Aboriginal game – which just goes to show that the game of running with a ball in your hands is a fairly natural one for homo sapiens to play, irrespective of one man at Rugby.

The William Webb Ellis story has been known to be a myth since it was first investigated by the Old Rugbeian Society in 1895, however the plaque still proudly boasts that:

THIS STONE COMMEMORATES THE EXPLOIT OF WILLIAM WEBB ELLIS WHO WITH A FINE DISREGARD FOR THE RULES OF FOOTBALL AS PLAYED IN HIS TIME FIRST TOOK THE BALL IN HIS ARMS AND RAN WITH IT THUS ORIGINATING THE DISTINCTIVE FEATURE OF THE RUGBY GAME
A.D. 1823

Further Sources
Mythconceptions - Mat Coward (Jan 2008)
Post by Costean, followed by a spirited defence, beginning with post 121097

Picture Ideas:
Picture of some burly looking rugger boys, cauliflower ears and all please
There's a nice statue of Ellis in Rugby which would be good too.

 
eggshaped
350378.  Mon Jun 02, 2008 5:18 am Reply with quote

I'm thinking that a slightly more creatively-angled question may be necessary here. Anyone?

 
Jenny
350489.  Mon Jun 02, 2008 8:01 am Reply with quote

How important was it that William Webb Ellis handled his balls?

 
dr.bob
350505.  Mon Jun 02, 2008 8:26 am Reply with quote

Q: What happened when Webb Ellis picked up a ball and ran with it?

Forfeit: He invented a new game
Forfeit: He was penalised for handball

A: Nothing. He was simply using his hands to play football, as was common at the time.

 
Flash
350541.  Mon Jun 02, 2008 9:03 am Reply with quote

From memory the game played at Rugby in Webb Ellis' time did normally involve handling the ball but not running with it - you were supposed to kick it. However, there wasn't a codified rulebook at any of the schools in those days - the games were kickabouts organised by the boys themselves, and they played whatever rules took their fancy from day to day.

 

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