The Rush to Rugby

With the outbreak of war in 1914, most football clubs were very slow to allow their players to break their contracts and enlist, thus earning the sport no little opprobrium. In contrast, the nation’s Rugby Union players joined en masse. Their story I’d brilliantly told through the prism of Rosslyn Park RFC by Stephen Cooper.

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After the war, there was the so-called ‘Rush to Rugby’. 221 new clubs were formed and the sport became predominant in the public and grammar schools. Outside of the game ‘s heartlands, such as the South West or the Scottish Borders, this was a middle class rush. Rugby Union was a strictly amateur game, and at the top level one dominated by the products of the public schools. International Rugby drew huge crowds: 70,000 saw the Russian Prince Oblensky score the try shown in the clip.

In 1895, a number of Northern clubs broke away to form the Northern Union, over the issue of broken time payments (money to compensate players for taking Saturday morning off work to play in away matches). The Rugby League, as it became after the Great War, was concentrated in a belt across Northern England, where it was followed passionately. Featherstone, a Yorkshire town of 10,000, had 13 supporters clubs and on the day there was a live match on TV, drew a crowd of 3,400 for an everyday Featherstone Rovers match.

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