The Entirely Serious History of Rugby, Part 4: The Great Split, or some southerners get the arse about northerners getting money

Andy Farell: would not have cost £1m if either RFU or Wigan had been bit less arsey a century ago

In the latest chapter from our sporadically updated series, we take a look at why and how two rugby codes were created.  Was it geography?  Was it class?  Was it because northerners couldn't kick out of hand or southerners couldn't tackle?  Read on and find out.

There are many phrases in history that sound so banal it is hard to believe they had such an impact:  appeasement, The Beatles, Norman Lamont.  Such an example is "broken-time payments"; the phrase that divided a sport so bitterly in 1895 that one branch of it was still banned from the British Armed Forces as late as 1990, and to this day the level of antipathy on internet message boards between the two sects is akin to a less killy version of the Balkans.  

The Entirely Serious History of Rugby, Part 3: The Rugby Football Union and rules

As we all know from Part 2, clubs that played rugby football wanted no part of the Football Association and carried on playing their game while the FA and its new rules moved inexorably towards gobbing off at referees, diving and David Beckham. 

However, a few short years later, the differing rules that still existed in rugby football were causing havoc among teams travelling to play each other, with each club having their own subtle variations.  Much like playing pool in pubs now, areas of discrepancy had to be clarified beforehand because, as anyone attempting two-shot carry somewhere other than their local knows, the consequences of such confusion could be argument and violence.  So it was that in 1870, Edwin Ash of the Richmond club posted a letter in the newspapers stating, "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."

The Entirely Serious History of Rugby, Part 2: Hacking and The Great Schism

Old rugby In Part 1 of our series, we demonstrated that the commonly helf belief that William Webb Ellis invented the game of rugby can best be described in technical historical terms as bollocks; there were many forms of football around in 1823, of which the Rugby rules were but one and none of which were cast in stone.  However, the Rugby rules did develop into allowing the player to run with the ball in the 1840s and it was from this point on that Rugby Football begins to proliferate around the country.

The reasons for this are not exactly clear; but it is most likely to be a combination of the success of Rugby as a school at that time and the number of Old Rugbeians who were so enamoured with their sport they set up clubs once settled around the country.  The expanding rail network allowed clubs to travel to each other play matches, sing “Climbing Up the Sunshine Mountain”, strip off, and steal tour pendants and other club memorabilia from the wall.  This led to a point in the 1860s where “Football” was being played all over the shop without a codified set of rules. 

The Entirely Serious History of Rugby, Part 1: William Webb Ellis and lies

It is easy to think that this great game of ours appeared when Sky bought the rights to boradcast most of it; after all, Sky do have a special way of marketing that leads people to believe that they invented sports. Football is the most obvious example.  If you watch Sky coverage you will struggle to find any reference to football before the creation of the Premier League in 1992. For instance, their stats start in that year, because Liverpool didn't play a game against Manchester United  (to pick one example) before the Premier League was created did they?  This is, of course, nonsense, as everyone knows football was invented in 1966 when England won the World Cup.

As a counterbalance to this miasma of glitzy ignorance, is setting itself the task of giving you The Entirely Serious History of Rugby in many parts.  Starting with the birth of the game.