The Armchair Zone with Alan Pearey – Deputy Editor

Rugby School pupils dressed in 19th century garb during the 1991 World Cup

There have been some cracking rugby history books down the years, but never have we been treated to rugby writing by the men who were there at the time. Until now.

This collection of 17 contemporary essays from the 19th century is not consistently interesting – the advice on on-field positions, for example, is similar to the modern day – but the good stuff shouldn’t be missed.

The principal author, Bertram Fletcher Robinson, was a three-time Cambridge Blue and his description of a typical match day in Yorkshire puts you right in the shoes of an 1890s club player: cold beef and beer for lunch, taking a drag to the ground, no pre-match practice so as not to spoil the ‘entrance’, and shouts of “Come on you men, play up!” by the captain.

The 1890s was the time of the Great Schism, after a row about broken-time payments. Robinson and leading players of the day not only spell out their arguments for an amateur code but champion rugby’s value as a character-building athletic pursuit, decry sport as an exhibition (“exercise for 30 men is a poor return for the idleness of 30,000”) and suggest ways in which it could be improved.

Never pass in your own 25 unless you can pass like a Welshman, argues England cap RH Cattell. Abolish heeling, says his colleague HB Tristram, because once the ball is out all the forwards are offside! He contends that our friends across the pond understood this and so gave birth to American Football.

The book, an original copy of which costs £250, was compiled by a scientist, Paul R Spiring, who spent three years researching Robinson’s life for the introduction.

RW RATING 4/5

BUY IT AT:  mxpublishing.co.uk RRP:  £14.99   PUBLISHED BY:  MX Publishing

Got a rugby book or DVD you’d like us to review in the Armchair Zone? Email alan_pearey@ipcmedia.com

This article appeared in the June 2010 issue of Rugby World Magazine

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