The Origins Of Rugby
There is an idea about the origins of rugby football so common that the Rugby World Cup is actually named for it. Although it’s a very nice story, there is almost certainly no truth in it. It is reminiscent of the well-known “fact” that the Duke of Wellington said the Battle of Waterloo had been won on the playing fields of Eton – a statement that might be more credible were it not for the fact that, when Wellington – Arthur Wellesley as he was at the time – was at Eton, there were no playing fields there. The idea lives on, however; the theory is that William Webb Ellis, while playing football at Rugby School, picked up the ball and ran with it, thereby demonstrating himself to be a cheat but also giving birth to what any unbiased person would recognise as the world’s leading and best ball game. In fact, the story is entirely apocryphal.
That does not stop the town rugby cashing in on its famous school and equally famous story, and there is a bronze statue of William Webb Ellis in Rugby. Except that there isn’t, and this story is as misleading as the original, because no one knows what William Webb Ellis looked like, and when Graham Ibbeson was hired with £40,000 of money raised in a public appeal to make a bronze statue of the iconic athlete in full flight with a rugby ball, he actually modelled the statue on his own son.
So, where did rugby football come from? All over England, Wales and Ireland, games were played for centuries involving players from one village against players from a nearby village and there was no limit on the number of players who take part. The object, in most cases, was to fight and wrestle all the way to the opponents’ line (the “goal line”); when the ball (usually a stuffed pig’s bladder) had crossed that line, the game was over. That’s how the game known as rugby got started.