Who Framed William Webb Ellis?
(…and other puzzles in rugby history)
By Tony Collins
Did a schoolboy named William Webb Ellis really invent rugby two hundred years ago in 1823?
It’s a myth – but has always been a major part of the game, emerging in the culture wars that led to rugby’s great split of 1895.
The debate between league and union is endless. Which rugby code can claim to be the authentic version? Who has rightful claim to the original British Lions? Why did rugby league become the dominant code in Australia? How come it isn’t the premier code in Wales?
There are endless puzzles on the pitch too. Why does union follow football and have a throw-in? What’s the role of the drop-goal in the modern age? And what are the reasons for the decline of scrums?
In Who Framed William Webb Ellis?, award-winning professor of history Tony Collins uncovers and explains these and many more such enigmas surrounding rugby.
He reveals, for example, that rugby was once far more popular than football, that Manchester was a hotbed of the oval ball, and that Leeds United owes its existence to a rugby league club.
So what did happen that meant soccer and not rugby ultimately became the world game?
Based on episodes of his Rugby Reloaded podcast, Collins also explores the culture of rugby, and looks at Tom Brown’s School Days, the 19th-century equivalent of Harry Potter, 1960s kitchen sink movie classic This Sporting Life, the mysterious ‘Battle of the Roses’ painting, and even a Sherlock Holmes detective story.
If you’ve ever had a question about rugby history, then this is the book you need to read.
The History of Schools’ Rugby League in Leeds
by Steve Boothroyd
From the early Cup-winning Bramley National and Hunslet Carr teams, through some outstanding Hunslet and Leeds representative sides, to the modern-day national girls’ champions from Corpus Christi, there is a rich and proud history of schools’ rugby league in the city of Leeds.
The History of Schools’ Rugby League in Leeds catalogues the story of the game in words and photographs – reflecting on the changes, highlighting influential teacher-coaches and administrators, and of course focusing on the many schools and teams that have played the sport since the first organised competitions in the early part of the twentieth century.
Rugby League: A People’s History
CURRENTLY OUT OF STOCK
By Tony Collins
In 1895, the game of rugby league was born. Ever since, it has brought us thrilling matches, magical players and countless memorable moments. Published to coincide with the game’s 125th anniversary, Rugby League: A People’s History tells the story of the sport in all its glory, from global superstars to local supporters and everyone in between … professionals and amateurs, men and women, officials and volunteers.
It goes back to the start of rugby and explains why rugby league was born, how it grew around the world, and what enabled – and still enables – it to triumph over adversity.
This is more than just a history of rugby league. It is a social history of the life and times of the north of England.
Tony Collins is emeritus professor of history at De Montfort University, whose books include The Oval World: A Global History of Rugby and How Football Began. He has won the Lord Aberdare Prize for sports history book of the year four times, and appeared on many BBC television and radio programmes.
From the Mountaintop: An Archive History of Batley RLFC
by John Roe, Terry Swift, Ken Pearson and Craig Lingard
The history of Batley Cricket, Athletic and Football Club – later known as Batley RLFC and more recently Batley Bulldogs RLFC – is a very rich one.
From its birth in 1880, evolving from the town’s cricket club that pre-dated rugby football, Batley RFC spent 15 years under the aegis of the Rugby Football Union before severing those links and joining the breakaway Northern Union that subsequently became rugby league.
All of which makes today’s Batley Bulldogs – still known to some as the Gallant Youths – one of the oldest rugby league clubs in the world, playing on a ground that is among the sport’s oldest venues.
From the Mountaintop is the product of a project funded by the National Lottery heritage Fund. A truly collaborative effort, the book is written by the author of 2014’s Sermons from the Mount, John Roe, whose chapters build upon an enormous research effort by Terry Swift.
Terry made extensive use of the National Newspaper Archive to gather and compile an archive of Batley’s very own. It now features over a thousand articles related to the club drawn from more than fifty different titles reaching back to the late nineteenth century. That archive is now a central artefact of the Batley RLFC Heritage Project.
Terry was ably assisted by Ken Pearson, who unearthed additional articles from the archive of the Batley Reporter and Guardian and the Batley News, housed in Batley Library. Finally the club’s current head coach, Craig Lingard, was overall co-ordinator of the project, ensuring the separate elements came together in a seamless fashion.
Contains a foreword by former Batley Bulldogs head coach John Kear.
The Home of Footballers – A History of Runcorn NUFC
A History of Runcorn Northern Union Club
by Michael Latham
Runcorn was a hotbed of rugby in the late Victorian era, the town’s club a proud founder member in 1895 of the Northern Union – the breakaway game that became known as Rugby League.
Yet that great rugby tradition was ended by the First World War, with devastating effects for many Runcornians, including members of the rugby club, who served and lost their lives.
Runcorn nurtured ten international rugby players in total, all but one born within a few hundred yards of the Irwell Lane ground.
Respected sports writer and historian Michael Latham recreates those far-off days when the oval ball dominated and the town’s heroes included Harry Speakman, a member of the first rugby tourists to Australia, Sam Houghton, Jimmy Butterworth, Jimmy Jolley and Dick Padbury, among just a few in a gallery of colourful characters, the rugby league superstars of their day.
With a detailed biographical and records section to complement the deeply researched narrative, this is one of the most comprehensive histories ever written about the Northern Union and contains around three hundred photographs.
Harry Price was once a promising Runcorn player, snapped up by Wigan in 1906, where he became a highly regarded and popular player and captain. The report announcing his signing in the Wigan newspaper had a simple, approving testimonial: “Price was born in Runcorn, the home of footballers.” Hence the book’s title.