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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rugby World Cup, the beginnings

It all began with a guy who picked up the ball.  And ran with it.

His name was William Webb Ellis, and he was born on 24th November 1806 in Salford near Manchester, Lancashire.

William attended Rugby school from 1816 to 1825.  He was noted as a good scholar and a good cricketer, though it was also noted that he was 'rather inclined to take unfair advantage at football. The incident where Webb Ellis picked up and ran with the ball in his arms during a football match is supposed to have happened in the latter half of 1823.

The sole source of the story of Webb Ellis picking up the ball is Matthew Bloxam, a former pupil of Rugby. In October of 1876, he wrote to The Meteor, the Rugby School magazine, that according to an unnamed source the change from a kicking game to a handling game had "...originated with a town boy or foundationer of the name of Ellis, William Webb Ellis".

On 12th December of 1880, in another letter to The Meteor, Bloxam stated: "A boy of the name Ellis – William Webb Ellis – a town boy and a foundationer, ... whilst playing Bigside at football in that half-year, caught the ball in his arms. This being so, according to the then rules, he ought to have retired back as far as he pleased, without parting with the ball, for the combatants on the opposite side could only advance to the spot where he had caught the ball, and were unable to rush forward till he had either punted it or had placed it for some one else to kick, for it was by means of these placed kicks that most of the goals were in those days kicked, but the moment the ball touched the ground the opposite side might rush on. Ellis, for the first time, disregarded this rule, and on catching the ball, instead of retiring backwards, rushed forwards with the ball in his hands towards the opposite goal, with what result as to the game I know not, neither do I know how this infringement of a well-known rule was followed up, or when it became, as it is now, a standing rule."

Was he a crank, or was he telling the truth?  Who knows?

After attending Oxford University, William Webb Ellis entered the Church and became chaplain of St George's, Albemarle Street, London and then rector of St Clement Danes in The Strand.
In 1855 he became rector of Laver Magdalen in Essex where there is now a Webb Ellis stained glass window. A picture of him (the only known portrait) appeared in the Illustrated London News after he gave a particularly stirring sermon on the subject of the Crimean War.

William Webb Ellis passed away on 24 January 1872 and is buried at Menton in the South of France.

How did he get there?  That's another mystery.

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