The 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica is considered one of the best ever in terms of length and scholarship of articles. It appears that there was a commendable effort made to capture the broadest possible amount of knowledge in depth. That being the case, I offer the entry about rugby football from it. I tried to clean up as many scanning errors as I could, but in some places you will see a “(?)” indicating unknown text. There were also lengthy explanations of Association football (soccer) and U.S. Gridiron football, but I have deleted those and offer, here, only the rugby text. - Wes



Definition of Football from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica



FOOTBALL, a game between two opposing sides played with a large inflated ball, which is propelled either by the feet alone or by both feet and hands.

Pastimes of the kind were known to many nations of antiquity, and their existence among savage tribes, such as the Maoris, Faroe Islanders, Philippine Islanders, Polynesians and Eskimos, points to their primitive nature. In Greece it seems to have borne a resemblance to the modern game. Of this we read in Smiths Dictionary of Antiquities: It was the game at football, played in much the same way as with us, by a great number of persons divided into two parties opposed to one another. Amongst the Romans the harpastuni, derived from the Greek verb “I seize,” thus showing that carrying the ball was permissible, bore a certain resemblance. Basil Kennett, in his Romae antiquae notitia, terms this missile a larger kind of ball, which they played with, dividing into two companies and striving to throw it into one another’s goals, which was the conquering cast. The harpastum was a gymnastic game and probably played for the most part indoors. The real Roman football was played with the inflated follis, which was kicked from side to side over boundaries, and thus must have closely resembled the modern Association game. Tradition ascribes its introduction in northern Europe to the Roman legions. It has been played in Tuscany under the name of Calcio from the Middle Ages down to modern times.

Regarding the origin of the game in Great Britain the Roman tradition has been generally accepted, although Irish antiquarians assert that a variety of football has been played in Ireland for over 2000 years. In early times the great football festival of the year was Shrove Tuesday, though the connection of the game with this particular date is lost in obscurity. William Fitzstephen, in his History of London (about 1175), speaks of the young men of the city annually going into the fields after dinner to play at the well-known game of ball on the day Carnilevaria. As far as is known this is the first distinct mention of football in England. It was forbidden by Edward II (1314) in consequence of the great noise in the city caused by hustling over large balls (rageries de grosses pelotes). A clear reference is made ad pilam. . . pedinam in the Rotuli Clausarum, of Edward III (1365), as one of the pastimes to be prohibited on account of the decadence of archery, and the, same thing occurs in 12 Richard II c. 6 (1388). Both Henry VIII and Elizabeth enacted laws against football, which, both then and under the Stuarts and the Georges, seems to have been violent to the point of brutality, a fact often referred to by prominent writers. Thus Sir Thomas Elyot, in his Boke named the Governour (1531), speaks of football as being nothyng but beastely fury and extreme violence, whereof proceedeth hurte and consequently rancour and malice to remayne with thym that be wounded, wherefore it is to be put in perpetual silence. In Stubbes Anatomie of Abuses (1583) it is referred to as a develislie pastime. . . and hereof groweth envy, rancour and malice, and sometimes brawling, murther, homicide, and great effusion of, blood, as experience daily teacheth. Fifty years later (1634) Davenant is quoted (in Hones Table-Book) as remarking, I would now make a safe retreat, but methinks Jam stopped by one of your heroic gamea called football; which I conceive (under your favor) not very conveniently civil in the streets, especially in such irregular and narrow roads as Crooked Lane. Yet it argues your courage, much like your military pastime of throwing at cocks, since you have long allowed these two valiant exercises in the streets.

An evidence of its old popularity in Ireland is that the statutes of Galway in 1527 forbade every other sport save archery, excepting onely the great foot balle. In the time of Charles II football was popular at Cambridge, particularly at Magdalene College, as is evidenced by the following extract from the register book of that institution under the date 1679: That no schollers give or receive at any time any treat or collation upon account of ye football play, on or about Michaelmas Day, further than Colledge beere or ale in ye open halle to quench their thirsts. And particularly that that most vile custom of drinking and spending money Sophisters and Freshmen together upon ye account of making or not making a speech at that football time be utterly left off and extinguished.

It nevertheless remained for the most part a game for the masses, and never took root, except in educational institutions, among the upper classes until the I9th century. No clubs or code of rules had been formed, and the sole aim seems to have been to drive the ball through the opposing sides goal by fair means or foul. So rough did the game become that James I forbade the heir apparent to play it, and describes the exercise in his Basilikon Doron as meeter for laming than making able the users thereof. Both sexes and all ages seem to have taken part in it on Shrove Tuesday; shutters had to be put up and houses closed in order to prevent damage; and it is not to be wondered that the game fell into bad repute. Accidents, sometimes fatal, occurred; and Shrove Tuesday football-day gradually died out about 1830, though a relic of the custom still remained in a few places. For some thirty years football was only practiced at the great English public schools, many of which possessed special games, which in practically all cases arose from the nature of the individual ground. Thus the rough, open game, with its charging, tackling and throwing, which were features of football when it was taken up by the great public schools, would have been extremely dangerous if played in the flagged and walled courts of some schools, as, for example, the old Charterhouse. Hence at such institutions the dribbling style of play, in which Mr. Montague Shearman (Football, in the Badminton Library) sees the origin of the Association game, came into existence. Only at Rugby (later at some other schools), which from the first possessed an extensive grass field, was the old game preserved and developed, including even its roughness, for actual hacking (i.e. intentional kicking of an opponents legs) was not expressly abolished at Rugby until 1877. The description of the old school game at Rugby contained in Tom Brown’s School Days has become classic.

1. Rugby Union. We have seen that from early times a rudimentary game of football had been a popular form of sport in many parts of Great Britain, and that in the old-established schools football had been a regular game among the boys. In different schools there arose various developments of the original game; or rather, what, at first, must have been a somewhat rough form of horse-play with a ball began to take shape as a definite game, with a definite object and definite rules. Rugby school had developed such a game, and from football played according to Rugby rules has arisen Rugby football. It was about the middle of the 19th century that football, up till that time a regular game only among school boys, took its place as a regular sport among men. To begin with, men who had played the game as schoolboys formed clubs to enable them to continue playing their favorite school game, and others were induced to join them; while in other cases, clubs were formed by men who had not had the experience of playing the game at school, but who had the energy and the will to follow the example of those who had had this experience. In this way football was established as a regular game, no longer confined to schoolboys. When football was thus first started, the game was little developed or organized. Rules were very few, and often there was great doubt as to what the rules were. But, almost from the first, clubs were formed to play football according to Rugby rules, that is, according to the rules of the game as played at Rugby school. But even the Rugby rules of that date were few and vague, and indeed almost unintelligible to those who had not been at Rugby school. Still, the fact that play was according to Rugby rules produced a certain uniformity; but it was not till the establishment of the English Union, and the commencement of international matches, that a really definite code of rules was drawn up.

It is an interesting question to ask why it was that the game of Rugby school became so popular in preference to the games of other schools, such as Eton, Winchester or Harrow. It was probably very largely due to the reputation and success of Rugby school under Dr. Arnold, and this also led most probably to its adoption by other schools; for in 1860 many schools besides Rugby played football according to Rugby rules. The rapidity with which the game spread after the middle of the 19th century was remarkable. The Blackheath club, the senior club of the London district, was established in 1860, and Richmond, its great rival, shortly afterwards. Before 1870, football clubs had been started in Lancashire and Yorkshire; indeed the Sheffield football club dates back to 1855. Likewise, in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Rugby football clubs had been formed before 1870, and by that date the game had been implanted both in Ireland and South Wales; while in Scotland, before 1860, football had taken a hold. Thus by 1870 the game had been established throughout the United Kingdom, and in many districts had been regularly played for a number of years. Rapid as, in some ways, had been the spread of the game between the years 1850 and 1870, it was as nothing to what happened in the following twenty years; for by 1890 Rugby football, together with Association football, had become the great winter amusement of the people, and roused universal interest; while today on any fine Saturday afternoon in winter there are tens of thousands of people playing football, while those who watch the game can be counted by the hundred thousand. The causes that led to this great increase in the game and interest taken in it were, undoubtedly, the establishment of the various national Unions and the international matches; and, of course, the local rivalry of various clubs, together with cup or other competitions prevalent in certain districts, was a leading factor. The establishment of the English Union led to a codification of the rules without which development was impossible.

In the year 1871 the English Rugby Union was founded in London. This Union was an association of some clubs and schools which joined together and appointed a committee and officials to draw up a code of rules of the game. From this beginning the English Rugby Union has become the governing body of Rugby football in England, and has been joined by practically all the Rugby clubs in England, and deals with all matters connected with Rugby football, notably the choosing of the international teams. In 1873 the Scottish Football Union was founded in Edinburgh on the same lines, and with the same objects, while in 1880 the Welsh Football Union, and in 1881 the Irish Rugby Football Union, were established as the national Unions of Wales and Ireland, though in both countries there had been previously Unions not thoroughly representative of the country. All these Unions became the chief governing body within their own country, and one of their functions was to make the rules and laws of the game; but as this had been done to start with by the English Union, the others adopted the English rules, with amendments to them from time to time. This state of affairs had one element of weakness, viz, that since all the Unions made their own rules, if ever a dispute should arise between any of them, a dead-lock was almost certain to ensue. Such a dispute did occur in 1884 between the English and Scottish Unions. This dispute eventually turned on the question of the right of the English Union to make and interpret the rules of the game, and to be the paramount authority in the game, and superior to the other Unions. Scotland, Ireland and Wales resisted this claim, and finally, in 1889, Lord Kingsburgh and Major Marindin were appointed as a commission to settle the dispute. The result was the establishment of the International Board, which consists of representatives from each Union; six from England, two from each of the others whose duties were to settle any question that might arise between the different Unions, and to settle the rules under which international matches were to be played, these rules being invariably adopted by the various Unions as the rules of the game.

With the establishment of the International Board the organization of the game was complete. Still harmony did not prevail, and in 1895 occurred a definite disruption. A number of leading clubs in Yorkshire and Lancashire broke off from the English Union and formed the Northern Union, which since that date has had many accessions, and has become the leading body in the north of England. The question in dispute was the payment of players. Football was originally played by men for the sheer love of the game, and by men who were comparatively well-to-do, and who could give the time to play it; but with the increasing popularity of the game it became the pastime of all classes of the people, and clubs began to grow rich by drawing big gates, that is, large numbers of spectators, frequently many thousands in number, paid for the privilege of witnessing the match. In these circumstances the temptation arose to reimburse the player for any out-of-pocket expenses he might be put to for playing the game, and thus it became universally recognized as legitimate to pay a players expenses to and from a match. But in the case of working men it often meant that they lost part of their weekly wage when they had to go a distance to play a match, or to go on tour with their club, that is, go off for a few days and play one or two matches in different parts of the country and consequently the claim was made on their behalf to recoup them for their loss of wage; while at the same time rich clubs began to be willing to offer inducements to good players to join their club, and these inducements were generally most acceptable in the form of money. In Association football (see below) professionalism, ie. the hiring and paying of a player for his services, had been openly recognized. A large section of the English Union, the amateur party, would not tolerate anything that savoured of professionalism, and regarded payments made to a player for broken time as illegitimate. The result was the formation of the Northern Union, which allowed such payments, and has practically recognized professionalism. This body has also somewhat altered the laws of the game, and reduced the number of players constituting a team from fifteen to thirteen. In Scotland and Ireland Rugby footballers are strongly amateur; but wherever Rugby football is the popular game of the artisan the professional element is strong.

Besides legislation, one of the functions of the Unions is to select international teams. On the 27th of March 1871 the first international match was played between England and Scotland in Edinburgh. This was a match between teams picked from English and Scottish players. These matches from the first roused widespread interest, and were a great stimulus to the development of the game. With the exception of a few years, when there were disputes between their respective Unions, all the countries of the United Kingdom have annually played one another. England having played Scotland since 1871, Ireland since 1875 and Wales since 1880. Scotland commenced playing Ireland in 1877 and Wales in 1883, while Ireland and Wales met first in 1882 and then in 1884, and since 1887 have played annually. The qualifications of a player for any country were at first vaguely considered to be birth; but they were never definitely settled, and there has been a case of a player playing for two countries. In 1894, however, the International Board decided that no player was to play for more than one country, and this has been the only pronouncement on the question; and though birth is still looked upon as the main qualification, it is not essential.

Though international matches excite interest throughout the United Kingdom, the matches between two rival clubs arouse just as much excitement in their district, particularly when the clubs may be taken as representatives of two neighboring rival towns. But when to this rivalry there is added the inducement to play for a cup, or prize, the excitement is much more intense. Among Rugby players cup competitions have never been so popular as among Association, but the competition for the Yorkshire Cup was very keen in the days before the establishment of the Northern Union, and this undoubtedly was the main cause of the popularity of the game in that county. Similarly the competition for the South Wales Cup from 1878 to 1887 did a great deal to establish the game in that country. The method of carrying on these competitions is, that all the clubs entered are drawn by lot, in pairs, to play together in the first round; the winners of these ties are then similarly drawn in pairs for the next round, until for the final round there is only one pair left, the winner of which takes the cup. An elaboration of this competition is the League system of the Association game. This, likewise, has not been popular with Rugby players. Still it exists in some districts, especially where clubs are anxious to draw big gates. In the League system a certain number of clubs form a league to play one another twice each season; two points are counted for a win and one for a draw. The club, which at the end of the season comes out with most points, wins the competition. The advantage of this system over a cup competition is, that interest is kept up during the whole season, and one defeat does not debar a club from eventually coming out first.

It is said that wherever Britons go they take their games with them, and this has certainly been the case with Rugby football, especially in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. An interchange of football visits between these colonies and the motherland is now an important feature in the game. These tours date from 1888, when an English team visited Australia and New Zealand. In the following season, 1889, a team of New Zealanders, some of whom were native Maoris, came over to England, and by their play even then indicated how well the grammar of the game had been studied in that colony. Subsequently several British teams visited at intervals New Zealand and Australia, and in 1905 New Zealand sent home a team which eclipsed anything previously accomplished. They played altogether thirty-three matches, including fixtures with England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and only sustained one defeat, viz. by a try in their match with Wales, a record which speaks for itself. In 1908 a combined team of English and Welsh players toured in New Zealand and Australia, and also visited Canada on their way home. The team was not so strong as could have been wished, and though they did fairly well in Australia, they lost all three test matches against New Zealand. In South Africa the game is followed with equal enthusiasm, and the play is hardly inferior, if at all, to that of the New Zealanders. The first British team to visit the Cape went in 1891 through the generosity of Cecil Rhodes, who guaranteed the undertaking against loss. Teams were also sent out in 1896 and 1903; the result of matches played in each visit showing the steady improvement of the colonists. In 1906 the South Africans paid their first visit to England, and the result of their tour proved them to be equally formidable with the New Zealanders. England managed to draw with them, but Scotland was the only one of the home Unions to gain a victory. The success of these colonial visits, more especially financially, created a development very foreign to the intentions of their organizers. The Northern Union as a professional body had drifted into a somewhat perilous state, through suffering on the one hand from a lack of international matches, and on the other from the competition of Association professional teams. The great financial success resulting from the New Zealand tour of 1905 roused the attention of the Northern Union authorities, and they quickly entered into negotiations with New Zealand players to collect a team who would come over and play the Northern Union clubs, the visiting players themselves taking a share of the gate money. For this purpose a team of New Zealanders toured the north of England in 1907, and their action caused the introduction of professional or Northern Union football in both New Zealand and Australia.

The spread of the game has not, however, been confined to English-speaking races. In France it has found fruitful soil, and numerous clubs exist in that country. Since 1906 international matches have been played between France and England, and the energy of French players, coupled with their national elan, makes them formidable opponents. The Rugby code has also obtained a firm footing in Canada, India, Ceylon and the Argentine.

The game itself is essentially a winter pastime, as two requisite conditions for its enjoyment are a cool atmosphere and a soft though firm turf. The field of play is oblong, not more than 150 yds. long nor more than 75 yds. broad, and it usually approximates to these dimensions. The boundaries are marked by lines, called touch-lines, down the sides, and goal-lines along the ends. The touch-lines are continued beyond the goal-lines for a distance of not more than 25 yds.; and parallel to the goal 1ine and behind it, at a distance of not more than 25 yds,, is drawn a line called the dead-ball line, joining the ends of the touch-lines produced. On each goal-line, at an equal distance from the touchlines, are erected two posts termed goal-posts, exceeding 11 ft. in height, and generally much more averaging perhaps from 20 to 30 ft. from the ground, and placed 18 ft. 6 in. apart. At a height of 10 ft. from the ground they are joined by a cross-bar; and the object of the game is to kick the ball over the cross-bar between the upright posts, and so obtain a goal.

The ball is egg-shaped (strictly an oblate spheroid), and the official dimensions are length, 11 to 11 3/4 in.; length circumference, 30 to 31 in.; width circumference, 25 1/2 to 26 in.; weight, 13 to 14 1/2 oz. It is made of India rubber inflated, and covered with, a leather case. Halfway between the two goal-lines there is generally drawn the half-way line, but sometimes it is marked by flags on the touch-line; and 25 yds. from each goal-line there is similarly marked the 15-yds. line. In the original game the side that had gained the majority of goals won the match, and if no goal had been scored, Or an equal number, the game was said to be left drawn; but a modification was adopted before long. A goal can be kicked from the field in the ordinary course of play; but from the very first a try goal could be obtained by that aide one of whose players either carried the ball across his opponents goal-line and then touched it down (i.e. on the ground), or touched it down after it had been kicked across the goal-line, before any of his opponents. The try is then proceeded with as follows: the ball is taken out by a member of the side obtaining the try in a straight line from the spot where it was touched down, and is deposited in a selected position on the ground in the field of play, the defending side being all confined behind their own goal-line until the moment the ball so placed on the ground, when another member of the attacking side endeavours to kick it from the ground (a place kick) over the bar and between the goal-posts. Routinely a goal is kicked; very often not. The modification first allowed was to count that side the winner which had gained the majority of tries, provided no goal or an equal number of goals had been scored; but a majority of one goal took precedence of any number of tries. But this, too, was afterwards abolished, and a system of points instituted by which the side with the majority of points wins. The numerical value, however, of goals and tries has undergone several changes, the system in 1908 being as follows: A try counts 3 points. A goal from a try (in which case the try shall not count) 5 points. A dropped goal (except from a mark or a penalty kick) 4 points; a dropped goal being a goal obtained by a player who drops the ball from his hands and kicks it the moment it rises off the ground, as in the half-volley at cricket or tennis. A goal from a mark or penalty kick (?) points. Under the Northern Union code any sort of goal counts (?) points, a try 3 points; but if a try be converted into a goal, both try and goal count, ie. 5 points are scored.

In the game itself not only may the ball be kicked in the direction of the opponent’s goal, but it may also be carried; but it must not be thrown forward or knocked on, that is, in the direction of the opponents goal, though it may be thrown back. Thus the game is really a combination of football and handball. The main principle is that any one who is not offside is in play. A player is offside if he gets in front of the ball, that is, on the opponents side of the ball, nearer than a colleague. In possession of the ball to the opponents goal-line; when in this position he must not interfere with an opponent or touch the ball under penalty.

The leading feature of the game is the scrummage. In old days at Rugby school there was practically no limit to the numbers of players on each side, and not infrequently there would be a hundred or more players on one side. This was never prevalent in club football; twenty a-side was the usual number to start with, reduced in 18 to fifteen a-side, the number still maintained. In the old Rugby big sides the ball got settled amidst a mass of players, and each side attempted to drive It through this mass by shoving, kicking, and otherwise forcing their way through with the ball in front of them. This was the origin of the scrummage.

The game is played usually for one hour, or one hour and ten minutes, sometimes for one hour and a half. Each side defends each goal in turn for half the time of play. Of the fifteen players who compose a side, the usual arrangement is that eight are called forwards, and form the scrummage; two half-backs are posted outside the scrummage; and four three-quarter-backs, a little behind the halves, stretch in a line across the field, their duties being mainly to run and kick and pass the ball to other members of their own side, and to prevent their opponents from doing the same. In recent years, owing to the development of passing, the field position of the half-backs has undergone a change. One stands fairly close to the scrummage and is known as the scrum-half, the other takes a position between the latter and the three-quarters, and is termed the stand-off half. Behind the three-quarters comes the full-back or back, a single individual to maintain the last line of defense; his duties are entirely defensive, either to tackle an opponent who has managed to get through, or, more usually, to catch and return long kicks. Play is started by one side kicking the ball off from the centre of the field in the direction of the opponent’s goal. The ball is then caught by one of the other side, who either kicks it or runs with it. In running he goes on until he is tackled, or caught, by one of his opponents, unless he should choose to pass or throw it to another of his own side, who, provided he be not offside, may either kick, or pass as he chooses. The ball in this way is kept moving until it crosses the touch-line, or goal-line, or is tackled. If the bail crosses the touch-line both sides line up at right angles to the point where it crossed the line, and the ball is thrown in straight either by one of the same side whose player carried the ball across the touch-line, or, if the ball was kicked or thrown out, by one of the opposite side. If the ball crosses the goal line either a try is gained, as explained above, or if the defending side touch it down first, the other side retire to the line 25 yds. from the goal-line, and the defending side kick it up the field. If the ball is tackled the player carrying the ball gets up from the ground as soon as possible, and the forwards at once form the scrummage by putting down their heads and getting ready to shove against one another. They shove as soon as the ball is put down between the two front rows.

In the scrummage the object is, by shoving the opponents back or otherwise breaking away with the ball in front, to carry the ball in the direction of the opponents goal-line by a series of short kicks in which the players run after the ball as fast as possible while their opponents lie in wait to get the ball, and either by a kick or other device stop the rush. Instead, however, of the forwards breaking away with the ball, sometimes they let the ball come out of the scrummage to their half-backs, who either kick or run with it, or pass it to the three-quarter-backs, and so the game proceeds until the ball is once more dead that is, brought to a standstill. The scrummage appears to be an uninteresting maneuver, and a strange relic of bygone times; but it is not merely a maneuver in which weight and strength alone tell; it also needs a lot of dexterity in moving the ball with the feet, applying the weight to best advantage, and also in outflanking the opposing side, as it were usually termed wheeling directing all the force to one side of the scrummage and thus breaking away. As a rule the game is a lively one, for the players are rarely at rest; if there is much scrummaging it is called a slow game, but, if much running and passing, a fast or an open one. The spectator, unless he be an expert, prefers the open game; but in any case the game is always a bold and exciting struggle, frequently with the balance of fortune swaying very rapidly from one side to the other, so that it is a matter of no surprise to find the British public so ardently attached to it. (C.J.N. F.; C.J.B.M.)

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