More About That William Webb Ellis Story


Found on the Internet, authorship unknown


The story of William Webb Ellis "inventing" the modern game of rugby (and thus, indirectly, of American football) did not surface until four years after his death and originated with Matthew Bloxam, a local antiquarian and former pupil of Rugby School. In October of 1876, he wrote to The Meteor (the School magazine) that he had learned from an unnamed source that the change from a kicking to a handling game had "...originated with a town boy or foundationer of the name of Ellis, William Webb Ellis." In December 1880, he wrote again:

"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."

This dubious tale was investigated by the Old Rugbeian Society in 1895. "In my first year, 1834, running with the ball to get a try by touching down within goal was not absolutely forbidden," Thomas Hughes (author of Tom Brown's School Days) conceded, "but a jury of Rugby boys of that day would almost certainly have found a verdict of 'justifiable homicide' if a boy had been killed in running in."


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