The story of 1868 (Part Two); the rugby game in Scotland

A memorable visit to London a few years ago included a trip to Twickenham to visit the World Rugby Museum. The stadium was preparing for the Rugby World Cup and it was fascinating to be able to get a behind the scenes tour ahead of such a high-profile event. The visit to the museum was very enjoyable and is highly recommended. I set aside a few hours to do some research within the museum and the visit certainly threw up several important discoveries. In particular the collection of John Lillywhite’s Football Annuals, dating from 1868 were of great interest (The Scottish Football Museum has a run of them from the 1880s onwards but I had never viewed the early editions). It was at this visit that I discovered the existence of the Dumfriesshire clubs, in particular the Kinmount and Springkell clubs (which are referred to in the first part of this article). A bigger discovery, however, was finding a set of playing rules which had long been thought to have been lost.

Numerous publications covering the history of rugby football in Scotland refer to a set of rules drawn up by clubs in 1868 which sought to bring uniformity to the game. There was, however, great sadness that a copy of the rules did not appear to have survived. These rules were informally known as the ‘Green Book’ due to the colour of the original cover. Their official title, however, was ‘The Laws of Football as played by the principal clubs in Scotland.’ On turning the pages of the 1869 Lillywhite Football Annual, this very title caught my eye and I knew immediately that I had found something of great importance.

By 1868 rugby football had become established across central Scotland and up into Fife. The starting point for the game can be placed at Edinburgh Academy. R. J. Phillips in his book, The Story of Scottish Rugby, suggests that its introduction to the Academy came in 1851. The centenary history of Raeburn Place suggests that two brothers, Alexander and Francis Crombie, who arrived at the Academy around 1854 from Durham School, played an important part in introducing the game. Whatever the exact date of the introduction of rugby football into Scotland, what can be said is that by the late-1850s it had spread out from Edinburgh Academy to other educational institutions and led to the creation of former pupils’ clubs.

Edinburgh Academy, birthplace of rugby football in Scotland

The first former pupils’ club was the Academical Football Club (Edinburgh), which formed late in 1857. They would be joined by school and former pupils’ teams representing the Royal High School, Merchiston Castle, Loretto and Craigmount. In addition, Edinburgh University had its own rugby football club by 1867. St Andrews in Fife was also an early innovator of the game. The university football club at St Andrews (referred to as St Salvator), like the Academical Football Club, was an early pioneer and can be dated back to the late 1850s. Other educational institutions in the Fife town set up football clubs, including Abbey Park and Madras College. By 1868 a group of St Andrews men resident in Edinburgh had formed St Andrews Wanderers and two years later St Andrews Rovers based at Peckham Rye in London were playing against the leading rugby football clubs in the metropolis.

Over in the west, Glasgow Academy embraced the rugby code at an early stage, leading to the formation of their former pupils’ team, the Glasgow Academical Football Club, in 1866. One year earlier, Glasgow’s oldest existing football club, the West of Scotland club was formed. By the time that the Green Book was being printed the rugby game had reached as far west as Ayrshire with a club forming in Kilmarnock and possibly also in Ayr. The current rugby and association football clubs of Kilmarnock share the same ancestor as they split from each other in the 1870s. The spread of the game via the educational network also meant that by 1868 a club existed at Blairlodge Academy near Falkirk. Beyond these identifiable ‘rugby’ teams, I have encountered numerous other clubs without, to date, being able to ascertain whether they played to the rugby code, the association code, or to their own code. It is, however, likely that several of them would have been aligned to the rugby code or may have, at least, experimented with the rules.

The archives of Edinburgh Academy include a fascinating letter written by George Todd Chiene in his capacity as secretary of the Academical Football Club and addressed to Hely H. Almond, the famous headmaster of Loretto school. The Letter is dated 8th February 1868 and suggests from the content that the discussions over the rules were at an advanced stage. A number of changes, based on previous discussions, are proposed including the deletion of one of the rules ‘as both you [Almond] and Dunlop [of the West of Scotland club] object to this Rule.’ Another rule, about the awarding of a try, is also recommended to be taken out of the rules by Cheine and left ‘as a note at the end, making it a matter of arrangement whether the try shall count.’ This is recommended on the grounds that ‘The West of Scotland and A.F.C. [Academical Football Club] are strong in favour of it. There is indeed a note at the end of the official rules of 1868 which states…

In the event of no goal being obtained by either side, or an equal number of goals being obtained by both sides, it may be matter of arrangement whether the match shall be decided by the number of tries obtained by either side.

This decision, as I briefly allude to in a previous article (‘the love of your life has a past you don’t know about’) led to a degree of confusion with respect to the recording of results for games. Some results are referred to as being ‘drawn in favour of a team’ if the team in question was tied on the number of goals but had achieved more tries. In other games the tries were used to determine an outright ‘winner’, or they were not counted at all. However, a degree of compromise was necessary to secure agreement amongst the early clubs.

The letter therefore provides a fascinating insight into the importance of reaching agreement collectively, and, if necessary, allowing for an element of flexibility, in the drive towards uniformity. It could be difficult enough for two clubs to agree over rules ahead of a match so having representatives from up to five clubs involved in creating a longer-term solution must have been a challenge. Indeed, in the letter Chiene, when referring to Merchiston and St Andrews, states that ‘I hope the two former will adopt them though I have considerable doubts about Merchiston doing so’. The letter refers to five clubs by name and I have come across some accounts which suggest that the rules were drawn up principally by club administrators linked to three schools in the Edinburgh locale (the Academy, Loretto and Merchiston) with the West of Scotland club and St Andrews University providing some support. Only the Glasgow Academical club, of this original group of ‘heavyweights,’ is not mentioned in the letter.

An important point appears at the very end of the letter by way of a postscript…

P.S. I think we may put on the title page The Laws of Football “as played by the principal clubs in Scotland.”

In its completed format the Green Book had 34 rules, providing much detail in the way that the game should be played. Whilst some of the information covered by the rules is quite precise there was also scope for compromise. For example, Rule 2 states that…

Before the Captains toss for choice of goals or kick-off, an agreement shall be made when the match is to stop, and whether goals shall be changed at stated intervals, or after a goal is won.

The rules banned rough and dangerous practices like ‘throttling’ but did allow for a degree of hacking as long as it was ‘below the knee,’ although this rule was qualified with the following note at the end…

An agreement can be made before a match that hacking and tripping shall be totally disallowed.

Moving forward there would be diverging views on this rule; some games took place with a degree of hacking permitted whilst others banned the practice. Again, this example shows the difficulty of reaching agreement between clubs in the move towards full uniformity and demonstrates a degree of pragmatism. Similar issues were experienced in England during the winter months of 1863 when the fledgling Football Association in London attempted to outline its set of playing rules. The decision to exclude hacking from the rules famously led to the departure of the Blackheath club.

As a pragmatic compromise, the Green Book would help to galvanise the rugby game in Scotland, eradicating many of the problems encountered when clubs used to playing to different rules tried to face each other on the field. The rules were robust and clear in some areas but left a degree of flexibility in others to enable clubs to find compromise. With Scotland hosting the first international match of 1871 these rules may have formed the basis of the rules that were applied in that historic game. By 1871, beyond the substantial increase in the number of clubs in and around Edinburgh and Glasgow, the game had started to spread out across other parts of Scotland. It could be found at Langholm and Dumfries in the south of Scotland, at Paisley, Helensburgh and Rothesay in the west, at Clackmannan in central Scotland and was already pushing north with clubs appearing at Glenalmond in Perthshire, as well as at Dundee, Broughty Ferry, Montrose and Aberdeen.

Castle Green, Broughty Ferry, home park of Dalhousie Football Club from 1871

As an aside, I think there is some merit in the view that the rugby and association codes experienced similar issues in their journeys towards uniformity. From examples of individual disputes between clubs, to initial attempts to rally round a uniform set of rules (for the association code in Scotland, this struggle was taken on by Queen’s Park as the leading club prior to the formation of the Scottish FA in 1873), then, finally, disputes at national level between governing bodies. For both the rugby and the association codes, disputes at international level between Scotland and England would lead to international bodies being formed to ensure uniformity. Coincidentally, the International Rugby Football Board and the International Football Association Board were officially instituted in the same year – 1886.

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