Littell's Living Age/Volume 136/Issue 1752/Rugby Football

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From The Tatler.


Football is undoubtedly in itself a fine and vigorous sport. It should call forth the qualities of skill, pluck, and endurance. But what sane, unbiassed person can say that the "game," as it is now played in almost every town throughout the kingdom, possesses one single attribute entitling it to popularity? What can honestly be said of a "sport" in which mere brute force bears the palm from pluck and skill? It is a common boast of those to whose perverted genius the revival of Rugby football is due that they rescued it from extinction by converting it from a rough-and-tumble scramble into a science. Truly, a science they have made it, but it is one of maiming and manslaughter. It is no longer demanded that the ball shall be skilfully manipulated past all opposition, or guided to a spot where overwhelming concentration will carry the day. These splendid innovators have given a death-blow to the tactical skill of the game, which was its chief beauty. The Rugby football-player par excellence of to-day is a man who is prepared to go upon the field with his life in his hand; and the pet of the team is he who can inflict most injuries and incite the greatest terror by his ferocity. The football arena is no longer a space for good-natured, if arduous, contention for supremacy; that has been supplanted (improved upon, they would have us believe) by a fierce hand-to-hand struggle of weaponless savages.

The forward players, with the ball in their midst, engage in a mêlée of which promiscuous kicking not infrequently forms an important part, and which bears a close resemblance to the contention of a box of infuriated spiders over a solitary fly. But it is on a back player getting the ball, and attempting to run with it, that the course brutality of the "game" fully manifests itself. From the moment of picking the ball from the ground the player who holds it becomes a being for whom the delicate attentions customarily paid by red Indians to one of their number who is "running the gauntlet" would be considered too humane and considerate. He is beset in every possible way, fair or foul. He will not relinquish his hold, but struggles for freedom; he is subjected to semistrangulation. But he is still unconquered, and, by dint of leaving a moiety of his shirt in the hands of the enemy, he once more breaks away. The foe is upon him again, however, and just as he nears the goal line, and success seems certain, he is seized suddenly by the legs and dashed to earth with a violence that deprives him for some minutes of his senses. On rising it is more than likely that his collar-bone is broken or his knee-cup smashed, in which case he will be a cripple for the remainder of his days. Or, if he escape permanent injury, it does not by any means follow that the player by whom he was "tackled" will be so fortunate. Every time a player resorts to the expedient of "collaring low," which means dashing blindly at the legs of a man running at full speed, he runs a frightful risk of injury. Not one, two, or three, but hundreds of instances occur during every season, with unfailing certainty, in which players are borne from the field with broken ribs, legs, or arms. The thing has become so common that the fact of being a "crack" player at Rugby football is synonymous with the possession of a frame that has experienced every conceivable description of fracture. Ask a dozen old players why they discontinued playing. It is notorious that many city firms and companies decline to retain the services of a football-player, so much loss have they sustained by the absence of their clerks on account of serious injuries. Let those who doubt inquire of the accident insurance companies how much is paid every year for football accidents. One of the largest has paid more for football than for gun and fire casualties put together.

Why should young men be thus permitted to risk life and limb with impunity? Let a couple of boxers, to whom hard knocks are but as pats from a cat's paw, engage in a bloodless combat, and everybody will fly out against the magistracy for non-interference. When a female acrobat, who knows perfectly well what she is about, and whose life is far too valuable to be heedlessly risked, adds a few feet to a sensation dive, the outcry is yet greater. Yet football, with its absolute certainty of permanent bodily injury to many, and inevitable proportion of fatal disaster, is not only permitted to flourish, but is actually applauded as a beneficial institution. We distinctly say that a so-called "game," the prominent feature of which is coarse brutality, and which fosters an utter disregard for human life and limb, can only have a tendency towards moral degradation; and we warn parents to consider well before committing their sons to the tender mercies of Rugby football.