chapter
Conclusion
Pages 2

Such comments also revealed the underlying tension in the construction of rugby’s gentlemanly ethos. No matter how strongly rugby’s rulers emphasised its chivalrous characteristics, they could not (nor, indeed, did they want to) escape the fact that the game’s violence was central to its appeal. As C.B. Fry, often seen as an embodiment of the ‘Corinthian gentleman’, put it in 1899, when arguing that all codes of football had become ‘too civilised’: ‘clothe it as you will in law and order, it nonetheless fascinates and appeals to us by reason of that in us which desires the stress and excitement of fighting’.22 Such beliefs were held not because rugby’s participants were inherently more aggressive than players of other sports, but because the sport saw its role in society as being the third aspect of a trinity that joined together masculinity and national identity. This tended to be more implied than expressed towards the end of the Victorian period, although it was to resurface very strongly during and after the First World War. Yet the link had been made very explicit in the earlier decades of the sport. In 1863 F.W. Campbell of Blackheath, a supporter of Rugby School’s code, had argued on behalf of his club at the foundation meeting of the FA that abolishing hacking would ‘do away with all the courage and pluck of the game, and I will be bound to bring over a lot of Frenchmen who could beat you with a week’s practice’. In 1872, at the founding of the Wakefield Trinity club, one of the curates had pointed to the physical virtues of the game, ‘which were supposed to make one Englishman equal to five Frenchmen’. In 1876 a writer in the Manchester-based periodical Athletic News had responded to those who felt that the game was too violent and dangerous by arguing that ‘English youths inherit the traditional pluck and energy of their race’ by taking part in it.23