How the game began



Rugby began in England in 1823 when a Rugby College soccer player, William Ellis, picked up the ball in a soccer match and

carried it forward.  According to the rules of soccer, then called Association Football, the ball can only be advanced by kicking

it or butting

it with the body and Ellis was ridiculed for his action.  However, news spread of the development and it was referred to

“that play at Rugby” or “Rugby’s game.”


In 1839, a Cambridge student and football (soccer) player, Arthur Pell, suggested that his college team should try the new

game where players could run the ball if caught on the fly or first bounce, and they quickly became attached to the sport. 

Initially, Rugby was strictly a school sport and it was 1841 before Rugby College first began playing “Rugby’s Football”, as it

was then called.  By 1848, college team leaders had standardized the rules and the first interscholastic match was held in 1873.  Previous matches had been interclass.


Rugby became nationally recognized in England when the famous Blackheath football team entertained spectators by experimenting with the game while on tour.  The English Rugby Union was formed in 1871 when seventeen clubs met and standardized the Laws (rules).  Rugby remained strictly amateur until 1895 when twenty-one clubs formed the Northern Rugby Union (later named Rugby Football League in 1922) in which players would be compensated for lost time at work while playing.  Shortly thereafter, professionalism was allowed but players were required to hold a legitimate job.