Sunday 27 March 2011

140 Years ago Today - 27 March 1871

140 years ago today - 27 March 1871 - the eagerly anticipated, and what was to become historic day, was here.

In the morning an advertisement appeared in the “The Scotsman” indicating the time and the place and an entrance fee of one shilling of the first football international to be played under Rugby Rules. 4,000 people paid to go through the gate at Raeburn Place, raising a sum in excess of £200, a considerable sum for the time.

Also that day a correspondent in the same paper took a last minute opportunity to exhort his country-men to deeds of daring-do!

“Our Scottish team is a very heavy one and the play of the backs and half-backs is very fine. Will you allow me a corner of your columns to remind some of the rest of the Twenty that their proper place is 'forward' and that habitually. Assuming the positions as they did last Wednesday (at the Edinburgh trial) of quarter-backs and three-quarter backs is an annoyance to the best players and very bad play. The business of a forward is not to hang about promiscuously waiting for something to turn up but to FOLLOW UP.”

England were to play in all white, with a red rose on their shirts; Scotland in brown shirts, with a thistle, and white cricket flannels. England were said to average 12 stone 3 pounds per man and half their team were Old Rugbeians.

One late change had to be made to the selected England team as FW Isherwood, one of the best English forwards, was unable to fulfil his promise to play - so BH Burns, the ex Academy pupil and Blackheath secretary, took his place in the team.

In the end the match was won, narrowly, by Scotland with a goal and a try to a solitary try by England. The methods of scoring were very different than that seen today. The try providing an opportunity to kick at the posts, a “try at goal”, the ball going over the post was the score and was a goal. There were no penalty goals, as it was accepted that gentlemen would not cheat.

In general at this time matches did not go on without some heated disputes. The rules throughout Britain still varied and it was common for disputes to occur and even for matches to end as one side, feeling aggrieved, would simply leave the field.

So it was, in the first international, when England disputed both Scotland's tries. The first on the basis that, after the umpires had ordered that the ball be put down for a 'hack-off' in a scrummage five yards out from the English line, the Scots had mauled it over the line instead of, first, putting it down on the ground. However, the try stood.

The second Scottish try was deemed by the English to have been illegal because it followed a 'knock-on' by JW Arthur. The ball had gone into touch near the England try line. A long throw went over the heads of the forwards and Arthur, in trying to catch it, sent the ball forward whereby his colleague W Cross touched down for the try. The English players immediately protested that the ball had, indeed, been knocked-on. However the laws of the period - or certainly those in Scotland under whose jurisdiction the game was being played - deemed a knock to be an offence only if it was intentional. The umpires HH Arnold of Scotland and Ward of England, ruled in favour of the Scottish side. Cross failed to score the goal!

During the dispute, HH Almond, one of the early giants of Scottish rugby, found himself having to settle with his own wisdom. His decision making process was laid out later, when he wrote;

“I must, say, however, that when an umpire is in doubt, I think he is justified in deciding against the side which makes the most noise. They are probably in the wrong.”

It was a keenly fought game and one incident demonstrates that. JF Finlay (Scotland) had got well away with the ball, and was sprinting at top speed towards the English goal, when RR Osborne, folding his arms across his chest, ran full tilt at him, after the fashion of a bull charging a gate. Both were very big, heavy men, and the crash of the collision was tremendous, each reeling some yards and finally falling on his back. For a few seconds players and spectators held their breath, fearing terrible results, but the two giants promptly resumed their places.

For the England side the whole experience had come as a shock. There had been no awareness of the sport's popularity in Scotland. England were, however, gracious in defeat, and praised the Scots’ energy.

The victory was enthusiastically received with the match ball going on exhibition at a local Stockbridge shop window for many weeks after.

Despite the number of dissenting voices - who thought rugby to be a barbaric sport with too many violent excesses and letters that filled The Times with warnings of injury and player imperilment – with 4,000 spectators watching the game, Rugby was growing.

The following day (28 March 1871), The Glasgow Herald reported on the game:

“FOOTBALL MATCH - England v Scotland

This great football match was played yesterday, on the Academy Cricket Ground, Edinburgh, with a result most gratifying for Scotland. The weather was fine, and there was a very large turnout of spectators. The competitors were dressed in appropriate costume, the English wearing a white jersey, ornamented by a red rose, and the Scotch brown jersey, with a thistle. Although the good wishes of the spectators went with the Scotch team, yet it was considered that their chances were poor. The difference between the two teams was very marked, the English being of a much heavier and stronger build compared to their opponents. The game commenced shortly after three o'clock, the Scotch getting the kick off, and for some time neither side had any advantage. The Scotch, however, succeeded in driving the ball close to the English goal, and, pushing splendidly forward, eventually put it into their opponents' quarters, who, however, prevented any harm accruing by smartly 'touching down’. This result warmed the Englishmen up to their work, and in spite of tremendous opposition they got near the Scotch goal, and kicked the ball past it, but it was cleverly 'touched down' they got no advantage. This finished the first 50 minutes, and the teams changed sides.

For a considerable time after the change the ball was sent from side to side, and the 'backs' got more work to do. By some lucky runs, however, the Scotch got on to the borders of the English land, and tried to force the ball past the goal. The English strenuously opposed this attempt, and for a time the struggle was terrible, ending in the Scotch 'touching down' in their opponents' ground and becoming entitled to a 'try'. This result was received with cheers, which were more heartily renewed when Cross, to whom the 'kick off' was entrusted, made a beautiful goal. This defeat only stirred up the English to fresh efforts, and driving the ball across the field, they managed also to secure a ‘try’, but unfortunately the man who got the 'kick off' did not allow sufficient windage, and the ball fell short. After this the Scotch became more cautious, and playing well together secured after several attempts a second 'try', but good luck did not attend the 'kick off' and the goal was lost. Time being then declared up the game ceased, the Scotch winning by a goal and a 'try'.”

England XX - A. G. Guillemard (West Kent) - Back, A. Lyon (Liverpool) - Back, R. R. Osbourne (Manchester) - Back, W. Maclaren (Manchester) Three-quarter back, J. E. Bentley (Gipsies) - Half-back, F. Tobin (Liverpool) - Half-back, J. F. Green (West Kent) - Half-back, F. Stokes (Blackheath), Captain, R. H. Birkett (Clapham Rovers), B. H Burns (Blackheath), J. H. Clayton (Liverpool), C. A. Crompton (Blackheath), A. Davenport (Ravenscourt Park), J. M. Dugdale (Ravenscourt Park), A. S. Gibson (Manchester), A. St. G. Hamersley (Marlborough Nomads), J. H. Luscombe (Gipsies), C. W. Sherrard (Blackheath), D. P. Turner (Richmond), H. J. C. Turner (Manchester).

Scotland XX - W. D. Brown (Glasgow Academicals) - Back, T. Chalmers (Glasgow Academicals) - Back, A. Clunies-Ross (St. Andrews University) - Back, J. W. Arthur (Glasgow Academicals) - Half-back, F. Cross (Merchistonians - Half-back, T. R. Marshall (Edinburgh Academicals), F. I. Moncrieff (Edinburgh Academicals), Captain, A. Buchanan (Edinburgh University), A. B. Colville (Merchistonians), A. Drew (Glasgow Academicals), W. Forsyth (Edinburgh University), F. Finlay (Edinburgh Academicals), R. Irvine (Edinburgh Academicals), W. Lyall (Edinburgh Academicals), H. Mein (Edinburgh Academicals), J. W. McFarlane (Edinburgh University), D. Munro (St. Andrews University), T. Ritchie (Merchistonians), F. Robertson (West of Scotland), J.S. Thomson (Glasgow Academicals).

I haven't a clue how many international rugby games have been played since then - a few thousand? Accies members and players of those days were involved in starting something we should be very proud about, and well and truly put EAFC and Raeburn Place in the history books.


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