A week before the Rugby World Cup 2011 and we can see what a huge commercial event is has become. A quick visit to the official website Rugbyworldcup.com and right there on the home page are not only the tickets – a semi-final ticket if you can get one has a face value of $300-$800 – but the merchandise too. If you want an All Blacks official jersey that will set you back a cool $180. That makes £40 for a premiership football shirt look like a bargain.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when to play for your club and your country was the main reward. It seems a long time ago, and well in fact it was. You have to go all the way back to the 1880s and 1890s when the debate about professionalism in rugby raged – not just about wages but a host of subjects. It was around then that we saw the break in the codes and it is fascinating to read the arguments, many of which will be replayed in bars and pubs around the world in the coming month. A rugby expert and close friend of Arthur Conan Doyle’s (creator of Sherlock Holmes) Bertram Fletcher Robinson fortunately put together a wonderful book bringing together the writings of all of the experts of the time called ‘Rugby Football in the Nineteenth Century’ and last year we re-published it (original copies had become very rare and sold for over US$200) with additions from modern-day commentators. The new version went down a storm and was nominated for Rugby Book of The Year. It prompted us to get more involved in rugby history and in October, in the middle of the World Cup we publish our second club history – Sunderland RFC entitled ‘One Among Many’. The first was from one of the oldest clubs in the world Clifton. Entitled ‘For College Club and Country‘ it was a wonderful project to be involved with and enabled us to meet several ex-England players and captains at the launch at the club. Sunderland’s launch comes up in a month’s time – again at the club.
These club histories remind us that rugby is a wonderful community sport and that there is more to the game than TV rights, tickets and merchandise. They are wonderful books to do as a publisher as they are full of both sport and local history, covering a dozen decades and with hundreds of photographs through the ages. The books mean a lot to the local fans, but are widely read by rugby fans all over the globe.
The Rugby History book from the 19th Century shows how much else has changed too – we particularly like (remember, written over 100 years ago) that differ ever so slightly from the modern game;
- On Drinking –“Let a man satisfy his natural thirst by all means but – and on this I must insist – let him give up the drinks in between meals”.
- On Training – “Early rising which means being down at a quarter to eight, so that there may be time for a sharp walk before breakfast at 8.30. That morning walk is of great importance. I don’t believe in running hard or taking any violent form of exercise. The short, quick walk is the best “pipe-opener” with which to start the day”.
- On Refereeing Decisions – “Should he make a mistake, ‘tell a lie and stick to it’ is the only policy possible”.
- On Rugby Balls – “Do not have a fresh ball for every match. The larger clubs have realised that a ball that has been frequently used is, if well cared for, far superior for passing, kicking, and dribbling than a new one”.
- On Weapons (from the rules of 1893) “No one wearing projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta percha on any part of his boots or shoes shall be allowed to take part in a match”.
There are dozens more gems in the book and, like us, you will no doubt wish that some of the traditional elements were still around.
As a little celebration of the World Cup, and a gentle reminder of the history of the game, we’ve put together the Rugby World Cup 2011 History pack featuring all three books – even the Sunderland one that won’t be released to the public for another month. You can get the package exclusively from our various websites MX Publishing UK (UK and Europe), MX Publishing USA and Sydney Passengers Australia. Type the code ‘rugby‘ at the basket to get a hefty discount as a reader of this blog.
Have a great World Cup.