Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The Oval World: a global history of rugby

Polly writes:
Tony Collins           Photo by Richard Wilcocks
Prior to attending Tony Collins’ talk, loosely centred on his most recent book The Oval World: A Global History of Rugby, I undertook some personal research - albeit failed research - to understand the sport of rugby. An hour went by, and I was left with more questions than answers about many aspects of the game, yet upon attending the talk later that evening, it surprised me to learn that, to quote Collins, it is the inherent ‘messiness’ of the sport that makes it so compelling in comparison to more straightforward sports like football.

Issues such as the effect of apartheid laws in Africa and the subsequent exclusion of non-white players from the sport, the mythical figure of Tom Browne of the public school novel Tom Brown's School Days, the ban on ‘hacking’ (or the kicking of the opposite team’s shins) and the campaign for the legalization of professionalism, have all contributed to the mystique of rugby and have fuelled Collins’ extensive research into the history of the sport. His talk was illuminated both by extracts from his book, and by archival footage of games that had taken place in Leeds in the early twentieth century, and offered a detailed historical background on all of the aforementioned issues associated with the game.

The event was fascinating, even to someone such as myself, with no background information on the game whatsoever. For example, I was particularly surprised to learn that it had once been illegal to pay rugby players, having taken for granted that professional players of all sports had received remunerations for their services. It was also fascinating to learn about the changes to the sport over time, for example, the reduction from fifteen players to thirteen, as a means of reducing the congestion of players on the pitch, speeding up game play and generally making the sport more engaging to an audience.

Collins was a highly engaging speaker, and the turn out to the event was a testament to this fact. Despite the poor weather conditions and the difficult to fine location, (the event took place in the ‘Tryzone’, a learning centre within the Carnegie Stadium which offers a variety of educational services to the public), many local rugby fans made an appearance, all of whom matched Collins in their enthusiasm and interest in the sport. Gratitude for the success of the event should therefore, extend both to Tony Collins, and to the individuals who attended the event, for providing a highly engaging and educational evening.

Audience Comments
Completely fascinating history lesson about a sport I follow. I was particularly interested in the section on the All Blacks. The historic film clips were terrific.

Rugby league historical lecture brought from the book. Interesting film clips linking the union and league factions through the 1890’s to 1938. Political effects brought out.

Great event, very informative. Makes me want to learn more about the history of rugby and the social context of the history of the sport. Also made me want to buy Tony Collins’ book but I have too much to read at the moment :)

A very interesting subject, with some notable points raised and examples given, and an insight into the intrinsic link between sport and life.

Excellent to have such a knowledgeable speaker with sport as the topic - need more of this.

Very informative account of the history of rugby. Left me wanting/needing to read the book.

A very good look at the history of both rugby codes ... (illegible section).... I particularly liked watching the footage of the Rugby League matches.

A joy to be educated, informed and entertained

Excellent and interesting with many thought provoking issues

Informative, well delivered and researched. More please!

Pleased to listen about sport during a LitFest

An excellent very informative talk

Excellent, informative talk.

Most enjoyable and informative.

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