Another feint at writing about Rugby.
I visited the town of Rugby a couple of weeks ago, to the casual visitor a curious place. Its main claim to fame (and a share of the tourist trade) is the school which dominates the town in a way that other, comparable, schools, do not. The school is not actively hostile to visitors (it offers guided tours and there was an exhibition by local artists open to the public in one of its buildings) but nor does it positively invite them. Its other lure is as the (debated) birthplace of Rugby football, and it does its best to enhance its attraction on that basis.
The Rugby Pathway of Fame is a trail of plaques inset in the pavement that visitors can follow to guide them around the town’s places of interest. Each plaque commemorates a significant figure in the history of the game. The selection is ecumenical (League players such as Billy Boston and Neil Fox are featured) and goes out of its way to celebrate players from every Rugby playing nation (the Japanese player Shiggy Konno, for instance, who is said to have been “deprived of an international career by the war”).
The route takes in a small, but interesting, museum at the site where William Gilbert, boot and shoe maker to Rugby School, apparently made the first (oval) Rugby football in 1842 (the earliest balls were much rounder than the type we know today) and a statue of William Webb Ellis, apparently funded by “worldwide subscription” and unveiled by Jeremy Guscott in 1997.
Interesting though all this is, I am a little surprised that it is enough to attract pilgrims from all over the world, as is apparently the case (it seems to have been a custom for touring sides to visit William Gilbert’s shop to have their picture taken there, for instance) and I have to say that the only part of my trip that inspired any sharp emotional response was this – the Cricket Pavilion at Rugby School in its Autumnal weeds (the crow in the foreground has just made short work of the ex-pigeon to the left of the picture).
I would defy any cricket-lover to pass a cricket ground in Winter without feeling at least a slight pang of longing and regret for the Summer months. I maintain an open mind as to whether there are Rugby-lovers who experience the same longings when they glimpse a pair of H-shaped posts in high Summer, or who, slumped comfortably in a deck-chair on a fine June day, dream of pacing the touchline with labrador in tow and a nip of grog in their hipflask, but I am doubtful.
My own feeling is that there is, among sports, an emotional register peculiar to cricket, but given that it encompasses the lower, or deeper or arguably simply mimsier end of the scale – nostalgia, wistfulness, regret, aimless longing for what can never be recovered and a heightened awareness of the passing of time – the more robust type of Rugger bugger might well feel justified in believing himself better off without it.