Dakota Datebook

Rugby vs.The World

Friday, May 11, 2012


“Rugby vs. The World:” It was a match for the history books. And a future North Dakotan played a key role.

Various forms of football became widely popular in 19th century England; including rugby in its very earliest form. In the first half of the century it was spontaneous and uncomplicated. There were no written rules; players were allowed to catch and run with the ball; there were no limits to the number of players on each side and games could last for days. Among the biggest enthusiasts of this unique form of football were the boys of Rugby School in Warwickshire, England. In fact, according to popular tradition, Rugby School was the first to codify the rules in the 1840s.

It was Rugby School alumni that would organize the history-making match a decade later. When William Mather decided to organize a match in Liverpool in late 1857, he contacted his former Rugby School chum, Richard Sykes. Born near Manchester, England on this date in 1839, Sykes served as Rugby School team captain. Since Sykes would be in nearby Manchester on Christmas holiday, he jumped at the chance to participate. William organized a team of Rugby school alum living in Liverpool; Richard was asked to bring a similar side from Manchester as well as a ball since the uniquely-shaped oval balls weren’t readily available in Liverpool.

Fifty players assembled on December 19th, 1857 for the game dubbed “Rugby vs. The World,” as the preponderance of players had attended Rugby School and were well-versed in the game. Yet many others were unfamiliar with this version of football. Sykes explained the rules before kicking off a rousing game in front of a large crowd. Although the winner has been lost to history, participants and spectators loved the game. The Liverpool Club formed after the match and has since become the oldest, continuously open rugby club in the world.

After the game, Sykes returned home where he formed the Manchester Rugby Football Club in 1860 and served as captain for seven years.

A quarter of a century later, Richard Sykes arrived in northern Dakota Territory where he founded the towns of Sykeston, Alfred, Bowdon, Chaseley and Edgeley. He also claimed to introduce the game of rugby to the United States; carrying the oval ball to colleges and universities throughout the west. As for Rugby, North Dakota, it was named for the town of Rugby in England, which claims to be the birthplace of rugby football.

Dakota Datebook by Christina Sunwall



Liverpool St. Helens Football Club, http://www.liverpoolsthelensrugby.co.uk/index.html

Macrory, Jennifer, Running With the Ball (London: Collins Willow; 1991)

Marples, Morris, A History of Football (London: Martin Secker & Warburg; 1954)

Rugby Football History, http://www.rugbyfootballhistory.com/timeline1850s.htm

Sherman, William C. and Playford V. Thorson, ed. Plains Folk: North Dakota’s Ethnic History (Fargo: ND Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU; 1988)

Rugby, Warwikshire: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rugby,_Warwickshire

Rugby, ND: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rugby,_North_Dakota




This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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