For College, Club & Country - A History of Clifton Rugby Football Club by Patrick Casey and Richard I Hale

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For College, Club & Country - A History of Clifton Rugby Football Club by Patrick Casey and Richard I Hale

Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Richly illustrated with team photographs over more than 100 years, this is a fascinating piece of social history based around one of the oldest rugby clubs in the country. Providing moving accounts of club members who lost their lives in the two World Wars, this is an important and fascinating history of a club that has retained a strong community focus.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 312 Date: November 2009
Publisher: MX Publishing
ISBN: 978-1904312758

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Clifton Rugby Football Club can proudly trace its history back to the very emergence of the sport of rugby union. Founded in September 1872, the same year that William Webb Ellis, who is reputed to have been the rebellious Rugby schoolboy who first ran with the ball, died. In reality, it is highly likely that the Webb Ellis story is something of a spin job on behalf of Rugby School, although it did mean that Rugby School was able to impose its rules on the game at a time when most public schools had their own rules for playing versions of the game.

An ex-Rugby School teacher was the first headmaster of Clifton College and the emergence of Clifton Rugby Club owes much to its long-standing associations with Clifton College. Clifton Rugby Club is the 20th oldest rugby union club in England. But this is more than a historical account of one of rugby's proudest clubs. Partly because it has remained very much a local side (while neighbours Bristol and Bath have gone on to be bigger hitters in the national game) it provides a fascinating, and deeply moving, account of a community during the war years, particularly the Great War.

The idea for this book (it's not the first published history of Clifton Rugby Club) emerged from an addition to the club's web site. This is evident in the structure of the book, which is both its strength and perhaps also its limitations as the structure is more a selection of profiles, of individuals, families and matches, than a narrative account which might have been easier reading for the general reader. The initial chapter on the emergence of the club, and of rugby as a sport, is fascinating and well compiled.

The authors then profile the lives of players who lost their lives in both World Wars. Considerable research has gone into not only the bare facts of these brave young men, but also including details of the campaigns in which they lost their lives and sometimes with personal detail from the families themselves.

The book is richly illustrated, particularly with team pictures, and tracing the faces of those who lost their lives in the wars to the faces in the team pictures is very moving. The pictures themselves are a fascinating glimpse into the past, both of fashions and of some truly impressive facial hair!

While the authors have correctly avoided the temptation to provide piles of statistics on the club's performances - which would be dry to those not part of the club - I would have enjoyed a little more detail on the positions played by some of those profiled, although I suspect that sadly some of this detail has been lost over time. I would love to have known if those fallen soldiers were a flying winger, a solid forward or a plucky half back and I can only think that the soldiers would have enjoyed being remembered in those happier times.

Some chapters are perhaps only of interest to those with close associations to the club - particularly in the more recent years with the accounts of the Veterans team tours and even the emerging ladies team, although this can be excused and does illustrate the extent to which the club is a community.

Anyone with an interest in rugby history will be enthralled by this book - some of the early accounts of the chaos of the game's emergence are wonderful, together with some lovely, early newspaper accounts and some nicely judged stories (such as the Wasps representative who missed the inaugural RFU meeting because he went to the wrong pub ... and stayed there). But it also offers a moving and touching tribute to those who fought in the two World Wars, as well as providing valuable social history of a community. Who knew that William Wordsworth's great grandson was a strong rugby and hockey player, for example. But my own personal favourite is JA Bush - an early England player and owner of some most of the most impressive facial hair I've ever seen!

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

In fiction terms, AS Byatt's The Children's Book covers the same period in which Clifton Rugby Club was formed and further highlights the tragic waste of youth that was the Great War.

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Buy For College, Club & Country - A History of Clifton Rugby Football Club by Patrick Casey and Richard I Hale at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy For College, Club & Country - A History of Clifton Rugby Football Club by Patrick Casey and Richard I Hale at Amazon.com.


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