'this rugby spellbound people' - The Birth of Rugby in Cardiff and Wales

978 1 902719 436
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'In December 1905, The Irish Times dispatched a reporter to cover the All Blacks game in Cardiff. Only a little over thirty years earlier, apart from a few young middle-class blades who took exercise by occasionally playing with an oval ball, the game of rugby was barely known in the town. Yet following the historic Welsh victory over New Zealand, that Irish journalist memorably described the excited, good humoured and wildly enthusiastic crowds he witnessed that day in and around the Arms Park as "this rugby spellbound people." He went on to declare that the Welsh were "undoubtedly the best exponents of the game.'      from the Introduction

'...scrupulously researched [and] well written...Gwyn Prescott has given [rugby in Wales] a history to be proud of.' 
Huw Richards, scrum.com

 "Prescott paints a meticulous picture of Welsh rugby's growth in Victorian Britain"
Rugby World

"...a fascinating piece of research and a major contribution to the history of rugby, not just in Wales but generally."
Tony Collins, author of A Social History of English Rugby Union


Foreword by Professor Gareth Williams

1. Introduction:  ‘The contagion will spread’

2. From Football to Rugby:Neither dribbling fish nor handling foul’

3. The Game is Established: ‘The running business’

4. The Clubs: ‘In Cardiff and district surely their name is legion’

5. Organisation and Participation: ‘Administered by the few, played by the many’

6. Rugby’s Wider Impact: ‘Football, or, Life in Cardiff’

7. Conclusions: ‘The noble game is not totally unknown here’

Wales fell in love with rugby over 100 years ago, and this national love affair for the game remains as intense and intoxicating today as it was in the late 1800s, when tens of thousands of passionate and expectant supporters would make their way to the Arms Park to see Wales play the best teams in the world and to enjoy the famous match-day atmosphere in Cardiff’s bustling town centre.

The Welsh obsession for rugby was already evident in 1899 when supporters ‘packed’ Cardiff's Westgate Street ‘from wall to wall’ for a Triple Crown decider against Ireland, and an advocate of soccer in Cardiff commented in 1901: ‘to carry one of those funny round balls through the streets meant running the gauntlet of curious onlookers’.

Rugby was undoubtedly the sporting heartbeat of Cardiff with over 230 clubs in 1895; but how did this obsession with rugby grip Cardiff and the industrial towns of south Wales, and why did the Welsh quickly become ‘this rugby spellbound people’?

In this new, expanded and heavily illustrated paperback edition, Gwyn Prescott draws on previously unused sources to provide a fresh and fascinating insight into the origins and early years of the game in Cardiff. He outlines how its citizens of all backgrounds, its many distinct districts, and its commercial and religious interests took rugby to their hearts through the growth of clubs, competitions and the   establishment of the famous Arms Park as the focal point of rugby in Wales.

The Birth of Rugby in Cardiff and Wales is the essential guide to the importance of rugby in Cardiff and to the significance of Cardiff to the development of Welsh rugby in the nineteenth century.

A native of Cardiff who played alongside Gareth Edwards in the 1965 Welsh Secondary Schools team and later played for Cambridge University, Gwyn Prescott was awarded an MPhil, on the history of rugby, by the University of Glamorgan. He is also the author of 'Call Them to Remembrance': The Welsh rugby internationals who died in the Great War, (St. David's Press).
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