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

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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

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

'Scrupulously researched [and] well written...Gwyn Prescott has given [rugby in Wales] a history to be proud of'

‘a book that also has significant implications for the historiography of rugby’
Sport in History

'a major contribution to the history of rugby'
Tony Collins

Prof. Martin Johnes

‘a detailed and fascinating study of the way in which rugby embedded itself in the fabric of Cardiff society and the villages and towns of south Wales’
Gwlad Rugby


Foreword by Prof. 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’

1. Welsh Rugby Teams 1880-1
2. Cardiff and District Rugby Teams 1895-6
3. Club Competitions - Cardiff Area
   (i) Cardiff District Football Union
Challenge Cup 1886-1890
       Junior Cup 1890
  (ii) Cardiff and District Football Union / Cardiff and District Rugby Union
Mallett Cup 1893-2024
      Union Shield 1895-1910
      Ninian Stuart Cup 1911-2024
      Senior League 1895-1900
      Junior League to 1895-1900
      Second Junior League to 1900
   (iii) Cardiff Rugby Football Club
Junior Cup 1896-1900
4. Club Competitions - Wales
   (i) South Wales Football Union / Welsh Football Union
South Wales Challenge Cup 1878-1914
5. Cardiff Area Club Secretaries 1889-1891


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 captained the Welsh Secondary Schools XV in 1965 and played for Cambridge University’s 1st XV, Gwyn Prescott was awarded an MPhil in 2006 on the history of rugby and is the   author of numerous rugby histories including, Call Them to Remembrance - The Welsh Rugby Internationals Who Died in the Great War (St. David's Press, 2014 & 2021) and Arthur Gould - Rugby’s First Superstar (St. David’s Press, 2023).

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