James Corsan is currently working on a Harlequins Heritage project in connection with the forthcoming 150th anniversary of the founding of the club. His research has included trawling the microfiche of local newspapers. Here he reports on this and shares some of the more interesting things that have caught his eye…
As a task, it is rather ‘as it says on the tin’ – hour upon hour of detailed, repetitive, often frustrating slog, especially when tiny type point sizes and browning newsprint can make letters, words or figures indistinct.
Happily, the routine of the day can sometimes be enlivened, albeit not often, by the odd ‘light bulb’ moment. For example, perhaps confirmation that a particular player, possibly one you had not come across previously, played in a certain game, or that the reason a well-known playing colleague did not play in the same fixture was because he had ‘scratched’ due to an injured ankle suffered in the match the previous week.
As revelations, neither quite ranks alongside the discovery of penicillin but – in some small sense – they do take the sum of rugby history knowledge forward a notch.
Then there are the diversions you might come across. Items of ‘historic’ national news are occasionally covered in local papers, amidst all the local shop advertisements and reports of petty criminals making court appearances in which you are otherwise temporarily buried. It is fascinating to note, with the benefit of modern hindsight, how a local newspaper of 1910 was covering contemporary political crises, or indeed – as occasionally happens – to read a piece in which a rugby correspondent offers his personal opinions upon rugby ‘issues’ of the moment.
Here is an extract from a ‘Bystander’ piece for the ‘Local Sports’ section of the Saturday 9th October 1909 edition of the same newspaper:
‘There is some talk and some writing – it does not amount to much else – about alterations in the Rugby game with the idea of inspiring it and making it more attractive.
The suggestion for such action comes from ‘down under’, where the Northern Union game seems to be making a progress which has caused genuine alarm amongst Rugbyites.
New Zealand proposes that a conference be held between the home and colonial unions to consider the matter’.
Mr J.A. Smith, hon sec of the Scottish Rugby Union, is reported to have said when speaking of the proposed alterations:
“There was a possibility that these might be propositions which might be for the good of the game. If they were, they would be seriously discussed, and if regarded as being of utility, they would be heartily approved. On the other hand, if the colonial suggestions went to what was called making the game faster or more open they would have none of them. They would not be party to legislation for the spectator as against the player.”
A writer in Athletic News recently wrote:
“The moment the spectator becomes the prime consideration of the Rugby Union or a Rugby club then goodbye to good sport.”
Here we are, many years later, still dealing with pressure to ‘improve’ the entertainment value of the game by altering the rules. I pass no comment one way or the other upon these recurring topics but it is interesting that our predecessors of a century ago and more were fielding similar.
About the Author – James Corsan began profession life as a barrister and then survived a quarter of a century in the British television industry. His book ‘For Poulton and England’ is available here.