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Post  pinkernel on Wed Aug 04, 2010 10:43 pm

Within the context of the Rugby History Society’s esteemed First World War Project, I apologise for raising what may seem a somewhat off-message (and even cul-de-sac) point, but it’s been burning a hole in my brain for a while.

What seems like half a lifetime ago, I became interested in pre-First World War rugby almost by accident. Stuff happens. How do people first get attracted to train-spotting, stamp collecting, rugby programmes, film posters or French cinema?

I have to confess that I know little about rugby between the Wars. Somehow it hasn’t interested me. Yet, perhaps. Well, not as much as the period 1900 -1914.

However, at various time when I’ve been researching players from the Edwardian era, I’ve simultaneously been struck by both how long some of them lived … but conversely, how little first hand raw material – and particularly interviews with them about their playing days – survive.

Take three who played for England pre-First World War at random - Dai Gent (1883-1964); Cherry Pillman (1890-1955); and Cyril Lowe (1891-1983) – though of course Lowe also played post-War. Gent is an interesting case because later he became a newspaper rugby correspondent.

With the benefit of hindsight, in terms of rugby history and heritage, would it not have been fabulous if – at some point between 1925 and their deaths - someone in (e.g.) BBC Sport, the RFU, or academia, had sat these three down and interviewed them at length about the sport, their England games and the characters they came across? I’m not talking about brief ‘sound bites’, to be dropped into radio or television coverage on some anniversary of a famous game, but rather extended conversations from an intended comprehensive social (rugby) history perspective.

In terms of First World War military history, there are several archives nationwide which contain collections of personal memories, e.g. the King’s College London Liddel Hart Centre for Military Archives (with over 400 senior figures’ private papers) and the Peter Liddle Personal Experience Archive (containing the recollections of over 5,000 men) at Leeds University Library. Many of the latter are tapes and/or transcripts of interviews that Liddle conducted personally, often decades later.

My point is, among all of us interested in rugby history (especially, like me, of long ago), where are the recorders and archivists of more recent times? Who is attempting, for example, to interview those still alive who played first class or international rugby between 1950 and 1970, or even after that? 1970 is just forty years ago – it would be the equivalent of interviewing someone like Cyril Lowe in – say – 1954, when he had the best part of three decades yet to live.

Today’s rugby games are tomorrow’s history. It’s like that old issue of how old something has to be to qualify as an antique, either for auction purposes, or to be featured on the Antiques Roadshow? Who is recording modern rugby’s developments – or is it just the case that blanket modern television coverage and the internet … not least the official websites of the RFU, the clubs and even individual players … and indeed the activities of bloggers, professional and amateur … have long since rendered a living history project to ‘gather player recollections’ obsolete and/or superfluous, because future historians will simply use television and internet archives as their sources?

Does anyone know of dedicated club projects to 'capture' former players' memories of their playing days, for example?


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Post  AdrianHunter on Tue Aug 10, 2010 10:06 pm


You post a very interesting message.

I am not aware of any such project but I am sure that it is the sort of thing that we should encourage or participate in Exclamation

Does anyone know any ex internationals (or just club players - their recollections are valid as well!) with whom they could get the ball rolling Question


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Post  Richard Lowther on Mon Dec 13, 2010 11:11 am

I think that rugby league is slightly ahead of the game on this topic.
For example http://www.rugbyleagueoralhistory.co.uk/
Gloucester are making excellent strides in this area http://www.gloucesterrugbyheritage.org.uk/

On the general gist of preserving the history of the game. You would be surprised by how few clubs keep a structured archive. I say structured, as some clubs keep items in boxes in dust ridden corners of buildings for the simple reason that they have never got around clearing out the 'rubbish'.

Should one of the aims/tasks of the society be to publicise the importance of archives to future generations and see if there can be some structured access to these archives for researchers/interested parties like members of this society?

By big fear with the internet is that it can be empheremal. I used to run the Wakefield RFC website but due to two major reasons - my own computer crashing and the webhost ceasing, there is little to show for about 6 seasons of data - match reports, photos, stats, interviews etc, now available on the web.

Paper just lasts longer, I just bought a 1912 rugby postcard off the web, I doubt in 98 years time I will be able to get hold of a web match report I wrote. Shocked

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