Class, commercialism and community in the origins and development of the northern Rugby Football Union, 1857-1910
This thesis examines the role of class, regional, commercial and other social and economic factors in the origins and growth of Rugby football in Yorkshire and Lancashire during the period 1857 to 1910, focusing on the formation of the Northern Rugby Football Union (later to become the Rugby Football League) in 1895 and its subsequent development into a "new" sport of rugby league. Its main sources are documents of clubs and leading bodies of the sport and the sporting press of the period. Starting from an analysis of the spread of rugby from the public schools to the north of England, it links the rapid growth of the sport in the 1870s and 1880s to the sense of civic pride which prevailed among the industrial towns of the North and Midlands. In particular, it examines the means by which working class men and women became involved in the sport and looks at the nature and activities of rugby players and spectators. Its key focus is on the ways in which working class cultural practices became part of the fabric of the sport and the counter-development of the ideology of amateurism as a method of suppressing this, culminating in the Rugby Football Union's introduction of its first set of regulations intended to stamp out incipient professionalism, which were supported by both the northern and southern leaderships of the sport. It argues that the demands of working class players for payment and the growing commercialism of the sport in the North undermined amateurism and made its implementation, despite the vigorous efforts of its partisans, impossible. The breakdown in the consensus among rugby's leaders about how to deal with mass working class participation led directly to the 1895 split and the formation of the Northern Rugby Football Union, based on the payment of "broken-time" allowances to players. However, despite its initial successes, the Northern Union was marginalised by a combination of national and class-based forces, and, by the turn of the century, rendered impotent when face by the overwhelming popularity of soccer in the early 1900s. The necessity of establishing its own identity and holding back the soccer threat saw the Northern Union move away from being merely a professional version of rugby union and initiate the rule changes which created a new sport, expand to other countries and develop a distinct ideology. This allowed the sport to become almost exclusively identified with the working classes and opened the door to the predominance of working class cultural norms, both on the field and in the crowds which watched the game. Although class is viewed as the motor force which ultimately drove rugby to schism, the role of civic pride, of both the working and middle classes, the relationship between rugby and masculinity, links between sport and nationalism, the north-south divide in English society. and the rise of commercialism in the form of the "entertainment industry" are also examined in the changing contexts of the period for the impact they had on the sport and for their importance to its eventual schism.