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November 18, 2021 2 min read

The legend goes, that in 1823, William was playing football with some mates at Rugby School in the town of Rugby. During the game, the renegade soon-to-be minister, caught the ball and ran with it. Of course, Football was a little different to the modern game. Back then, players would kick and catch the ball, but running with it was forbidden. Hence, when William first did this, a new sport was born.

But how did William end up at Rugby School? 

William was born in Salford in the North of England. His father died on the battlefield, leaving William, his mother and brother, Thomas.

Mrs Ellis decided it was time for her two children to move south and she chose to town of Rugby in Warwickshire. Anyone living within ten miles of the town's clocktower would receive a free education at rugby school. 

After leaving school in 1826, William went on to Brasenose College, Oxford, aged 20. He played cricket for his college, and for Oxford against Cambridge in a first class match in 1827. He graduated with a B.A. in 1829 and received his M.A. in 1831.

He entered the Church and became chaplain of St George's Chapel, London. A picture of him (the only known portrait) appeared in the Illustrated London New in 1854, after he gave a particularly stirring sermon on the subject of the Crimean War.

Since 1987, every four years, players compete for the Rugby World Cup trophy named in his honour.

While the validity of the Webb Ellis story has been questioned, it is irrefutable that the pupils of Rugby School shaped the game that we know and love. The first written ‘football rules’ were composed by three of its pupils in 1845 and printed in a small, pocket-sized book. This is where many of the words and phrases associated with the game, such as ‘try’, came to light.
Sources: World Rugby & Wikipedia








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