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FOOTBALL NOW AND THEN.
consisting of from fifteen to twenty boys, Tom amongst them, who are making for the goal under the school-house wall, are the school-house boys who are not to play-up, and have to stay in goal. The larger body moving to the island goal, are the school-boys in a like predicament. The great mass in the middle are the players-up, both sides mingled together; they are hanging their jackets, and all who mean real work, their hats, waistcoats, neck-handkerchiefs, and braces, on the railings round the small trees; and there they go by twos and threes up to their respective grounds.
There is none of the colour and tastiness of getup, you will perceive, which lends such a life to the present game at Rugby, making the dullest and worst-fought match a pretty sight. Now each house has its own uniform of cap and jersey, of some lively colour; but at the time we are speaking of, plush caps have not yet come in, or uniforms of any sort, except the school-house white trousers, which are abominably cold to-day: let us get to work, bare-headed and girded with our plain leather straps—but we mean business, gentlemen.
And now that the two sides have fairly sundered, and each occupies its own ground, and we get a good look at them, what absurdity is this? You don't mean to say that those fifty or sixty boys in white trousers, many of them quite small, are going to play that huge mass opposite ? Indeed I do, gentlemen ; they're going to try at any
OLD BROOKE'S GENERALSHIP.
rate, and won't make such a bad fight of it either, mark my word; for has'nt old Brooke won the toss, with his lucky halfpenny, and got choice of goals, and kick-off? The new ball you may see lie there quite by itself, in the middle, pointing towards the school or island goal; in another minute it will be well on its way there. Use that minute in remarking how the school-house side is drilled. You will see in the first place, that the sixth-form boy, who has the charge of goal, has spread his force (the goal-keepers) so as to occupy the whole space behind the goal-posts, at distances of about five yards apart; a safe and well-kept goal is the foundation of all good play. Old Brooke is talking to the captain of quarters; and now he moves away; see how that youngster spreads his men (the light brigade) carefully over the ground, half-way between their own goal and the body of their own players-up, (the heavy brigade.)
These again play in several bodies; there is young Brooke and the bull-dogs—mark them well —they are “ the fighting brigade,” the “ die-hards," larking about at leap-frog to keep themselves warm, and playing tricks on one another. And on each side of old Brooke, who is now standing in the middle of the ground and just going to kick-off, you see a separate wing of players-up, each with a boy of acknowledged prowess to look to—here Warner, and there Hedge; but over all is old Brooke, absolute as he of Russia, but wisely and bravely ruling over willing and worshipping
subjects, a true football king. His face is earnest and careful as he glances a last time over his array, but full of pluck and hope, the sort of look I hope to see in my general when I go out to fight.
The school side is not organized in the same way. The goal-keepers are all in lumps, any-how and no-how; you can't distinguish between the players-up and the boys in quarters, and there is divided leadership; but with such odds in strength and weight, it must take more than that to hinder them from winning; and so their leaders seem to think, for they let the players-up manage themselves.
But now look, there is a slight move forward of the school-house wings; old Brooke takes half-adozen quick steps, and away goes the ball spinning towards the school goal; seventy yards before it touches ground, and at no point above twelve or fifteen feet high, a model kick-off; and the schoolhouse cheer and rush on; the ball is returned, and they meet it and drive it back amongst the masses of the school already in motion. Then the two sides close, and you can see nothing for minutes but a swaying crowd of boys, at one point violently agitated. That is where the ball is, and there are the keen players to be met, and the glory and the hard knocks to be got; you hear the dull thud thud of the ball, and the shouts of “ Off your side,” “ Down with him," " Put him over," “ Bravo.” This is what we call a scrummage, gentlemen, and the first
scrummage in a school-house match was no joke in the consulship of Plancus.
But see! it has broken, the ball is driven out on the school-house side, and a rush of the school carries it past the school-house players-up. "Look out in quarters,” Brooke's and twenty other voices ring out; no need to call tho', the school-house captain of quarters has caught it on the bound, dodges the foremost school-boys, who are heading the rush, and sends it back with a good drop-kick well into the enemies' country. And then follows rush upon rush, and scrummage upon scrummage, the ball now driven through into the school-house quarters, and now into the school goal; for the school-house have not lost the advantage which the kick-off and a slight wind gave them at the outset, and are slightly “penning” their adversaries. You say, you don't see much in it all, nothing but a struggling mass of boys, and a leather ball, which seems to excite them all to great fury, as a red rag does a bull. My dear sir, a battle would look much the same to you, except that the boys would be men, and the balls iron; but a battle would be worth your looking at for all that, and so is a football match. You can't be expected to appreciate the delicate strokes of play, the turns by which a game is lost and won,-it takes an old player to do that, but the broad philosophy of football you can understand if you will. Come along with me a little nearer, and let us consider it together.
The ball has just fallen again where the two sides
are thickest, and they close rapidly around it in a scrummage; it must be driven through now by force or skill, till it flies out on one side or the other. Look how differently the boys face it. Here come two of the bull-dogs, bursting through the outsiders; in they go, straight to the heart of the scrummage, bent on driving that ball out on the opposite side.
That is what they mean to do. My sons, my sons! you are too hot; you have gone past the ball, and inust struggle now right through the scrummage, and get round and back again to your own side, before you can be of any further use. Here comes young Brooke; he goes in as straight as you, but keeps his head, and backs and bends, holding himself still behind the ball, and driving it furiously when he gets the chance. Take a leaf out of his book, you young chargers. Here come Speedicut, and Flashman the school-house bully, with shouts and great action. Won't you two come up to young Brooke after locking-up, by the school-house fire, with “ Old fellow, wasn't that just a splendid scrummage by the three trees !" But he knows you, and so do we. You don't really want to drive that ball through that scrummage, chancing all hurt for the glory of the school-house, but to make us think that's what you want—a vastly different thing, and fellows of your kidney will never go through more than the skirts of a scrummage, where it's all push and no kicking. We respect boys who keep out of it, and don't sham going in; but you—we had rather not say what we think of you.