William Webb Ellis was born in 1806 in Salford, England. He was the son of a professional soldier and an heiress. His father died when he was just 3 years old, leaving his mother to raise him.
Ellis was a bright child and excelled in his studies. He went on to attend Rugby School, where he would make his mark on history.
In 1823, at just 17 years old, Ellis took part in a game of football that would end by sparking the creation of an entirely new sport: Rugby. During the game, Ellis “picked up the ball and ran with it”, which is where the famous saying also originated, instead of passing or dribbling using his feet, which is of course the traditional rules of football.
This spontaneous act of individualism sparked a revolution in the game of football, and rugby was born. Many may question though, was this creative genius, or merely a frustrated schoolboy who did not want to lose? Whichever it was, the legend lives on 200 years later – as does his namesake trophy, the Webb Ellis Cup, which is presented to the winners of the world cup.
Ellis’ name has become synonymous with the sport of rugby, and he is widely considered to be the ‘godfather’ of the game. He died in 1872, but his legacy lives on in the game that bears the name of the school he attended. A plaque was erected at the Rugby school in 1895 which reads:
COMMEMORATES THE EXPLOIT OF
WILLIAM WEBB ELLIS
WHO WITH A FINE DISREGARD FOR THE RULES OF FOOTBALL
AS PLAYED IN HIS TIME
FIRST TOOK THE BALL IN HIS ARMS AND RAN WITH IT
THUS ORIGINATING THE DISTINCTIVE FEATURE OF
THE RUGBY GAME
But, the fact remains that there has never been any documented first hand evidence of the story, and many researchers have found contradictory evidence. The only confirmed fact is that it was indeed at the Rugby school in Warwickshire that the first ever rules for the game of Rugby were written down, some 20 years after the alleged invention by William.
What do you think? Was William the Godfather of Rugby, or is it merely a myth? Whoever first invented it, rugby has grown to be one of the biggest sports on the world stage, religiously followed in England to Australia and South Africa to Argentina. For more rugby articles and news, you should check out RugbyPass or Rugby365.