The England Vs Japan rugby international rugby match played on November 17 2018 at Twickenham Stadium in London was, the first official test match between the two countries on English soil, taking place 119 years after Japanese students first played the sport in 1899. With the 2019 Rugby World Cup coming up in Japan in late 2019, the game attracted a lot of interest and one result of this is the huge discovery that an English rugby club was founded based on the bylaws used to found the Yokohama Foot Ball Club in 1866 and that not only adopted the Yokohama club’s football rules but also that the club has a copy of those rules.
When rugby started to take off in Japan in the 1920s and the first Japanese university teams ventured abroad to play foreign teams, there is evidence that one of the dreams of Japanese rugby players was to play a match at Twickenham and to score a try there. In fact, when some designer came up with the idea of making three cherry blossoms the logo on the first national team shirts in around 1930, one of the blossoms was actually deliberately made a bud with the idea that it would only become a blossom after Japan’s national team played at Twickenham or at least played the England team. As early as 1930, it was reported in a London newspaper that the Japan Rugby Football Union was lobbying for an English team to ‘come out’ to tour Japan.
The gathering clouds of war and WW2 put paid to those early dreams and the first rugby match involving a rugby team from the UK a the Japan national team took place in 1952 when Oxford University toured Japan. That led to the decision to abandon the long wait to change the national rugby logo to three full blossoms and to do so immediately.
Despite the fact that England national teams toured Japan twice in the 1970s and only narrowly won three of the four games played against Japan, those games not accorded official text match status. Thus Japan did not play an official test match against England until November 17 2018 and this was also the first time that the official Japanese national team played at Twickenham. This means that it took over 90 years for the dream to play a test match against England to be realized. They also scored 15 points with stand off Yu Tamura kicking a penalty after 16 minutes, thereby being the first Japanese to score points on that hallowed ground while Ryota Nakamura was the first Japanese player to score a try.
That game last November attracted a lot of attraction and I made sure I was in attendance, being lucky enough to have three seats in row number 1 on the half way line. The Japanese Embassy in London helped promote Japan-related events and the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham chose the night before the game to hold a special opening ceremony for its exhibition on Japanese rugby history. The exhibition includes references to the YC&AC’s early rugby history, the oldest surviving Keio rugby shirt that was most probably only worn in games against the YC&AC, the 1874 illustration and an rugby interport dinner menu dated 1914 which I had bid £110 for in an auction and lost.
During this build-up to the game, both the Japanese embassy and the World Rugby Museum were contacted by someone from Southend Rugby Football Club just outside London in Essex. The person explained that the bylaws and football rules use when their club was founded in 1870 were those created during the founding of the Yokohama Foot Ball Club. Being informed by the museum shortly before leaving to attend its reception party, I was able to locate in museum before the party a copy of the Southend club’s 100th anniversary booklet and get copies of the key pages which I outline before.
The Southend Foot Ball Club was founded the year before the establishment of the Rugby Football Union in 1871 which soon led to the formulation of the official “Laws of Rugby Union.” In 1870 just as in 1866 in Yokohama the word “rugby” did not exist to refer to the sport and each new club had to create its own rules or adopt those of another club.
Founding of Southend FC and Founder’s Connection with the Far East
Southend Foot Ball Club was founded by Charles Barstow Theobald (1843–1905), an Essex-born officer in the Royal Navy whom the Navy List directories show served first on HMS Wasp as a Lieutenant before being raised from May 1868 to the rank of Commander in command of HMS Gnat, a 464-ton double-screw composite gun-vessel with four guns operating in the China Station. Unfortunately for Theobald but happily for the young men of Southend interested in playing football in 1870 (and us in the YC&AC today), in November 1868 HMS Gnat sank off Balabac Island in the Philippines and Theobald faced a court martial. He escaped with just an admonishment and while awaiting his next posting at sea he was assigned to the Coast Guard from April 1870 until 1873 when he was appointed Commander of HMS Kestrel, a ship similar to but larger than HMS Gnat, and was dispatched again to the China Station.
During the time he was in the Coast Guard in England, it is thought that he was stationed and probably lived at the Shoebury Garrison, which was just outside Southend, and he took an interest in the young lads playing football on a piece of land called the Milton Hall Ground opposite the “Cricketers” pub in what is now Southend Park. He himself was still under 30 years of age and the photo of him states that he was the founder and became the first captain of the Southend Foot Ball Club in late 1870.
To found the club he used a copy of the Bye-Laws and Football Rules of the Yokohama Foot Ball Club (YFBC) he had received from Lord Walter Talbot Kerr (1839–1927) whom he befriended while both served in the China Station. Lord Kerr was involved in the founding of the YFBC and was one of the five elected to the committee to form the rules for playing the sport.
Trying to Understand the 1866 YBFC Rules
It is hard to fully understand how the game was played from the rules provided by Kerr, but games ‘must’ start with a place-kick from 30 yards in front of the goal, and they involved touch-downs behind the ‘goal’ (which means the goal-line) of the opposition followed by tries at goal using only place-kicks and ‘it shall only be a goal when the ball is kicked clean over the cross- bar without touching anybody or anything.” If a player touches down behind his own goal, ‘the ball must be dropped out by a player on that side from a place fifteen yards directly in front of the goal’ and the opposition ‘may begin to charge as soon as the player begins to run to kick out.’ Regarding “off-side” and “on-side,” ‘when a “back player”, after kicking the ball, follows up his kick, all the players he passes are on side.’
So far it doesn’t seem so different from the game of rugby played today, and, according to Southend’s 100th anniversary booklet, some of the rules were based on the Rugby School rules of 1846 and Rule 3 is almost word for word from Rugby’s revised “off-side” rule of 1847. In total 21 rules are listed but it is possible there were actually more and that some have gone missing because some aspects of the game seem to get little or no coverage. Rugby School’s laws of football promulgated in 1845 and revised in 1847 number 37, while the first rules created by the RFU in 1871 number 45. Having said that, the rules of Blackheath FC, an open club like the YFBC, created in 1862, only number 16.
There is no reference to handling the ball except Rule 11 which states that ‘when a “back player” catches the ball “full” he shall be allowed five yards before the opposite side move to charge him.’ In fact, the shortest rule states, ‘No carrying the ball’ and another says that ‘Any player obtaining the ball in a squash, must put it down at once.’ A ‘squash’ is a maul or scrimmage and is a term also used in Rule 4 which says, ‘A player entering a “Squash” on the wrong side is off-side’ and in Rule 10 which states that ‘When a player has charged, he may not charge again till he has got back into or behind the squash.’ It would appear that a squash was the main way to advance on the opposition’s goal line and also to defend one’s line.
There is also no mention of “running in” or a “fair catch” which are among the distinctive features of the Rugby School game, and there is nothing about dribbling the ball or tackling although “charging” gets a lot of mentions. Apart from stating that the restart after a player touches down behind his own line is by a drop-kick, there is no other reference to drop- kicks which seems a little strange – many players and spectators in Yokohama in the 1870s complained that there were too many drop kicks. Meanwhile, the early rules devised for Rugby School’s football that caused the most controversy were those relating to hacking – basically permitting the kicking of an opponent in certain situations. Rule 18 of the YFBC’s rules states that ‘No hacking is allowed.’
Southend FC Past and Present
The first game recorded in a local newspaper was played in 1878 but in the period up until WWI the club’s opponents sometimes included leading clubs such as Blackheath, Wasps, Saracens and Harlequins – they lost 26-6 to the last team in their first visit to Twickenham in 1913. Between the wars attendance at some of their matches exceeded 1,000. After WWII the club achieved a degree of success on the pitch and fame for its hospitality and its annual dinner and Easter festival. Fifteen presidents of the home unions and two New Zealand presidents and many international players have attended their dinners. One big rugby highlight was the 1961 Oxford Sevens when Southend beat Harlequins, Loughborough College and Leicester before losing to Wasps in a final watched by over 10,000.
The club began one of its finest periods in 1979 after moving to its present ground and facilities. Southend won the Eastern Counties Cup three times and were Essex champions four times in the decade before the introduction of the present system of club rugby in 1987. They also performed well in the John Player Cup knockout competition, playing against top teams such as Blackheath, Nottingham and Gloucester, some of which had international players on their rosters.
The club started out in the new regime in the national league – Area 4 South but following several relegations the club was demoted down to London North East 3 by 2000. However, a major revival saw the club climb back into the national leagues in 2003. In 2014 the club changed its name to the Southend Saxons and is currently playing in the London North 1 league following its relegation from the London & South East Premier league in 2017 – this is the sixth tier of English rugby. The Southend Saxons has seven senior sides and several junior sides.
Some Southend Saxon players are planning to attend the rugby world cup later this year and will hopefully visit the YC&AC. In 2020 Southend will celebrate their 150th anniversary!
As for Charles Theobald, after he returned to sea in 1873, he became a Captain in 1878 and then a Rear Admiral in January 1993 before retiring to Woodbridge in Suffolk in August 1893 where he died in 1905. While on the retired list he was promoted to Admiral in 1904, which explains why he is remembered at “the Admiral.” Both Southend Saxons and the YC&AC owe him big time!
During RWC2019 we had the first face-to-face encounter between the YC&AC and Southend when three members of Southend RFC attended a party arranged by the YC&AC.
One of the interesting things YC&AC was that the Southend RFC had for many years believed that it had introduced rugby to Japan and that Captain Barstow had maybe been directly involved in the founding of the YFBC on January 26 1866. That led me to check how many and which ships of the Royal Navy were in Yokohama on January 26 – they were only three: HMS Princess Royal on which Lord Kerr was serving, HMS Pelorus and HMS Bustard. None of those ships has any direct connection with Barstow.