Originally Posted by Mauro
I don't think so, Roma. Nice try.
Nice try what? You asked what the saying was - I rememebered it the other way around.
Maybe neither is correct?
Other forms of the endless variants include: “Soccer is a gentleman’s game played by thugs. Rugby league is a thug’s game played by thugs. Rugby Union is a thug’s game played by gentlemen.”
Toss in “Gaelic football is a game for hooligans played by hooligans,” “Cricket is a game for gentlemen played by gentlemen” and one for Walter Camp and American football by Henry Blaha (Blaha was apparently Australian?): “Rugby is a beastly game played by gentlemen. Soccer is a gentleman’s game played by beasts. Football is a beastly game played by beasts.”
Seeking to find the original quote that set in train these cross code barbs, and hoping to read it in its original context, I set out on a search.
What did I find? Just who first quipped “football is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, and rugby is a hooligans’ game played by gentlemen”?
Some sources pointed to 19th century Irish playright, Oscar Wilde. I found he had made a quote about rugby, but it wasn’t the one I was looking for. Wilde said: “Rugby is a good occasion for keeping thirty bullies far from the centre of the city.”
English novelist George Orwell is often cited by rugby union writers as comparing a match under the 15-man code as the equivalent of “war minus the shooting.” Orwell’s quote is interesting, but doesn’t specifically refer to rugby at all, nor is it the “hooligans game” line that I was after: “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.”
Another name put forward as the possible source is Rudyard Kipling, English poet and author of a century ago. In the midst of the Boer War, Kipling wrote: “Then ye returned to your trinkets; then ye contented your souls, With the flannelled fools at the wicket, or the muddied oafs at the goals.”
William Percy “Tottie” Carpmael, founder of the Barbarian FC in 1890, was suggested. The connection here was probably based on the Barbarians rugby club having a motto, written by Walter Carey: “Rugby football is a game for gentlemen of all classes, but for no bad sportsman of any class.”
Turning to the “Oxford Dictionary of Quotations,” the Penguin equivalent, and “Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,” all came up empty as to the source of the “gentleman’s game played by hooligans” quote.
A reference on the internet pointed to a book called “The Wonderful World of Rugby” by Jon Clarke as the originator. However, such a book could not be found, nor any evidence of it ever having been published.
The RFU’s “Museum of Rugby” mounted a search of their extensive archive to answer my question, but nothing came to light there either.
The word “hooligan” doesn’t appear to have come into common use until the very late 1890s, suggesting that the quote was born in the 20th century and not earlier.
After trawling through library archives of newspapers, the earliest use of the quote I could find was in 1953. In London’s “The Times” I came across an article called “The Evolution of Football” [The Times, Friday, January 30, 1953; pg. 10] discussing the various forms of football, which goes on to say:
“….a large family – Association, Rugby Union, Rugby League, Gaelic football, American football, and Australian Rules. Each clearly has its merits and may safely be left to its adherents, but one cannot refrain from repeating the story of a certain Chancellor of Cambridge University (confessing complete ignorance of all football), who was asked to sum up a debate on Association and Rugby. “It is clear,” he said, “that one is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans; the other a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.”
It would seem that this appearance of the quote in “The Times” was the source which popularised it around the rugby and soccer playing world.
The Chancellor appears to be having an each-way bet. Being ignorant of all football, all the debate proved to him was that the adherents of each code will always speak from their own biased point of view.
The popular form of the quote widely used today is almost certainly wrong, and the original quote didn’t “pigeon hole” one game or the other when it came to gentlemen and hooligans.
“It is clear that one is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans; the other a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.”
Chancellor of Cambridge University,
date unknown (pre 1953)