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History of Rugby at Cheltenham College

Near this place, rugby football was first played at Cheltenham College brought here from School House - Rugby - by the brothers ACTON in 1844 Floreant

This inscription is to be seen on the wall of the main school building alongside the playing fields of today. It commemorates the fact that College was one of the very first places at which the formative sport was played. The game was played with it's own 'rules' up until 1876 when the Rugby Football Union Rules were adopted. However, the scoring system used at Cheltenham laid the foundations for the system that is used to this day.

The place of rugby in the hearts and minds of all Cheltonians is written about in the 1894 poem by an Old Cheltonian:

They talk of the glories of cricket,
June weather, blue skies and the rest,
But give me November in Cheltenham,
And the game that we all love the best.

There's the bat and the pads in their season,
The river for those that row,
But footer's the game above all games
In the field where the poplars grow.

In the early days of the game at College only internal matches were played between the two academic parts of the school, Classical v Modern. It is generally accepted to have involved the longest unbroken series of any match in Rugby Football. Early matches were all played 'internally' with a number of different teams taking part. One match consisted of teams called the Fireflies and the Grasshoppers, which led to the formation the famous Preston Grasshoppers side by an Old Cheltonian.

In the 1870s, matches were then played against clubs, as the Headmasters of the time believed that boys would fight if they played against other schools! In 1885 the College managed a draw against an Oxford University side which included two Scottish internationals, following the adoption of the use of four three-quarters, "to improve the scope for skill and brains and prevent football being a paradise for ponderous louts". The first fixture against a school appears to have been in 1892 against Wellington College, and a regular fixture against Rugby School was started in 1896 and this fixture is maintained to this day. Other early school fixtures were played against Clifton College, Sherborne and Marlborough and these also continue to this day.

In the period up to the end of World War II forty Cheltonians had been international players, twenty-two of whom had represented their countries in the first twenty years of international football before 1890. Unsurprisingly, there were also a myriad of Oxford and Cambridge Blues. Since the war College has continued to produce a number of schoolboy and full internationals with Simon Danielli and Nick Abendanon plying their trade in the professional game and the most recent Old Cheltonians to gain full international honours.