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“ This is one of the goals," said East," and you see the other across there, right opposite, under the doctor's wall. Well, the match is for the best of three goals; whichever side kicks two goals wins: and it won't do, you see, just to kick the ball through these posts, it must go over the cross bar; any height 'll do, so long as it's between the posts. You'll have to stay in goal to touch the ball when it rolls behind the posts, because if the other side touch it they have a try at goal. Then we fellows in quarters, we play just about in front of goal here, and have to turn the ball and kick it back before the big fellows on the other side can follow it up. And in front of us all the big fellows play, and that's where the scrummages are mostly.”
Tom's respect increased as he struggled to make out his friend's technicalities, and the other set to work to explain the mysteries of “ off your side,” “ drop kicks,” “punts,” “ places,” and the other intricacies of the great science of football.
“But how do you keep the ball between the goals ?” said he. "I can't see why it might n’t go right down to the chapel.”
“ Why, that's out of play,” answered East. “You see this gravel walk running down all along this side of the playing-ground, and the line of elms opposite on the other? Well, they 're the bounds. As soon as the ball gets past them, it's in touch, and out of play. And then whoever first touches it has to knock it straight out among the players-up, who make two lines with a space between them, every fellow going on his own side. Ain't there just fine scrummages then! and the three trees you see there which come out into the play, that's a tremendous place when the ball hangs there, for you get thrown against the trees, and that's worse than any hack.”
Tom wondered within himself as they strolled back again towards the fives' court, whether the matches were really such break-neck affairs as East represented, and whether, if they were, he should ever get to like them and play-up well.
He had n't long to wonder, however, for next minute East cried out, “ Hurra! here's the punt-about - come along and try your hand at a kick.” The punt-about is the practice ball, which is just brought out and kicked about anyhow from one boy to another before callings-over and dinner, and at other odd times. They joined the boys who had brought it out, all small schoolhouse fellows, friends of East; and Tom had the pleasure of trying his skill, and performed very creditably, after first driving his foot three inches into the ground, and then nearly kicking his leg into the air, in vigorous efforts to accomplish a drop-kick after the manner of East.
Presently more boys and bigger came out, and boys from other houses on their way to calling-over, and more balls were sent for. The crowd thickened as three o'clock approached ; and when the hour struck, one hundred and fifty boys were hard at work. Then the balls were held, the master of the week came down in cap and gown to calling-over, and the whole school of three hundred boys swept into the big school to answer to their names.
“ I may come in, may n't I ?” said Tom, catching East by the arm and longing to feel one of them.
“Yes, come along, nobody 'll say anything. You won't be so eager to get into calling-over after a month,” replied his friend ; and they marched into the big school together, and up to the further end, where that illustrious form, the lower fourth, which had the honor or East's patronage for the time being, stood.
The master mounted into the high desk by the door, and one of the præpostors of the week stood by him on the steps, the other three marching up and down the middle of the school with their canes, calling out “Silence, silence!” The sixth form stood close by the door on the left, some thirty in number, mostly great big grown men, as Tom thought, surveying them from a distance with awe. The fifth form behind them twice their number and not quite so big. These on the left; and on the right the lower fifth, shell, and all the junior forms in order; while up the middle marched the three præpostors.
Then the præpostor who stands by the master calls ont the names, begining with the sixth form, and as he calls, each boy answers “Here” to his name, and walks out. Some of the sixth stop at the door to turn the whole string of boys into the close; it is a great match day, and every boy in the school, willhe, nill-he, must be there. The rest of the sixth go forward into the close, to see that no one escapes by means of the side gates.
To-day, however, being the school-house match, none of the school-house præpostors stay by the door to watch for truants of their side ; there is carte blanche to the school-house fags to go where they like: “ They trust to our honor," as East proudly informs Tom ; “they know very well that no schoolhouse boy would cut the match. If he did, we'd very soon cut him, I can tell you."
The master of the week being short-sighted, and the præ
postors of the week small and not well up to their work, the lower school-boys employ the ten minutes which elapse before their names are called, in pelting one another vigorously with acorns, which fly about in all directions. The small præpostors dash in every now and then, and generally chastise some quiet, timid boy who is equally afraid of acorns and canes, while the principal performers get dexterously out of the way; and so calling-over rolls on somehow, much like the big world, punishments lighting on wrong shoulders, and matters going generally in a queer, cross-grained-way, but the end coming somehow, which is after all the great point. And now the master of the week has finished, and locked up the big school; and the præpostors of the week come out, sweeping the last remnant of the school fags — who had been loafing about the corners by the fives' court in hopes of a chance of bolting - before them into the close.
“ Hold the punt-about!” “ To the goals !” are the cries, and all stray balls are impounded by the authorities; and the whole mass of boys moves up toward the two goals, dividing as they go into three bodies. That little band on the left, consisting of from fifteen to twenty boys, Tom among them, who are making for the goal under the school-house wall, are the schoolhouse 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 color and tastiness of get-up, 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 color: 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, bareheaded 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 rate, and won't make such a bad fight of it either, mark my words; for has n't 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 toward 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 a 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 goalkeepers are all in lumps, anyhow and nohow; 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 playersup manage themselves.
But now look, there is a slight move forward of the schoolhouse wings; a shout of “Are you ready?” and loud affirmative reply. Old Brooke takes half a dozen quick steps, and away goes the ball spinning toward the school goal; seventy yardis before it touches ground, and at no point above twelve or fifteen feet high, a model kick-off ; and the school-house cheer and
rush on; the ball is returned, and they meet it and drive it back among 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 schoolhouse side, and a rush of the school carries it past the schoolhouse players-up. “ Look out in quarters,” Brooke's and twenty other voices ring out; no need to call though, 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 enemy's 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, and 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 must struggle now right through the scrummage, and get round and back again to your own side, before you can