Q & A: A new view of Webb Ellis . . . while a statistician writes

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Which is easier to see, a red cricket ball in daylight, or a white one at night?

I don't know if any scientific tests have been conducted into this, but unscientific evidence suggests that there is little difference. There is no evidence that more catches are dropped in night cricket. Scores may be lower - certainly there were few games in last year's World Cup that were as high- scoring, in runs per over, as the subsequent Texaco series between the World Cup finalists. But that may have more to do with the extravagant swing of the white ball than its visibility.

In any case, comparisons between one country and another are notoriously sketchy in cricket. Any researchers who want to get to the bottom of the matter would be better off waiting for this summer, when the Sunday League will be played with a white ball for the first time. - Tony Snow, Petworth.

What happened to William Webb Ellis, who evolved the rugby code back in 1823? Did he go on to play the game?

The question contains a basic flaw by assuming that Webb Ellis invented rugby football. The explanation to that part of his question about the origins of rugby football lies in the answer from Geoffrey Hammerton in the same issue (Q&A, 20 Dec) concerning the origin of derby games, although he again makes the error of assuming that the Ashbourne football game was unique and that Webb Ellis invented rugby football.

The game of football has its origins in annual local contests between villages or parts of villages dating back hundreds of years. All of these involved young men trying to get a ball, a small barrel or similar object across a line or stream and involved scrummages and running with the 'ball' in the hands. The Ashbourne game mentioned by Mr Hammerton is an example, and although that game may have been suppressed, similar games are still played in Medbourne and Atherston, Leicestershire, both of which are reasonably close to Rugby School.

The proximity to Rugby School is important because in the early part of the last century the public schools took these traditional games and codified them. In the last century, when many football clubs sprang up, often associated with churches, they had to agree which set of rules they would follow when they played football matches, the rules of Rugby school being particularly popular.

In 1863 a dispute between Blackheath, now in the RFU, and other clubs over hacking led to the formation of the Football Association and later the RFU in 1871. In 1895 the RFU split into what is now the RFU and the Northern Union, now the Rugby Football League. The Webb Ellis story only surfaced around this time, and interestingly it is only mentioned in rugby union circles. The first two histories of Rugby by Shearman (1885) and the Rev F Marshall (1892) contain no mention of Webb Ellis, and the Oxford Companion to Sport and Games, edited by John Arlott, also casts doubt on the Webb Ellis myth. - Dr J R Langan, Leeds.

Why do English rugby union supporters sing the negro spiritual 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot'?

English rugby union supporters sing a negro spiritual because English rugby, like the country, has no discernible culture of its own. - Ewan Biggs, Bishopston, Bristol.

Most rugby songs are obscene adulterations of popular songs or hymns, sung with gusto after a match in the bath or at the club bar. In the case of 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot', the words have not been altered, but the song is usually performed with some amusing, and some obscene, gestures - The Rev C E L Price, Wolverhampton.

'Sweet Chariot' has been sung in rugby club bars for generations. It is often accompanied by hand actions that may be seen as amusing, but could equally be deemed mocking and mildly racist. The song moved from the bars to the sidelines in the 1980s as black players began to make an impact. It was often sung by a white crowd when black players were playing well - a back- handed compliment in my view. - K S Colwill, Bude, Cornwall.

The modern adoption of this spiritual dates back to 19 March 1988 when England beat Ireland 35-3. Chris Oti scored three tries, and after his third an impromptu chorus of 'Swing Low' started - slightly racist but in the best possible taste. - Stuart Lynch, Stoke.

In the early 1950s, negro spirituals were popular with male-voice choirs in the south Wales valleys. Various choir pieces found their way into the pubs and rugby clubs of south Wales at the time, and I can vouch that 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' was among these. - Bob James, Little Melton, Norwich.

Do the members of the Association of Football Statisticians, an organisation frequently referred to in 'Q&A', actually like football? Or is it just the game's statistics that they are interested in?

Ye Gods . . . does a duck like water?] The majority of our 1,300 members visit grounds every Saturday to see their team in action, although it is a little difficult to afford a return journey from New Zealand to Villa Park - we have members in over 30 countries throughout the world.

As secretary of the Association of Football Statisticians, I was a season- ticket holder at Tottenham Hotspur for over 10 seasons and in all that time never missed a game in this country or overseas. I have also visited every League ground in England and Scotland. Many of our members have done likewise. Our meetings are held all over the country on Thursday evenings - little football takes place that night.

How difficult it would be for our members to compile statistics on their clubs if the passion for the game was missing. Fortunately the Football Associations and Leagues of England and Scotland agree. We have their full support and have received financial help from them. To this end, we have purchased computer equipment that has enabled us to enter the full League results (143,000 from 1888) on to computer and at present are engaged in entering all the FA Cup results (48,000 from 1871).

If any readers would like further details then please forward your name and address to the address below, and we will be pleased to send them along with a copy of our latest 60-page magazine, Like Football? We Love It] - Ray Spiller (Secretary of the Association of Football Statisticians), 22 Bretons, Basildon, Essex SS15 5BY.

Is there a sport invented in England (or Britain) of which we are still world champions?

The adult sport of tiddlywinks was invented at Christ's College, Cambridge in January 1955. The ETWA (English Tiddlywinks Association) was formed shortly after, and there are American and International bodies.

Since 1955 the world championship has been mainly held by Americans, but there have been four British holders. The current world champion is my son, Geoffrey Myers, a 24-year-old Cambridge and Oxford graduate, who beat the American holder in the US earlier this year and successfully defended the title against another American last month. - Alan Myers, Harrow.

What is the origin of 'I Zingari', a name often used for both teams and leagues, especially in football and cricket?

'I Zingari', Italian for 'The Gypsies', is the oldest surviving wandering cricket club. It was founded in 1845 by Sir Spencer Ponsonby-Fane, John Loraine Baldwin, the Earl of Bessborough and R P Long at a supper at the Blenheim Hotel, Bond Street, London.

The club was designed for social and personal association as well as cricket. The cricketing aims were 'to encourage country cricket and amateur bowling; to ensure which no professionals are to play for us'. Qualifications for membership were to be 'not only a good cricketer but a good fellow'. The colours red, black and gold were from Bohemian gypsy handkerchiefs said to symbolise 'an ascent out of darkness, through fire, into light'. - Carole Tomlinson, Bolton.


A soaking wet leather football is said to have been very painful, indeed dangerous, to head. But were injuries ever suffered in this way? - Henry Reid, Luton.

What percentage of football results do the pools panel get right when postponed matches are subsequently played? - Graham Bryan, Halesowen.

In the days when the England cricket team travelled by boat on overseas trips, what practice facilities, if any, did they arrange on board? - Sam Pride, Cardiff.

What is the highest number of footballs lost in a League game through being kicked out of the ground? Which club loses the most footballs in this way? - Chris Monk, Stoke.

Why have ski-jumpers changed from keeping their skis parallel to keeping them splayed apart? - Susan Wrentham, Solihull.

Which football team has scored the highest number of own goals in a season? - R Atkinson, Birmingham B29.

As the 'home' team - technically speaking - will Marlow have used the home dressing-room for their FA Cup tie at Tottenham? What other home team 'advantages', if any, will they have benefited from? - Graham Cooper, Bristol.

In which sport are the players most heavily padded? - Jon Pugh, Aberdeen.

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