Q&A: Rugby league's Nazi business . . . and the ping-pong flipper

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The Independent Online
Q. Is it true that the Vichy government banned rugby league in France? If so, why?

A. A decree of 19 December 1941 from the Vichy Secretary of State for National Education and Youth not only banned the Association called the French League of Rugby XIII, but also transferred all its assets to the National Committee of Sports. The net result was the destruction of records and the office at 24 Rue Drouot, Paris, by Axis forces, plus the seizure of playing resources by the Vichy-backed French Federation of Rugby XV.

This, of course, served only to turn rugby league into a catalyst for rebellion amongst the sport-playing villagers of South-west France, who resurrected the game from scratch after the war.

The reasons for the Vichy move will never be totally clear, but the influence of the French Rugby Union among the collaborating officials must be suspected, as the XIII code had spread rapidly since its introduction to France in 1934. Although the treatment of league at the hands of our union-dominated media and government has been bad, the treizistes of France have fared even worse, and have continually had to fight against union attempts to crush them. Similar circumstances have troubled league in Fiji, Canada, the US and now Japan.- Karl Spracklen, Leeds

A. In the late 1930s, rugby league vied with union for popularity in France - and looked like prevailing. The Second World War was an ideal opportunity to do something about this for a sport that was well-known for its right-wing political connections. The French Rugby Union's collaboration with the pro-Nazi Vichy government persuaded them to make rugby league illegal during the war. The French rugby league headquarters was mysteriously burned down and assets were never recovered. Rugby union in that country has prospered and to this day it is illegal for rugby league in France to use the term 'rugby' when referring to itself. - Chris Westwood, Leeds

Q. Recently I read about a cricketer called Jack Iverson who played for Australia in only one series versus England - 1950-51 - and never played for them again. He was referred to as 'a 'mystery' slow bowler'. Did this description refer to his cricketing background or his bowling action?

A. Jack Iverson took 21 wickets in the 1950-51 series at an average of 15.23, clinching the Ashes for Australia in the Sydney Test with second innings figures of 6 for 27. At the time he was 35, and before the series had never even seen a Test played. He appeared suddenly on the Test scene from Melbourne district cricket. The 'mystery' surrounded his grip, which he had learnt through flipping a ping-pong ball in the New Guinea jungle during the war. Essentially it was a two-finger grip between thumb and first finger and the ball was flipped out of the back of his hand. His length was flawless, he spun the ball quickly and he bowled a mixture of off-breaks and top-spinners, with an occasional leg-break, simply by altering the altitude and angle of his arm. Apart from Sir Len Hutton, no English batsman knew how to handle him, but the most baffled was Cyril Washbrook. Iverson's rapid departure from the game was due to a number of factors: lack of physical fitness; relative failure in domestic cricket; and, eventually, business commitments. - Bruce Thompson, Perth

A. His best figures in the 1950-51 series were 6 for 27 in Sydney, but he also registered 4 for 43 in the first Test and 4 for 37 in the second Test. - J P Fitzpatrick, Wigan

A. John Brian Iverson (1915-73) was a spin bowler for Victoria. Lacking confidence when attacked with positive strokeplay, he disappeared from first-class cricket after a few years, never playing in another Test after 1950-51. - Clive W Porter, Journal of the Cricket Society

Q. When is the last time a football player from their respective domestic leagues represented either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland? What is the greatest number of players from either country's club sides to play in an international?

A. Your correspondent (John Harvey, 9 January) is incorrect on both counts. The last League of Ireland player to win a Republic of Ireland cap was Pat Byrne, of Shamrock Rovers, who won his eighth against Czechoslovakia on 27 May 1986. The international team has been composed entirely of League of Ireland players on three occasions, the last being against the Netherlands on 8 December 1935. The 11 players comprised four from Bohemians, two each from Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers and one each from Cork, Dolphin and Brideville. The source for this information is Ireland on the Ball by Donal Cullen (Elo Publications). - Fergal Ryan, Dublin

Q. In 1954, Roger Bannister broke the world mile record with a time of 3min 59.4sec. The race was run at Iffley Road, Oxford, with the well-known athletes Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher assisting Bannister to break the four-minute barrier. Was there, however, a fourth man involved in the race?

A. I was one of the six runners in the race. The event was the AAA meeting against Oxford University and there were four runners for the AAA: Roger Bannister; Chris Chataway; Chris Brasher and a Derbyshire runner called Bill Hulatt. For Oxford, there was George Dole (an American Rhodes scholar from Yale) and myself, in my first year. George Dole had won the mile against Cambridge in March and I was third.

The finishing order was Bannister, Chataway, Hulatt, Gordon, Dole and Brasher. The last, who had paced the first two-and-a-half laps, 'blew up' at that stage and trotted in last. - Alan D Gordon, Geneva


Q. Has any football club ever had such a huge travelling support that they have attracted the largest crowds on every opponent's ground through an entire season? I suspect Manchester United will be deprived of this record this year thanks to Blackburn knocking their main stand down just before United's visit. - A Preston, Sheffield

Q. What percentage of favourites win their races in horse-racing - both flat and National Hunt? - Nick Benardout, Ealing

Q. I can understand why the Premiership fixtures were postponed on 4 September, 9 October and 13 November for England's World Cup qualifying matches, but I cannot understand why there are no games scheduled for the weekend of 5 February. Is anyone able to help? - Ian Cusack, Newcastle

Q. Can anyone explain the need for a referee at the British Ice Skating Championships? - Keith Roberson, Hemel Hempstead

Q. In the draw for the third round of the FA Cup, the teams seemed to be arranged alphabetically - ie Arsenal were No 1, Aston Villa No 2 and so on. Yet for the fourth-round draw, this system was abandoned in favour of apparently random numbering - No 1 was Swindon or Ipswich, Aston Villa had become No 22, and Kidderminster were No 23. Why was the change made? - Phillip Large, Croydon

Q. Would you be good enough to inform me of the achievements of Max Woosman in the earlier part of this century. As I remember it, he was excellent in more than one sport. - J L Browne, Ruislip

If you know the answers to any of these questions, or have a sporting question of your own you would like answered, write to:

Q & A

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