Victors and victims of the revolution

BOOK OF THE WEEK; Mud, Blood and Money: English Rugby Union Goes Professional By Ian Malin (Mainstream Publishing, pounds 15.99)
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The Independent Online
Any writer wishing to draw a meaningful comparison between the contributions made to rugby by the Reverend Francis John Ed and Cecil Duckworth has clearly given the subject considerable thought. In Mud, Blood and Money, Ian Malin treats us to a perceptive look at the revolution the game has undergone since it embraced professionalism. Along the way, Malin makes the connections by which these two gentlemen have made an impact on English rugby as well as bringing us up to date with what has been happening at Worcester, 126 years after the Rev Ed founded the club.

Duckworth, a Worcester supporter of 40 years standing, became a multi- millionaire when he sold his heating business, and pumped pounds 1.3m of his fortune into the club, which was matched by a similar amount from the National Lottery. There was a time when men like Duckworth who wanted to spend some time away from the wife would buy an expensive train set. Nowadays, they can pick up the telephone and buy a ready-made rugby club.

Chris Wright, who already had Queen's Park Rangers Football Club in his portfolio, acquired Wasps, who now play their home games at QPR's Loftus Road. Ashley Levett took over at moribund Richmond and Nigel Wray has done similarly at Saracens, while Sir John Hall lured Rob Andrew to mastermind a transformation at Newcastle. When the boxing promoter Frank Warren arrived at Bedford he discovered not a sleeping giant but a club in a coma. For the moment it matters not whether any of these entrepreneurs will see a return on their investments; it is sufficient that they can indulge themselves by playing Fantasy Rugby. To gaze down from the finest seats in the house at the team you have bought, like a mohair-coated Caesar, must be the next best thing to scoring the winning try at Twickenham.

Malin questions the motives and analyses the vanities of those in the vanguard of all the big spending and wonders where the loss of the old amateur ethos will lead us. The wind of change has turned to an icy blast at our leading universities, for example. Jon Ufton and Peter Scrivener were to have joined Cambridge, but they signed contracts with Wasps instead. The Varsity Match continues to occupy a special place for those who remember rugby as a sociable game, but most, if not all, of the best young players will be snapped up by the leading clubs rather than go to university.

Malin has taken a sympathetic look at several of the other losers. He travelled to Cornwall, where they still bemoan the loss of the County Championship which did so much for their sense of identity; to Orrell who dropped into the Second Division rather than jump on the money-go- round; and to Llanelli, where the Welsh Rugby Football Union had to bale out the club.

Nothing of note appears to have escaped Malin's scrutiny: the role of the agent, referees, schools, a regulated transfer system, television, the Pizza Hut advert and much more besides, have all been put under the microscope in this absorbing book. Mud, Blood and Money is a worthy addition to rugby's growing bibliography. I, for one, will be disappointed if it does not at least make the shortlist for The Whitbread Sports Book Of The Year.

- Paul Stephens