How did rugby get its name?

The origin of rugby football comes from a myth about William Webb Ellis, who during a ball game at Rugby School, supposedly picked up the ball and ran with it to invent the game.

However, the story is not accurate as they were not playing soccer (football). Football had not been “invented” at that time in the 1820s. Association Football codified its rules in 1863, rugby’s rules were codified in 1845. The  schoolboys were actually playing a game of throw and catch. William Webb Ellis’s innovation was not to use his hands to catch the ball, but to run with it, even this is disputed.

Rugby, the town where the school is located, got its name from the Anglo-Saxon Hrōca burh (or later Norman French, Rocheberie) which meant Rook Fort. A rook is a bird closely related to the crow. Later the burh part, for fort, was changed to -by, meaning village, to become Rugby. And that is how the game got its name.

The school was founded for boys in 1567 by Laurence Sheriff, a local resident who endowed it with land and his own house. The school flourished under the headship of Thomas Arnold between 1828 and 1842.

Rugby was not of great importance until the railways of the 19th century. It became a railway junction which attracted industry. The railway also enabled the schoolboy teams to travel to other schools. This necessitated the standard codes that created different forms of “football”.