I never understood why there were two types of rugby: League and Union.

There aren’t two types of football, or cricket, or basketball, or any other sport.

Why does this particular game need two different kinds?

It turns out the reason, like most English problems, stems from class differences.

It wasn’t an argument about the rules, it was an argument about money, and whether people should get paid.

Rich people, mainly living down south, didn’t want to spoil the game by making it professional.

They wanted to keep it amateur, so only ‘genuine sportsmen’ would participate.

Men who did it for fun, not turning it into a job for men who did it for a living.

Professionals who, because it was all they did, would be better at it, so there would be no room for amateurs.

But up north, they didn’t see it like that.

They were mainly working-class, they couldn’t afford to be amateurs.

They were men who had to work for a living, down the pits or in the mills, and if they took time off work, to train or play, they’d lose their wages.

That meant their families would go without.

So northern rugby clubs thought a man should get paid for any time he took off work in order to play rugby.

They didn’t think it should just be for rich people who didn’t need to work.

So the north and the south had two distinct views on paying players.

The strange thing is, both sides wanted to keep the game open to ordinary people.

In the south that meant keeping professionals out.

In the north it meant allowing people to get paid.

The interesting thing is that both sets of people wanted the same thing, but both sets of people started from different perspectives.

In the south they thought that professionals would exclude ordinary people who wanted to play for fun.

In the north they thought that banning payment would mean ordinary working men who needed the money would be denied a chance to play.

Why should rugby just be a game for rich people who could afford to take time off?

Most of the rugby clubs were in the north, but most of the people on the RFU board were from the south.

And all the meetings were held in London.

So the south always won the argument about amateurism versus professionalism.

Obviously this wasn’t fair and it couldn’t go on.

And so, in 1895, rugby split into two.

The original game, run for and by southerners, stayed amateur and was called Rugby Union.

The breakaway game, run by and for northerners, was called Rugby League.

Over time, they developed separate rules.

Rugby Union, being older and more traditional, stuck to the time-honoured rules.

Rugby League, being newer, changed the game to be faster and more exciting.

Of course, what the advocates of amateurism feared eventually happened anyway.

After 100 years, Rugby Union was forced to become fully professional.

Too many players were being lured away to Rugby League by the money.

However much you love what you’re doing, it’s better to get paid to do it.

That’s just a fact that separates the working class from the middle class.


That could be one of Bill Berbach’s “Simple, timeless, human truths”.