… faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
King James Bible 1 Corinthians 13:13
As Christmas approaches many of us tend to think of the act of giving and sharing, with children, family and friends. ‘Love’, as the biblical word ‘charity’ is translated nowadays, is universal to all creeds, and peoples.
It was never more so than to the former pupil of Rugby School who spent the last six months of his life trying to recover from Tuberculosis in the dry Mediterranean air. The Reverend William Webb Ellis, [who is credited with the invention of rugby] had become an Anglican clergyman, never married and died in the south of France in 1872, leaving an estate of £9,000 (around £712,000 today) mostly to various charities.
This ‘giving spirit’ has been established in the DNA of English speaking nations from at least the 17th century, through the Victorian age to the present day. The United Kingdom itself still features among the top ten of charitable giving nations.
Rugby players and supporters have played an extraordinary part in this giving culture, cumulatively something in excess of £40 million, helping well over half a million children and many other besides.
Behind-the-scenes, without fanfare, this is a sample of what the rugby community does -week in week out.
1926: Middlesex Sevens (Charity Sevens)
This is the oldest Sevens competition in England, the prize for the winners is the Russell-Cargill Memorial Trophy, named in recognition of a Scottish hospital doctor and member of the Middlesex RFU Committee. He was inspired by the Sevens competition played in his native Melrose [Scotland] and in 1925 suggested the establishment of a similar event for Middlesex clubs.
As the Middlesex RFU subsequently agreed, all gate receipts would go to charity. The first competition in 1926 raised £1,621.
Over the following 75 years the tournament has become the rugby world’s most famous charity event, which collectively raised over £10 million.
Traditionally an invitation tournament, the event was held at Twickenham every year at the end of the rugby union season in May, until 2001 when it moved to August.
Up to 1992 guest sides were drawn from home unions or from English clubs celebrating centenaries. But after a hurricane in Western Samoa that year, an invitation was extended to the Pacific side and £50,000 was raised to help with the restoration of their damaged pitches and club-houses. Since that time teams from South Africa, Kenya, Italy, South America and New Zealand have taken part.
In the last decade alone over £3m has been raised in support of the Wavell Wakefield Rugby Union Youth Trust and the Middlesex County Rugby Football.
1983: Wooden Spoon
Since its foundation the Wooden Spoon- a children’s charity, has been dedicated to helping young people who are disadvantaged physically, mentally or socially by using sport as a method of improving lives while harnessing the spirit and values of rugby.
They have raised millions for thousands of disadvantaged children and young people throughout the country.
In 1983, a group of English rugby fans were drowning their sorrows in a Dublin bar after England’s disastrous performance in the [then] Five Nations Championship. The victorious Irish fans presented the group of miserable friends with a wooden spoon in sympathy, and after a Guinness (or four), they came up with the idea of holding a charity golf match to see who deserved the honour of keeping the spoon.
The plan was scribbled onto a napkin, and put into action a few months later at Farnham Golf Club in Surrey. Over £8,500 was raised and donated to a local special needs school, Park School, in the form of a new minibus. Out of a devastating rugby loss, and a tongue-in-cheek consolation prize, the Wooden Spoon charity was born!
Today, the Wooden Spoon encompasses more than 10,000 members across the UK and Ireland with many regional volunteer committees, who organise fundraising events and challenges. So far WS has helped over 500,000 children and donated over £15 million to a variety of causes.
How rugby enthusiast and family man, Frenchman Baron de Coubertin [1863-1937] with his disabled children would have applauded this charity.
2004: Serge Betsen Academy
The ledgendary French International Flanker, Serge Betsen with a rugby career spanning twenty years, winning 63 caps for France [and the Bain of Jonny Wilkinson] created this charity Academy in 2004. The aim was simple: to help underprivileged children in Cameroon, West Africa, his native country. On top of introducing children to Rugby, it uses the sport to teach values and standards –as well as supporting their education and access to basic healthcare.
Reflecting on his rugby life he once declared ‘My whole life in rugby has been a gift…..’
More recently, in 2013, he created another charity, the French Legends, which reunites former rugby internationals and professionals to participate in charity matches. He captained the French XV in the inaugural match, British & Irish v French Legends game at the Stoop Memorial ground near Twickenham.
2004: Boxing Day Tsunami swept through Asia
When the Tsunami swept through Asia on Boxing Day 2004, many Sri Lankan Rugby players and their families were amongst its victims. It was not the damage to Asian rugby that prompted top players to respond, but the sheer scale of the disaster. Rugby players wanted to help.
In March 2005 a charity match between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, was organised, as England legend Lawrence Dallaglio said at the time ‘…this match gives rugby and us players a unique opportunity…to raise a lot of money for an incredibly worthwhile cause.’
Eleven tries were scored as the South beat the North 54-19, in front of a capacity Twickenham crowd including Princes William and Harry.
The money raised was staggering. The International Rugby Board (IRB) was able to hand over 3,349,943 $US Dollars to the World Food Programme, the largest single donation ever received from an individual sporting event.
2009: Dallaglio Foundation
In Lawrence’s Testimonial year, the English International set himself the challenge of raising half a million pounds for charity, and with lots of help and support the total ended up being well over a million pounds. This lead to other requests, and set Lawrence on the path to the Dallaglio Foundation in 2009.
When the inaugural event 8Rocks, [now an established and exclusive fundraising event in London’s social calendar], raised over £600,000, Dallaglio and the Foundation knew that this was the beginning of something big. Nearly five years on the Foundation has expanded significantly and has raised close to £10 million in total.
The programme gives self-belief, opportunities and support to young people from all backgrounds. It includes in-school activity, Scholarships and is linked to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award partnership. Designed to leave young people more employable, socially responsible allowing them to make positive decisions –making the most of their lives. The first stage of the programme is focusing on the sport rugby, using it as a tool for youth development based on the strong values of the game.
2008-11: Help for Heroes
International Rugby players came together in 2008 for the first ‘Help for Heroes’ match at Twickenham. This is the charity which provides practical support for our wounded service men and women.
Players included former England Internationals Will Greenwood, Jason Robinson and Team Manager Martin Johnson, managing to defeat the International XV led by former Wales captain Scott Gibbs. Dallaglio ended the match by kicking the final conversion, bringing the score to 29 – 10. Watched by some 52,000 spectators the event raised £1.4 million for the charity.
Then again in 2011, some of rugby union’s greatest legends appeared for a second charity match – this time in front of a 30,000 strong crowd at Twickenham. The event was billed as Northern Hemisphere XV vs Southern Hemisphere XV, with the Southern Hemisphere side taking the honours, 36-22. Altogether, these matches raised over £2 million for charity.
All over the amateur rugby world, over 18,000 clubs worldwide with 4.5 million players not to mention many thousands more enthusiasts and supporters, give their time and effort freely to the sport and its ethos. Why? For the love of the game.
‘…but the greatest of these is charity’.
William Web Ellis, Wikipedia commons, ‘Wooden Spoon’ logo, ‘Serge Betsen Academy’ logo, ‘Help for Heroes’ logo,