No blue plaque for the “division figure” who helped divide rugby

A satirical sketch by Reverend Francis Marshall titled ‘The Rugby Rumpus’. More than a century after his death, he was refused a commemorative blue plaque at the Huddersfield School where he was principal.

The Old Almondburians Society, made up of former staff and students of King James’s School in Almondbury, filed an application last year to commemorate Reverend Francis Marshall, who was then principal of the Almondbury Grammar School from 1878 to 1896.

He requested permission from a listed building to place a 400mm plaque above the entrance to the old school on the Grade II listed campus.

However, his proposal was turned down by planners at Kirklees Council after vehement objections.

The Rev. Marshall was a controversial figure who fought to keep rugby an amateur sport, which was a major cause of the split that resulted in the formation of the professional game at the George Hotel in Huddersfield in 1895.

Critics, including sports scholar Professor Tony Collins, have said that in the 1880s men like Marshall felt threatened by the domination of working-class players.

They aimed to make rugby a fully amateur sport. This meant that players who took time off work to participate in matches could not be compensated for lost wages.

In addition, the Rugby Football Union has decreed that anyone who accepts payments to play the game will be suspended or banned.

Elected president of the Yorkshire Rugby Union in 1890, Marshall was at the forefront of what has been described as “a witch hunt” by helping to carry out numerous trials of clubs and players suspected of payments.

Professor Collins wrote: “The chaos caused by Marshall’s campaign against payments fueled the demand for players to receive time-out payments to compensate them for lost wages.

“But Marshall refused to compromise. In 1893 he helped suspend his own club, Huddersfield, for breaking amateur regulations.

“He even supported the suggestion that players who tell other players for receiving money should receive a £ 20 reward, confirming the suspicion that it was not the money that was the problem for the RFU. but who received it.

“He fully supported the RFU during the 1895 split as well as its subsequent blacklisting of all those linked to the Northern Union.

“In 1896 he left Almondbury to become rector of Mileham in Norfolk, disappearing from his active participation in rugby. He died in 1906.

Addressing the notion of the blue plaque, Professor Collins wrote: “Why would a man considered a divisive hypocrite in his day be honored in ours?”

There were other objections. One of them said: “The blue plaque is for a man who had nothing but contempt for the popular classes, so how can it be appropriate that a blue plaque be erected on the premises of a comprehensive school? state funded?

Another said that Marshall’s position amounted to pursuing “a vengeful vendetta against the ordinary Huddersfield worker”.

They added: “For a city that prides itself on being the birthplace of the Northern Union, which would later become the rugby league, celebrating in any way the archenemy of this achievement seems a very thing to do. strange to do. “

In denying the listed building permit for the blue plate, the council noted that Marshall “remains capable of arousing strong feelings today.”

A planning official said: “Marshall was an influential official in a rugby federation, but he did not seek to solve the problem of professionalism through positive actions such as finding compromise, common ground and reconciliation.

“Instead, he took actions that caused hardship for others and separated them.

“Whether his actions were motivated by prejudice against workers or by his adherence to the purity of amateurism in rugby is debatable, but his words and actions would be irrelevant in contemporary society without a contextual explanation.”


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