Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Emily Valenine First Female Rugby Player 1887

So you have probably noticed that this blog is usually dedicated to women doing individual sports. It's not that I have anything against teams, just that some boundaries are needed or I'd never leave the computer. But with the Women's Rugby World Cup kicking off (cough) on August 20th over in London, it's time to squeeze in a few off-topic posts.

Emily Valentine, from IRB site
To begin at the beginning, Irish woman Emily Valentine was the first woman recorded playing rugby. Scrum Queens blog tracked down papers from her family which show that she played in 1887 with her school team in Enniskillen when she was ten. In a sign of the times, she makes reference to the cumbersome clothing she had to wear saying: "I loved rugby football, but seldom got a chance to do more that kick a place-kick or drop goal, but I could run in spite of petticoats and thick undergarments, I could run." And in this extract, we can see the first time Valentine got to play:

"One day I got a chance. It was just a school scratch match and they were one "man" short. I was about ten years old. I plagued them to let me play, "Oh, all right. Come on then." Off went my overcoat and hat - I always wore boys' boots anyhow, so that was all right.

I knew the rules. At last my chance came. I got the ball - I can still feel the damp leather and the smell of it, and see the tag of lacing at the opening. I grasped it and ran dodging and darting, but I was so keen to score that try that I did not pass it, perhaps when I should; I still raced on, I could see the boy coming toward me; I dodged, yes I could and breathless, with my heart pumping, my knees shaking, I ran. Yes, I had done it; one last spurt and I touched down, right on the line. I lay flat on my face for a for a moment everything went black. I scrambled up, gave a hasty rubdown to my knees.

A ragged cheer went up from the spectators. I grinned at my brothers. It was all I hoped for. I knew I couldn't kick a goal, but that didn't worry or disappoint me; what I had wanted to do I had; the desperate run, the successful dodging, and the touchdown.

On the way home, muddy and hot. "You didn't do badly, Em, but you should have..." and so on. Later on at tea my brothers grinned at me, passed me the jam politely, and kicked me under the table. My mother remarked that she hoped I hadn't felt cold watching the game. "I'm glad you won the match boys, " she said . My brother raised his cup, looked at me, and drank then winked. "Good luck, wasn't it mum?"

This is the earliest record; I'm sure there were other women playing at the time or even before. The past can be a frustrating place but it's great to see information appearing from the shadows. Do you know of any other historical firsts for women in sport?

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