The University of St. Andrews Rugby Football Club was founded in 1858. “In 1858-59 Rugby Football was started by an old Rugby boy” it is said from the reminiscence of James Simpson Scotland who was a matriculated student at the University at that time. However the beginning of something akin to the modern system of organised athletic activity seems to have been associated, in the case of St Andrews, with the opening of St Leonard’s Hall in 1861. This was a residence for male students deliberately designed to win back the Scottish aristocracy and professional classes from the English Universities.
Andrew Lang, who came from Edinburgh Academy as an original member of St Leonard’s Hall is quoted as saying “Rugby football and golf and cricket were much more in our thoughts than the historical associations of the place“, and indeed in November 1863 the hand written St Leonard’s Magazine mentioned that “Our football club has been found for the session or season under circumstances of unexampled prosperity. Our subtle thanks to his energy and zeal in four years of captaincy” although it did not mention any names, it is thought unlikely to have been that same “old Rugby boy” but a certain Charles Stewart (St Leonard’s Magazine of the 1860’s was written entirely by Andrew Lang).
At this time rugby was thought of at the forefront of varsity activity together with golf and cricket, as exemplified in the very same article; “Play hard and keep at it and while you are about it, let your training, your muscular exertion and high spirits lead you to a place in the XV, and being in that enviable position, play to win“. The XV being mentioned here is probably the hall XV as at this stage the University and St Leonards formed two separate clubs.
The form of the game at this point appeared to vary between fifteens and twenties, whilst in the University it was generally played by, “a lot of heavy strongmen, highlanders some of them“. Despite their strength within the University, they had to go far afield to get a team to meet them so that many of their matches were intra-University.
As to the standard of rugby at this time, it is unsure although one former student, Christopher Nicolson Johnston (Lord Sands to be) had few doubts; “It is perhaps not generally known that St Andrews was the nursery of Rugby football in Scotland in the ‘sixties of last century, and when clubs were being formed in the great towns and school teams were being organised the St Andrews University team was second to none. The first batch of famous players just before the days of internationals, were St Andrews men. The Edinburgh Wanderers, which is still going strong, started as the “St Andrews Wanderers”, formed by St Andrews men who had found their way to Edinburgh. Matches and competitions now predominate. Then the game predominated. A match was a special and rare event. A game with sides picked on the spot was the normal form of the sport.” Lord Sands.
It is said that “If ‘carrying’ was initiated at Rugby, ‘passing’, the great feature of the back game, came from St Andrews where it was started by H. L. Dick and A. Thom“. Dick and Thom, however, did not get any recognition as international footballers and so their true qualities could never be assessed.
The Edinburgh Academicals Football Club convened a series of meetings and, in 1868, with the agreement of the other schools and clubs, set out and had printed rules for the game in Scotland. The resulting booklet ‘Laws of Football as played by the Principal Clubs in Scotland’ became known as The Green Book. Alas, no copy survives but it is worthy of note that neither the clubs nor The Green Book felt it necessary to include the word ‘Rugby’ in their title. Indeed, the Scottish Football Union, formed in 1873, did not alter its name to become the Scottish Rugby Union until 1924 – the year prior to the opening of Murrayfield.
Christopher Nicolson Johnson
In 1871 in the first international between Scotland and England at Raeburn Place, three St Andrews students, A. Clunies-Ross, R. Munro and J. S. Thomson are seen to have represented Scotland showing the importance of the club at this time.
In 1872 J. S. Thomson was also part of another historic first rugby encounter when he was selected as part of the representative side of Glasgow, to face a representative side from Edinburgh. This was the inaugural inter-city match between Glasgow and Edinburgh, which today is known as the 1872 Cup and has the distinction of being the oldest inter-city rugby competition in the world.
In 1871, due to heightened interest in Rugby in Scotland, pressure mounted on the playing of an International. Following a meeting on 5th December, representatives of four Scottish Clubs (Edinburgh Academicals, West of Scotland, Glasgow Academicals, and University of St Andrews), wrote to B.H. Burns, the Secretary of Blackheath.
The letter of challenge issued on behalf of the Senior Scottish Clubs:
There is a pretty general feeling among Scotch football players that the football power of the old country was not properly represented in the late so-called International Football Match. Not that we think the play of the gentlemen who represented Scotland otherwise than very good – for that it was so is amply proved by the stout resistance they offered to their opponents and by the fact that they were beaten by only one goal – but that we consider the Association rules, in accordance with which the late game was played, not such as to bring together the best team Scotland could turn out. Almost all the leading clubs play by the Rugby Code, and have no opportunity of practising the Association game even if willing to do so. We therefore feel that a match played in accordance with any rules other than those in general use in Scotland, as was the case in the last match, is not one that would meet with support generally from her players. For our satisfaction, therefore, and with a view of really testing what Scotland can do against an English team we, as representing the football interests of Scotland, hereby challenge any team selected from the whole of England, to play us a match, twenty-a-side, Rugby rules, either in Edinburgh or Glasgow on any day during the present season that might be found suitable to the English players. Let this count as the return to the match played in London on 19th November, or, if preferred, let it be a separate match. If it be entered into we can promise England a hearty welcome and a first-rate match. Any communications addressed to any one of us will be attended to.
We are, etc.
A. H. Robertson, West of Scotland FC
F. J. Moncrieff, Edinburgh Academical FC
B. Hall Blyth, Merchistonian FC
J. W. Arthur, Glasgow Academical FC
J. H. Oatts, St Salvador FC, St Andrews
Alfred Clunies Ross