Public School Magazine, October 1900

EVER since the epoch-making leadership of W. D. Gibbon (Christmas, ’96, to Easter, ’98) it has been a point of honour with each successive captain of football at Dulwich to put more teams into the field than did his predecessor.

Before 1896 there were never more than two fifteens doing battle for the School at one and the same time. The Third XV. had its distinctive cap, but played few matches. The cap was, in fact, rather a sign of dignity to come, than dignity already attained. It marked the promising player. If, for instance, a colourless individual played for the School in some big match, he usually received his third-cap after the game. Then, in the fulness of time, if he continued to do well, he would be given his second-fifteen cap, and in the end, provided that his eye was not dimmed nor his natural vigour abated, the honour-cap of the First.

Gibbon, however, not only made the Third XV. a real working team, with its own special page on the fixture card, but added a Fourth XV.

This answered so well, and produced so much keenness in the School football, that in the following year there were no less than seven teams playing at the same time. A. L. Inglis, the successor of Gibbon, added an eighth team, and it is rumoured that this season will see yet a ninth.

These teams are not, of course, to be seen gathered together every half-holiday. November 10 is always the day set apart for the orgie; on which day a correspondingly large consignment of Old Alleynians come down. The day corresponds to Founder’s Day in the Summer term, when four elevens play the Old Boys. After the matches are over there is a supper in the great hall. The authorities probably look forward to the time when the 600 boys in the school shall be divided into forty teams, and shall on November 10 play 600 selected Old Alleynians. It will be an imposing sight.

With so many teams there is little fear of merit being overlooked. Nor does the arrangement of the half-holiday games leave much room for improvement. If the first fifteen and second fifteen are not playing card-matches, a scratch game is got up between the school and a mixed fifteen of O.A.’s masters, and Second XV. This generally accounts for half the second—the rest play in Game I. on the First XV. ground. Game II. play on the Second XV. ground, and so on. There are eight games in the senior school, and an equal number in the junior. When the games are finished, which is usually at about 3.15, the scratch match commences.

The games system at Dulwich is a very thorough one. On the first morning of each term, every form-master makes out a list of those in his form who intend to play. Unless his parents are conscientious objectors to the noble game, nothing exempts a boy except physical inability, attested and backed up by a doctor’s certificate.

These lists are handed in to the captain of football, who on the same day chooses his game-captains and summons a meeting. Meetings are held after the games in Mr. W. R. M. Leake’s room, and the game captains discuss school politics and mixed biscuits with equal relish and intelligence. The first meeting of the term is always a long one, lasting two or three hours. The lists have to be gone though thoroughly, and each boy placed in his proper game, a task which is made more difficult by the fact that fifty per cent. are mere names to those present. “Who’s de Jones?” asks the captain. No reply. “Probably some fearful weed,” says the captain luminously at last, “stick him in Game 8.” Whereas de Jones is perhaps some six-footer, who aspires to colours. Still, it is wonderful how few really bad mistakes are made. However, all errors can easily be remedied after the first game.

The game captains are always members of last year’s First XV., or the most prominent of last year’s Second. Their duty is to put up their lists punctually by nine a.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays. Red ink is always sternly suppressed by the captain. They call over the names on their particular grounds at two o’clock, and start the game at 2.15. In the game itself they referee, emulating the late Father O’Flynn,

“Helping onaisy ones,  
Checking the crazy ones,
Lifting the lazy ones on wid the stick.”

which, being interpreted, means that they keep them moving and see that they put their heads down in the scrum. In the lower games they frequently receive from the players valuable hints on the whole duty of the referee, given verbally and gratis. Absentees have their names writ large, and posted on the notice board next day to the effect that they must bring fines, 6d. cash or notes to the amount. These fines go to the maintenance of the Field Sports. Further meetings of game captains are called throughout the term, once a week as a rule, when merit is promoted to higher spheres, and those who have been weighed and found wanting are “shunted down”—much to the disgust of the game captain who has to receive them.

On days when there are First XV. matches, games go as usual, except that they must be over by 3.5.

The game-captain’s lot on such occasions is not a happy one. He is forced for an hour to exert himself quite as much as any member of his game, and five minutes afterwards is straining every muscle for the First XV. On days, however, when another school is played he is allowed a holiday. Besides the regular half-holiday games there are occasional inter-form matches, and also the cup matches, both inter-form and inter-house. The forms are divided into three classes, a cup being given to the winners of the first two. The third class have to be content with fame. The Classical Sixth have, by their sustained brilliance during the last decade, won for themselves the unique position of being barred from holding the cup. They are, however, allowed to play, and if a form beats them it gets two marks, or, if it makes a draw of it, one mark. Each form plays each of the others twice, so that the football enthusiast has his time fully occupied.

Perhaps the most sensible rule in connection with the cup matches is that which enacts that, when one side is a clear thirty points ahead, the game ceases. This prevents those massacres, which go so far to crushing all the football out of the beaten team. For the last two years the Sixth have not had their line crossed, scoring their thirty points before half-time in every match except one.

Except for the First XV. matches, the house matches produced the keenest struggles. Play is always very hard. The houses only number four, so that the house cup is, perhaps, somewhat less of a trophy than the form cup.

There is also a side cup, which the Classical win with monotonous regularity. Prefects v. School and Boarders v. School (usually a very one-sided affair at football) also figure on the fixture-card.

Since Gibbon’s time training for football has become much more systematic than of yore. In that golden age only the First XV. had to train, and they not overmuch. But now the age of iron has come upon us. Long lists of names are posted every day on the notice-boards, and the unfortunate owners of the names have to turn out after four. Running and passing, with occasional scrummaging, forms the athletic menu, though this is sometimes varied by a scratch game, or, most refined torture of all, a run of a mile and a half round the college grounds.

Having been beaten by Bedford Grammar School for ten successive years—a reign of terror which ceased in Gibbon’s first year of leadership—such a wholesome terror of that ancient and religious foundation has been instilled into our minds, that strict training is prescribed a week before the match. Which means that the usual running and passing is doubled, and one’s pet comestibles ruthlessly cut off.

Why the same plan is not pursued with regard to Haileybury, who have had a formidable record of victories against us of late years, is rather a problem. Possibly the authorities fear that Young England may follow the precedent of worms and wheels, and turn.





Despite being a straightforward description of football life at the school he’d left a few months earlier, he can’t resist sneaking in a joke or two and quoting a few lines from “Father O’Flynn,” a poem written by Alfred Perceval Graves set to an Irish folk tune. (Graves was the father of poet Robert Graves of “I, Claudius” fame, and his brother Perceval, who as a young solicitor shared P.G.’s lodgings in Walpole Street for a time.)


John Dawson