1930: The 'Daily Worker' debates the rugby codes

In September 1930 a short but vigorous debate broke out about the two rugby codes in the pages of the Daily Worker, the recently established daily of the Communist of Great Britain (CPGB). To my knowledge, it is the only time that the ostensibly Marxist left ever discussed the rugby split.

Fascists Who Play Rugby. A Game Where Snobbery Reigns Unchallenged.
    The Rugby code of football has built up for itself a reputation for ‘snobbery’. When we analyse this, however, we find that it truly reflects the type who play the game.
    Strike-breakers, little business-men and middle-class ruffians in general form the nucleus of the players of the game.
    We have already drawn attention to the unsavoury reputation the English touring side in Australia has earned for itself [this refers to the British Isles team that toured Australia and New Zealand in the summer of 1930]. Incidents at banquets, and scathing press articles show the said to be the typical ‘gentlemanly’ one.
    A recent report, following their defeat by New South Wales by 23 points to 3, says that one English player said after the match, ‘I never want to see a football again’.
    No doubt the round of gaiety is beginning to pall, and the lads, limited in intellectual ability as they are, are no doubt extremely unhappy. Fortunately they have nice jobs to return to, unlike many of our worker sportsmen who, on their return from the USSR or the continent, are sacked for taking parts in workers’ sport.
University Loafers
Let us have a look at some of the ornaments of rugby. Irish internationals of last season include E.F. de Verre Hunt, of the Army, and G. Beamish, of the RAF. Most of the 29 men who represented Scotland last year are university loafers, whilst Bassett and Hollingdale, Welsh ‘caps’, are in the police force.    
    Of about 120 [of] last season’s internationals, almost 50 per cent served, and they are very proud of it, as ‘assistants of the Crown’ at the time of the General Strike in 1926.
    In the Services, Rugby is the acknowledged game for the officers, whilst ‘soccer’ is the game for the proletariat - literally, ‘gun-fodder’.
    Next time you see a Rugby game just pick out the ‘blacklegs’ you know. You will get more enjoyment out of it than is usually the case in the game of ‘kick and rush’.

- - Daily Worker, 12 September 1930

Northern Union and Rugby Union. Two Similar Codes With Very Different Followers.
    A letter has been received from Comrade Bob Davies of Warrington concerning Rugby League (Northern Union) football. He says:
    In the article entitled ‘Fascists Who Play Rugby’, I think you should be careful to make a distinction between the Rugby Union code and the Rugby League code. Your remarks in the main do not apply to the latter, where the big majority of the players are manual workers and do not give up their work when they become regular paid players.
    The sum paid to players in the Rugby League varies but on the average I should think is about £2 per match and no summer wages.
    It is true that among the Rugby League players there are some who would act as strike-breakers, for example Sullivan, the Wigan international full-back is credited, or discredited, with having tried to persuade the miners to return to work during the 1926 lockout. On the other hand I know at least three internationals who are quite close to the [Communist] Party; one was on the Wigan Local [CP branch] books for some time.
Not A ‘Swank’ Sport
Of course, all the general criticism made against capitalist sport applies to the Rugby League, but it is certainly not a ‘gentleman’s’ sport. The Rugby Union has no connection with the Rugby League and the Rugby League supporters regard the Rugby Union with a great amount of contempt.
    In conclusion, I think the Daily [Worker] should give a little space weekly to the Rugby League, because in certain areas of Lancashire and Yorkshire Rugby is the most popular game. In St Helens, Widnes, Warrington, Leigh and Wigan there is very little support for soccer, yet all have one or more first-class Rugby League teams.
    [Sports editor: We quite agree that the distinction between the Northern Union and the Rugby Union codes should have been made clearer in the article in question. It will be noticed, however, that only Rugby Union players were mentioned in that article. 
    In our opinion the Northern Union code is far superior as a game to the snobbish, ‘posh’ Rugby of the Rugby Union. As to the players in it, they are, we agree, in the main, workers and cannot be compared with the swagger fascists who play Rugby in London and the South. The game itself is only open to the same degree of criticism as is professional soccer and all other boss-class sport.
    We shall willingly publish news and comments on Northern Union games. Will our St Helens comrades help us to obtain the same?]

- - Daily Worker, 17 September 1930