This piece is not a flimsy excuse to publish footage of ‘the ram’ from the Eton Field Game. It is a chin-stroking musing on the fundamental meaningless of sporting terminology. The fact that it happens to feature footage of ‘the ram’ from the Eton Field Game is just a bonus.
It’s the Rugby Union World Cup final on Saturday. Rugby has a lot of ridiculous terminology and so, if we’re honest, does cricket. Most sports do. All of them really.
Odds are you’re kind of numb to it by this point in your life. You’re probably still dimly aware that ‘googly’ sounds silly to anyone who doesn’t regularly watch cricket, but over time you lose sight of the fact that pretty much anything anyone ever says when describing cricket is, in a wider sense, a great big fat heap of gibberish. (For an outsider, little can match the blithe tone of a commentator when describing the field set for a particular batsman and in particular that inevitable incomprehensible climax: “mid-on, mid-off.”
Bert wrote to us a few weeks back to draw our attention to the rules and terminology of the Eton Field Game, a preposterous version of football that is still played at Eton College.
We say ‘preposterous’ but it only really seems quite so ridiculous because it never caught on. Cricket, rugby union, rugby league, football, hockey, squash, tennis, and badminton were all codified in England during the nineteenth century, but the Eton Field Game missed out.
Bert said: “Serious people have serious discussions about scrums, blind sides, wickets and tickling one to leg. If things had been only very slightly different, we would be telling people in business meetings that their proposal is very rougeable, or that they need to take their idea and ram it (although that second one does strike a distant chord).”
In case you’re wondering about ‘rougeable’…
If the ball comes from a defender and goes behind the infinite line created by extending their goal line, it is rougeable. The ball is also rougeable when a defender kicks it so that it rebounds off an attacker over the goal line, in such a case where, in the opinion of the referee, the attacker makes no deliberate attempt to play the ball over the line. A “contact” rougeable may also be created by an attacker if he plays the ball over the infinite line from close range while in contact (other than via the arm below the elbow) with a defender.
When a ball is rougeable players from both teams race to reach it first.
If an attacker reaches it first their team scores a ‘rouge’, worth five points and also attempts a conversion.
If a defender reaches it first the attacking team has a choice of ‘point or bully’: they can choose either to be awarded a single point or to form a bully (like a scrum), close to the opponent’s end of the pitch. If they drive the ball over the end of the pitch they score a ‘bully rouge’ (5 points) and as before can convert it.
The whole rules section of the Eton Field Game page on Wikipedia makes for an entertaining read, but if you’re pressed for time, the other main highlight is the section about conversions and specifically, ‘the ram’.
The conversion in its current form was introduced by rule changes in 2002. It replaced the “ram”, in which a column of four players from the attacking side lifted their feet to the sound of “left up right up left up right up, one two three…”, then, to the shout of “ram”, charged a defensive goalpost scrum from a range of 2.5 yards with the aim of forcing the ball over the line between the posts.
It sounds pretty funny and the great news is that not only is there British Pathé footage of the ram on YouTube, it is also every bit as funny as the description above suggests.