Christchurch Club mounts impressive case

Getty Images     11 May 2013     Getty Images

Club members have long believed that they were entitled to claim they hosted the first 'football' match staged in New Zealand, although that status has been conferred on Nelson's Football Club which was regarded as having played the first game of rugby under its laws as constituted in 1871.

This status was applied, apparently on the whim of historian Arthur C. Swan, one of the founding editors of the New Zealand Rugby Almanack. Swan made his stand on newspaper coverage of a game played in Nelson between a Nelson College team and a Town side.

Christchurch Club historian Tony Murdoch, who compiled the club's 150th book 'The Old Club', mounts a convincing case to claim that Christchurch was deserving of more consideration, especially when dissembling Swan's argument which used specific phrases in the match report of the Nelson game to clarify that it was rugby that was being played.

Murdoch produces several examples of the words being used in descriptions of Christchurch games well before 1870. Swan claimed that much of the 'football' played in New Zealand before 1870 was a variation of Australian Rules which had been introduced as a result of the gold rush in Otago from 1861.

However, as noted author Desmond Morris showed in his book 'The Soccer Tribe', all of the ball sports like rugby, soccer, American and Canadian football, Australian Rules and rugby league were derivatives of the form of 'football' played in various ways by the public schools of England, including Rugby. They only adopted their singular characteristics when formulating their own laws from the 1860s onward.

All of which, especially when accompanied by the newspaper descriptions in Murdoch's analysis, makes Swan's claim spurious. And as sport becomes more acceptable as a subject worth studying at university level the chances for more complete analysis of these types of claims is likely.

The analysis of the right to claim the historic advantage by Murdoch is probably the most contentious aspect of his book which in itself is an outstanding celebration of the club's contribution to both Christchurch and to the New Zealand game itself. Not many clubs could claim to have given five New Zealand captains to the game, but Christchurch can in the shape of William Millton, Jack Manchester, Bob Duff, Jock Hobbs and Richie McCaw.

Their feats, their contribution to the club, and those of many others, help to bring the proud history of the club alive, with plenty of interviews getting key facts across from the mouths of the participants.

Many memories will be aroused while dipping into the 300-page large format book and its chronicling of the first 150 years will ensure that future historians have plenty to work with when it comes time to update.