– Autumn/Winter 2003

A Fine Disregard

Rosetta Brooks

Tags: Sharon Lockhart

In approximately 1823 a new team sport was invented at the English public school at Rugby. To honour this event a marker, which still stands on the grounds of the school, is inscribed with the following words: 'This stone commemorates the exploits of William Webb Ellis who, with a fine disregard for the rules of football as played at his time, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it thus originating the distinctive feature of the Rugby game.'1

With a fine disregard for the rules of the game, Ellis wilfully and deliberately championed a different perception in the game of soccer, an act that would eventually lead to an entirely new sport. Additionally, the phrase implies that his team mates, the spectators and the game's rule makers and keepers ultimately acknowledged his wilful behaviour and, in so doing, sanctioned a permanent change. It is almost certainly the case that soccer players in the past had attempted the same tactic and had probably been met with a polite English reminder such as 'excuse me sir, but you can't pick up the ball', before being roughly kicked out of the game. But when Ellis did it with 'a fine disregard', timing, style, process and attitude all coalesced into an acknowledgement of potentiality and change. The late Kirk Varnedoe, former Chief Curator of Painting and Drawing at the Museum of Modern Art, New York attended the school at Rugby as a young adolescent and learned the fine art of the game there. One of his books is entitled A Fine Disregard, and in it he uses the phrase as a metaphor

  1. For those unacquainted with the game of rugby, it superficially resembles American football in which the ball is carried by the player who runs with it and throws it. This is in contrast to the English game of football (otherwise known in America as soccer) whose predominant attributes are running and kicking the ball using only the feet.