Trusty Servant May 2023 | Page 2

No . 135 The Trusty Servant
Singing ’, though Campbell clearly feels it represents a sad falling-off of tradition : ‘ Altogether it was a splendid institution , and one of those that will be most regretted by the quondam chorus of Commoners , now Commoners in name only , and split up into Colonies , their Tutors ’ Houses .’
‘ The Red Twenty-Two ’ itself , of course , was another casualty of that fatal divide , and had to be re-written as ‘ The Red Fifteen ’; and for nearly a hundred years , the seventy Collegemen had to raise a XV to compete against Commoners and Houses , despite the unfairness in numbers which is already being pointed out by The Wykehamist in October 1866 , though the writer fails to anticipate the imminent drop to XV for the standard form of the game :
‘ In short , supposing the School to be redivided , we advocate 7 games instead of 3 , viz :— 3 “ six-and sixes ” between the 3 parts of the School , 3 eleven-a-side matches between the same , and , lastly , a Twenty-two between the only 2 parts which are now capable of playing such a match — Commoners and Tutors ’ Houses . Under this arrangement the second six-and-six would of course become unnecessary . We feel convinced that some such changes as these are rendered absolutely
OTH v Commoners XVs 2023 . necessary by the overwhelming increase of the Commoner and Tutors ’ House part of the School .’
The author – home-grown this time – A . G . Macdonnell , inspired by this gross injustice , wrote a short story about it , provocatively entitled ‘ Mind Over Matter ’, but it might just as well be called ‘ How the Collegemen won the Game ’. It imagines a world in which College , by dint of secret hotting , careful diet , and an astute change to the rules (‘ Good rules , College !’) wins an epic victory , and the right , at last , to their own eggflip .
The Collegemen are ‘ pale and refined young gentlemen with corrugated brows and stooping shoulders and spectacles … who can distinguish at a glance the difference between a rubric and a chasuble ’, but Macdonell really goes to town on his description of the Commoners : ‘ the heavy-weights , the Anakim , the superannuation-dodgers [ the old Notion for being invited to leave for poor work ]’. He is himself , of course , a Collegeman ( 1909-14 ), and modestly inserts the idea that the ‘ panting scholars , pushed all over the field by a solid chunk of brainlessness ’ will , in a few years ’ time , be employing at ‘ very small but quite adequate and appropriate salaries , most of their immense and brutal adversaries .’
I assumed that this victory was wishful thinking on his part , but a swift perusal of The Wykehamist over that period revealed , to my astonishment , that his account of the end of a 40-year drought for the College team is , in essentials at least , true . Football is indeed still being played universally in XVs , despite the sage advice of 1866 , and in 1929 one of the results was , uniquely ?: College XV defeated O . T . H . XV , 10 ¾ -8 ¾ .
It wasn ’ t until November 1957 that The Wykehamist could report : ‘ The title ‘ Fifteens ’ is misleading . It was decided to experiment this year with
Nevin Pot 2023 . Only VIs played among OWs .
the College matches played ten a side . College , it was felt , could hardly be expected to produce a comparable Fifteen from 70 as against 225 , but might produce such a ten . The Headmaster , Desmond Lee ( 54-68 ) insisted that the title ‘ Fifteens ’ should be retained , to keep in line with Lords , Short Half , and the 9.15 period on Friday morning .’
And the conclusion ?
‘ So often College have ‘ played extraordinarily well against great odds ’ or ‘ managed to keep going in spite of overwhelming defeat .’ But the experiment of Xs has been fully justified . College have won again ; and there can be no doubt of the enthusiasm with which this event was greeted by everyone .’
Perhaps someone who was there in 1957 can tell me if this triumph was indeed celebrated with a College Singing like the one described at the conclusion of Macdonnell ’ s tale : ‘ That evening , while the scholars were singing and shouting with all the vehemence of smallish but highly trained lungs , the remainder of the School were poring over the new edition of the Rules of Silchester Football …’
Vengeance indeed .