[Author's note: this post is an excerpt from The Gentlemen of Gloucester, a book available here on Amazon.]
During the early 1950s, an English Boyer Scholar introduced rugby to the First City Troop.
Some Troopers embraced the game with such gusto that they played it for decades after learning it. For example, George Connell played until age 69.
Because of rugby’s combative nature, the National Guard allowed it to count as a form of military physical training. Troopers could thus spend drill weekends competing against local college teams, with the Yale, Penn, and Princeton games standing out as annual high points. At times, the Troop’s “A” team ranked among the top on the East Coast.
Surely the most memorable of these matches took place in 1968, when the A’s made it to national championships to face New York’s Old Blue Rugby Football Club.
George Connell recalls that by the end of that match, as both teams were tied at zero, he found himself in the scrum five yards from the New York’s goal line, assuming that the Old Blue would soon beat the First City Troop. Then suddenly, to his astonishment the entire New York line stood up all at once, allowing Connell to rush through them and score.
Flabbergasted by this bizarre behavior on Old Blue’s part, Connell wondered, “What on earth could have caused them to do such a self-defeating thing?” He quickly learned the reason. While in the scrum, fellow Trooper Teddy Gilbert had kissed one of the Old Blue players square in the face, causing him and the rest of his team to flip out!
The Troop’s rugby team thrived until the middle 1970s, when the National Guard stopped allowing rugby to count for training on drill weekends.
According to Michael Codell, the First City Troop Rugby Team faded away soon after that, but eventually re-configured as a stand-alone entity, known today as the Second City Troop Rugby Club.