Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Lives in brief

Linda Uttley, England women's rugby player, was born on October 26, 1966. She died of cancer on November 27, 2009, aged 43 Linda Uttley played rugby for England and forged a gloriously colourful reputation that ensured her place in the game's folklore.

She was born in Barnes, southwest London in 1966, the youngest of eight siblings. She began her career in 1989 at Teddington Rugby Club and grew into one of the finest players of her generation. She moved to Wasps Rugby Club in 1995 and played a key role in a team that dominated the women's game.

In 1997 she won her first cap and began a career for England in which she would win 13 caps and play in the 1998 World Cup. She played in every position except prop, hooker and fullback, although she was best-known as a flanker.

The tales of her conduct away from the field are as stunning as her reputation on it, such as the memorable sumo wrestling match while on tour to Paris, in 1992. She had beaten all the women in the vicinity and then took on, and beat, a French No 8 called Bernard.

In November 2007 she was told that she had a rare, aggressive and advanced form of cancer, leiomyosarcoma. The rugby community rushed to her aid, raising funds to help her to cope with the illness. In the event she defied all the medical predictions and was still dancing a year later. She would whip off her wig and dance the night away, eking out every last moment of joy. She remained a regular on the touchlines at Teddington, continued to work for the Rugby Football Union and even toured with the Classic Lionesses.

She bore her cancer's devastating effects with great humour, fortitude and mental strength.

The Times (London, England) (Jan 27, 2010): p51.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Operation petticoat.

Simon Barnes Chief Sports Writer

Last week in this space I was looking for information about the first woman to play rugby. I am delighted to say that I now have information in overplus. The first lady of rugby - rugby's Eve - is Emily Frances Galwey, nee Valentine, born in the 1870s, at first a tomboy and then a lady of much spirit. She later wrote a rather splendid memoir and here is a chunk of it.

"I loved rugby football, but seldom got a chance to do more than kick a place-kick or drop goal, but I could run in spite of petticoats and thick undergarments. My great ambition was to play in a real rugby game and score a try. One day I got a chance. It was just a school scratch match and they were one 'man' short. I was about 10 years old. I plagued them to let me play. 'Oh all right. Come on then.' Off went my overcoat and hat - I always wore boys' boots anyhow, so that was all right.

"I knew the rules. At last my chance came. I got the ball - I can still feel the damp leather and the smell of it ... I grasped it and ran dodging and darting, but I was so keen to score that try that I did not pass it, perhaps, when I should; I still raced on, I could see the boy coming towards me; I dodged and breathless, with my heart pumping, my knees shaking, I ran. Yes, I had done it, one last spurt and I touched down."

Thus was set in train the events that will lead to the women's rugby union World Cup, which will be held again this year.

The Times (London, England) (Jan 18, 2010): p69

Monday, 11 January 2010

Miss Valentine the mother of women's rugby.

Simon Barnes Chief Sports Writer

There will be a women's rugby union World Cup in England this summer, which is all splendid stuff. But here is a question: who was the first female rugby player? Who was women's rugby's Webb Ellis? Who was rugby's Eve? Greatly to my surprise, I am told that I supplied the answer myself in a column in this newspaper in 1985. A rugby match was played at Portora Royal School, in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, in 1885. The school was short of numbers, because the headmaster had just decamped and taken half the pupils with him. But they still got a XV out, and in the threequarter line, there was the daughter of the acting headmaster.

But who was she? John Birch writes to tell me it was Miss E. F. Valentine, who together with her three brothers, set up the school team, in the face of some opposition. Miss Valentine went on to become Mrs Galway and emigrated to South Africa.

It seems clear that Miss Valentine both trained for and played rugby, and this predates anything else documented on the subject. But, so far, the researchers have no idea of Miss Valentine's first name, and no photograph. Anyone with information on the subject, please get in touch.

The Times (London, England) (Jan 11, 2010): p61