Rowling and Rugby

Wales is my adopted home, and it’s national sport is Rugby, so I was pleased to discover that J. K. Rowling was a fan. I first started playing rugby as a 10 year old for my local town, and I have since supported the national sides (both England and Wales) and the county of Cornwall. Rowling started watching and supporting her national side of Scotland after she married her husband Dr. Neil Murray.

“It’s not until I married a Scot that I was taken, not entirely willingly, to the rugby. And then I accidentally ended up enjoying the rugby. So there is hope for you. You can definitely convert.”

J. K. Rowling on Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio4, 28th April 2014

To find out more about Rowling and Rugby, join me after the jump.

Rugby is, with Football (‘soccer’ to Americans), one of the two main ball games in the United Kingdom. In the southeast of England the game is considered a ‘posh’ in contrast to football, partly because of it’s popularity in fee paying public schools. It’s rules were first written at Rugby School in 1845 after the schoolboy William Webb Ellis first (apocryphally) picked up the ball in a game of football and ran with it.

It was the first time that Robin had seen Strike in a suit. He looked, she thought, like a rugby player en route to an international: large, conventionally smart in his dark jacket and subdued tie.

Cuckoo’s Calling Ch 11

The game is played today by two teams of fifteen players over two 40 minute ‘halves’. The players are divided into eight ‘forwards’, the larger and stronger players who form the scums and make most of the tackles, and seven ‘backs’ who are the faster and nimbler players that form the running line. Points are gained by scoring a ‘try’ by touching down the ball at the end of your opponents field or scoring a goal by kicking the ball between your opponents posts. Cormoran Strike would have been a forward playing in the scrum, Mathew Cunliffe more likely in the backs. Unlike Association Football (Soccer), Rugby is a full contact sport, and in serious matches, injuries (sometimes as a result of violence) is common. Despite, or perhaps because of this crowd trouble that plagues Football are hardly ever seen at Rugby matches, which are usually considered a family events.

“I was very taken aback by the difference in a rugby crowd and a football crowd. As a woman, being at the rugby is quite a welcoming place. Whereas I can remember going to football matches in London and feeling quite intimidated. So that was obviously a welcome change.”

“What is happening on the (rugby) pitch is horrible and violent and dreadful but meanwhile you are sitting with a lot of people who will happily buy you half a pint and a pie and chat away to you even if they are supporting the opposition – and I found that rather enjoyable.”

J. K. Rowling on Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio4, 28th April 2014

From it’s public school roots Rugby Football quickly became popular throughout the home nations and became the favoured sport in the North of England, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall with all classes. A split came in 1895 when clubs from the North of England left to form the Rugby League over the issue of reimbursing players for time lost at their workplaces. Clubs from Scotland, Wales and Cornwall remained in the strictly amateur Rugby Union along with the remaining English Clubs.

“Rugby in Scotland was a farmer’s game, a farm lad’s game more than a public school boy’s game, I would say.”

“[Rugby players] don’t dive. I think that is rather a nice difference between rugby and football. You do start to respect them for literally soldiering on when they are in terrible pain. It’s quite the reverse of football.”

J. K. Rowling on Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio4, 28th April 2014


‘The rugby sevens,’ she said, and even this small, genteel lady was surprised that Strike did not immediately understand what, to Melrose, seemed more religion than sport.

Career of Evil Ch 16

The first international match was played in 1871 between Scotland and England in Edinburgh. The first and only try at this match, which Scotland won, was scored by Angus Buchanan in front of a crowd of more than 2000 spectators. Angus was eighth of thirteen children, born in Inveraray by the western shores of Loch Fyne in Argyll, where his dad, John, had been Provost. He went on to study law in Edinburgh. Famous as he is in the history of Scottish Rugby, he is also famous among wizards as the only squib to reach the sorting hat at Hogwarts.

It had never happened before and it has never happened since, but Angus got as far as the Sorting Hat before he was exposed. In sheer desperation he threw himself ahead of a girl whose name had been called and placed the Hat upon his head. The horror of the moment when the Hat announced kindly that the boy beneath it was a good-hearted chap, but no wizard, would never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. Angus took off the hat and left the hall with tears streaming down his face.

In 1871 Angus found himself representing his country in the first ever international rugby match, which took place in Edinburgh between England and Scotland. Angus’s emotion can perhaps be imagined as he walked out onto the pitch and saw all ten of his brothers and sisters among the spectators. Defying their father’s contempt for all Muggle pursuits and his injunction against ever seeing Angus again, they had set out to track him down. Elated, Angus scored the first try. Scotland won the match.

Thus Angus Buchanan became world-famous among wizards whilst also being celebrated among Muggles, a hitherto unknown achievement. Wizards of many nationalities began turning up to watch him play sport. Unfortunately, cricket found little favour with wizardkind. As the chief sports writer in the Daily Prophet wrote in 1902: ‘A Beater who is unable to fly defends three sticks instead of a hoop, while a Snitch without wings is thrown at the sticks. That’s it. Sometimes for several days.’ Rugby held more appeal. Wizards could not help but admire the strength and courage of Muggles prepared to engage in a sport so brutal, without recourse to Disapparating out of the way, or access to Skele-Gro to repair broken bones. It must be admitted that there was an edge of sadism to some wizards’ enjoyment.

J. K. Rowling on Pottermore 10th August 2015


I was inspired to write about Rowling’s love of Rugby after seeing a photograph of her enjoying the Scotland vs France game during this year’s Six Nations Championship. It is reassuring to know that even J. K. Rowling has an outlet for her enthusiasms, separate from writing and her more public life. She is joined in the picture by the French television presenter Jean-Luc Reichmann. Scotland lost the match 17-36 which may, perhaps, explain the expressions.


  1. I’m going to bury you in questions, Nick, about this fascinating subject — about which I know next to nothing. Apologies in advance for the display of ignorance that follows!

    (1) Rugby is more popular than cricket? I thought soccer (‘football’) and cricket were the equivalent in popularity with American football and baseball, not to mention their point of origin. Good to hear it, frankly. I have never grasped anything of what is going on at a cricket pitch but rugby, brutal as it is, is easy enough to follow.

    (2) I loved the Angus Buchanan story — and that Rowling took this rugby hero of Scotland and wrote a little historical fiction about the Squib who made it to the Sorting Hat. Thank you for that. This is no small find; the only other ‘real person’ to make an appearance at Hogwarts was a young person with a fatal illness, if I recall, who was sent an pre-publication edition in which he learned that the Sorting Hat had put him in Gryffindor. Have there been any other ‘Angus’s in the Saga or Pottermore extras?

    (3) I had to look up Doddie Weir, the rugby ‘lock’ and “legend” in Scotland according to Rowling. I wanted to know more about him because, I thought, this is the man that should have been cast to play teevee Cormoran Strike. It turns out, though, that he was almost certainly the model for Donny Laing, the madman of ‘Career of Evil.’ Weir played his first rugby for the Melrose RFC, the Southern Knights of the Border Country, whose emblem is the long yellow rose Laing had tattoed on his arm. My question about Weir is, ‘Does the Motor Neuron Disease (MND), from which he suffers and for research about which he raises money, qualify for money from Volant Charities?’ Rowling and Doddie look like good buddies in that shot and I wonder if they do not have common cause in their philanthropic efforts. (BTW, he is a farmer and I wonder if she wasn’t thinking of him in her first comment.)

    (4) Rowling says she feels relatively safe at rugby matches in contrast with football games, but it seems, in the photos you found of her at games, that she and Dr Murray are surrounded by body guards. Or am I mistaking the vests and uniforms of vendors for security? Is this a commonplace for celebrities at games or something Rowling does because of her PTSD issues and unprecedented celebrity for an author?

    Thank you for a great post, and, in advance, for whatever answers you can make to my several questions!

    Grateful John

  2. Nick Jeffery says

    I will try to answer as best I can!

    (1) In England you may be right, with cricket and rugby vying for second place, but in Scotland and Wales cricket is hardly played at all (with the notable exception of Glamorgan).

    (2) Outside of historical figures: Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel, Paracelsus, Agrippa and Hengist – all of these are in the magical world but none of them can be placed at Hogwarts. The child with the terminal illness was Natalie McDonald. She was sorted into Gryffindor in Goblet of Fire. I can think of no others.

    (3) The Volante charity has a very wide remit for charitable giving, chiefly within Scotland. The Anne Rowling Clinic specifically does study and develop new treatments for MND.

    (4) The vests and uniforms are all in the colours of the Scottish Rugby Team. JKR has *very* good seats and is sat with players and officials of the team. Her security will be there because there is no physical barrier between these seats and the rest of the crowd, but in the photographs I have seen, they are doing their job of not being immediately obvious!

    Thank you for your kind words, I am very glad you enjoyed it!

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Francis Peabody Magoun, Jr. wrote a delighful little book, The History of Football from the Beginnings to 1871 (1938), which was reprinted in the 1960s (and transatd into Japanese in the 1980s) and would be worth checking local libraries for (or even looking into inter-library loan possibilities). In the ‘real person’ context, it would be fun to find Jacob Kowalski and Magoun had contact with each other during the Great War…

    I have had the great good fortune to watch some cricket with a cricket fan, and get a bit of a sense of what a subtle and magnificent sport it is.

  4. Nick Jeffery says

    Thank you David, I will try to check out the book!
    I confess to using cricket as a form of meditation, ideally listening to the radio commentary while reclining on a deck chair in the sun.

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