June 02, 2012
Rugby sevens was initially conceived by Ned Haig and David Sanderson, who were butchers from Melrose, Scotland as a fund-raising event for his local club, Melrose RFC, in 1883. The first ever sevens match was played at the Greenyards, the Melrose ground, where it was well received. Two years later, Tynedale was the first non-Scottish club to win one of the Borders Sevens titles at Gala in 1885.
Despite sevens' popularity in the Borders, it did not catch on elsewhere until after WWI, in the 1920s and 30s. The first sevens tournament outside Scotland was the Percy Park Sevens at North Shields in north east England in 1921. Because it was near from the Scottish Borders, it attracted interest from the code's birthplace, and the final was contested between Selkirk (who won) and Melrose RFC (who were runners up). In 1926, England's major tournament, the Middlesex Sevens was set up by Dr J.A. Russell-Cargill, a London based Scot.
One of the key events in the spread of sevens to England was the Middlesex Sevens, which had some formidable figures on its subcommittee such as Wavell Wakefield and Bill Ramsay. The Middlesex Sevens were also a great fundraiser for charity, and in 1926, they raised £1,600 for King Edward Hospital, at a time when standard admission was a shilling, and stand seats cost five shillings.
Whereas the Scottish Borders were a rural area, with a population in the tens of thousands, albeit near Edinburgh and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the Middlesex Sevens were more or less in the suburbs of London, a densely populated area and transport hub, which was home to millions. As a result 10,000 spectators attended the second Middlesex tournament. And while the Border Sevens had honed the skills of players in the Scottish rugby heartland, the Middlesex Sevens did likewise for London rugby, with locally based players such as the aforementioned Wavell Wakefield, Carl Aarvold (later Recorder of the City of London) of Blackheath FC, Wick Powell of London Welsh RFC, and John Tallent, who would later become chairman of the Four Home Unions Tours Committee. They rubbed shoulders with various invitation sides such as Sale RFC in 1936, which included such players as Wilf Wooller and Claud Davey of Wales and Ken Fyfe of Scotland amongst their backs; and in 1939, Cardiff RFC, which included players such as Wilf Wooller again, and Les Spence and "Wendy" Davis.
The first ever officially sanctioned international tournament occurred at Murrayfield as part of the "Scottish Rugby Union's Celebration of Rugby" centenary celebrations in 1973.