From The Vaults

05 July 2021
Sunderland Man’s British Lions Links Examined in Timely Biography

Sunderland RFC has every right to be proud of its history. Founded as Sunderland Football Club in 1873, its formation is linked strongly to that of the Rugby Football Union two years earlier. Recently a set of club kit from the 1880s was discovered - said to be the oldest complete set known to rugby historians. The club has also provided the British Lions with two players. One of them - Howard Marshall (1870 -1929) - is the subject of a timely biography by writer, historian and musician Keith Gregson.

Howard Marshall has been a person of interest to sports historians for a number of reasons:

  • At the age of twenty he played for the Barbarians in the club's inaugural season and scored the same club's first try in Wales/outside of England. (1891)
  • In the same year and at the same age and while playing for leading club Blackheath he went on what is regarded by some as the British Lions' first tour (to South Africa) and played in numerous tour matches and one test. (1891)
  • He made a single appearance for England v Wales soon after his 22nd birthday and scored a record-breaking hat trick in Cardiff. (1893)
  • His career was ended by injury then or shortly after. (1893)
  • Despite studying at Cambridge for six years and, despite being considered the best half-back in England by many, he was never awarded a blue. (1890 -95)

As the 2021 Lions embark upon their tour of South Africa, it is Howard's link to the very first Lions' trip there which makes his story of current interest. Equally interesting is his loyalty to his home town club for whom he made his debut at the age of 16. Even when he was a Barbarian and Lion, he made appearances for the club's 1st XV and, as he was a medical student, noted his main residence throughout his playing career as the family home in the Elms - ten minutes' walk from Sunderland RFC's Ashbrooke ground. He was also described in the local press as a 'Sunderland man' when he scored his hat trick for England.

THE MAGNIFICENT MARSHALL - Howard Marshall (1870 -1929) Pioneering Lion, Barbarian and England International - an online biography by Keith Gregson (S and N Genealogy, Salisbury, 2021) is downloadable for £6 with £3 going to a rugby related charity.