Working in partnership with the write Mick Martin, SKY commentator Mike Stephenson and historian Tony Collins; Broken Time is an epic piece of storytelling that Three Stones developed for the stage.

Set in Victorian England on the Yorkshire-Pennine border the story tells of Rugby’s great schism and how cruel a sporting dispute was caught up in the brutal industrial conflict arising from the working man’s desire to have his voice heard in the halls of power.

Three Stones premiered the play in rugby’s northern heartlands during the autumn of 2011.

Supported by the National Lottery though Arts Council England; Broken Time is an exciting collaboration and delves into an untold seam of British history exposing the dishonest ambitions, epic passions and bitter rivalries arising from the industrial, class and sporting disputes of the late Victorian era, the repercussions of which are with us to this day.

Broken hearts, broken bones and broken promises – the battle for rugby’s soul is about to begin!

Divided by class and united by passion; Broken Time is a gripping portrayal of how Rugby League burst painfully into life – a compelling story of one man’s obsession with the spirit of amateurism and another man’s determination to win at all costs.

Set against the maelstrom of late nineteenth-century industrial strife, this resonantly modern clash leaves a rugby star, the Beckham of his day, an unwitting pawn in a ferocious battle for control of a game. Sparkling with wit, sweat-soaked with passion Broken Time is an action packed epic on an industrial scale!

A Brief History of the Events Surrounding the Play

In 1871, English clubs playing the version of football associated with Rugby School met to form the Rugby Football Union.

Many new rugby clubs were formed, and it was in the counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire that the game really took hold. Here rugby was largely a working class game, whilst the south eastern clubs were largely middle class.

Players were forbidden to earn any money from playing the game, retaining the ethics of its ‘amateur’ status. Working class teams found it difficult as their time to play and train was limited by the need to earn a wage. Working class players also had to be careful how hard they played. If injured, that had to pay their own medical bills and take time off work, which for a man earning a weekly wage could easily lead to financial hardship.

In 1892, charges of professionalism were laid against rugby football clubs in Bradford and Leeds, both in Yorkshire after they compensated players for missing work – the so called ‘Broken Time’ payments. Payment for broken time was a proposal put forward by Yorkshire clubs that would allow players to received up to six shillings when they missed work because of match commitments.

The idea was voted down by the RFU (which was dominated by wealthy southerners), and widespread suspensions of northern clubs and player began.

On 29 August 1895, clubs met in the George Hotel, Huddersfield to form the “Northern Rugby Football Union.” The 22 clubs were: Batley FC, Bradford FC, Brighouse Rangers FC, Broughton Rangers FC, Halifax FC, Huddersfield FC, Hull F.C., Hunslet FC, Leeds FC, Leigh FC, Liversedge FC, Manningham F.C., Oldham FC, Rochdale Hornets FC, Runcorn, Stockport, St Helens FC, Tyldesley FC, Wakefield trinity FC, Warrington FC, Widnes FC and Wigan FC.

The Rugby union authorities took drastic action, issuing sanctions against clubs, players and officials involved in the new organisation. This extended even to amateurs who played with or against Northern Union sides. Consequentially, northern clubs that existed purely for social and recreational rugby began to affiliate to the Northern Union, whilst retaining amateur status. By 1904 the new body had more clubs affiliated to it than the RFU.

The Play

The last decade of the 19th century and England is a cauldron of industrial conflict. The Trafalgar Square Riots, the matchgirls, gas workers and dockers strikes all symptomatic of the class troubles spreading across the country. The men and women of Manningham Mill suffer five hard months locked out over pay cuts. Cavalry units charge against the Leeds gas works. Featherstone miners are shot and killed as the government struggles to comprehend the rise of the working class voice! And inextricable bound up with the brutal social earthquakes that will bring about both trade unionism and the Labour party is the game of rugby.

By 1893 a much love sport, entertaining thousands upon thousands of men and women, finds itself a direct participant in the social upheaval. Matches, once played purely for passion, are staged to raise fund for striking workers but still constables, infantrymen and middle class amateurs play alongside the working men who’ll be on opposite sides of the picket lines the next day! Expect a few more bone crunching tackles and fierce arguments about ‘fair play’ extending beyond the realms of sport into real life.

Traditionally drawing its strength from public schools and the middle classes Rugby is now increasingly dominated by workers on the field and in the stands. But it is the issue of broken time payments that will ultimately tear apart a great institution creating bitter rivalries within communities, clubs and even families!

Rugby’s governing body vehemently opposes the payment of fees to any working man and of course the ‘gentlemen’ players have no need of such tawdry payments. But the amateur ethos means workers lose out on income when taking to the field to entertain loyal fans. And God help ‘em in and injury keeps them from work come Monday morning.

The politics of the workplace are inseparable from the inequalities on the playing field and so a war of words, of hearts and minds will see clergymen, sports stars, politicians, bar room experts, their spouses and adoring female fans voice passionate opinions about the perils of professionalism in sport. Meanwhile mill owners and industrialists watch their power and control threatened by the collective bargaining of the masses.

Broken Time delves into an untold seam of British history to tell a story about a Victorian community torn apart by their passion for a game. Mixing historical even and real figures with a cast of fictional souls this is not a quaint old tale of flat caps, clogs and whippets. It is about bitter rivalries, dishonest ambitions and epic passion.

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