The CFL season is in full swing and before we know it the playoffs, and ultimately the Grey Cup will be upon us.
In the run up to that game in November I thought it might be interesting to do a series on the decade anniversaries of that game. Staring with 100 years ago, then 90, 80 and so on.
Hence we find ourselves looking at the centenary anniversary of this years’ Grey Cup – the 1919 edition. Except therein lies a problem – there was no Grey Cup in 1919!
What became of the 1919 Grey Cup?
As you would expect, the First World War had impinged on the playing of the championship game in Canada. The last time the Cup had been contested was in 1915.
As an aside there is a momentary clip of the 1915 Grey Cup that is well worth a look for historians of the game. It may be brief but it is no less interesting for that.
However, although the Great War was the reason for an absence of a championship between 1916 and 1918, that was not the case in 1919. This was more to do with a dispute between the Rugby Unions of the day.
The suspended play from 1915 to 1918 makes historical sense. We can well imagine the mood of that time. If a man was fit and strong enough to play football, you sense contemporaries would have felt he was fit and strong enough to fight for a bigger cause.
After the years of uncertainty however, after the monumental loss and heartache, how is it that something as simple as a rules dispute could have stolen away the chance of a championship? To understand that we have to understand the game of the time.
The Grey Cup wasn’t what it is today
The Grey Cup was not originally for pro sport and it wasn’t even meant for football. In 1909 the Grey Cup was conceived as an award for the amateur senior hockey championship of Canada.
However the Allan Cup had already been donated for that. So the Grey Cup became an award for the amateur rugby football championship of Canada instead.
The trophy bears the name of its donor. His Excellency Earl Grey, the Governor General of Canada. The original sterling silver cup, on a wooden base cost $48.00.
Who challenged for the Cup?
In 1909 all football in Canada was amateur and was governed by the Canadian Rugby Union. All of the Unions, or football leagues, who played under them could compete for the trophy. This meant that establishing the champion was an elaborate process because so many organizations were involved and many played by different rules.
This latter sentiment was echoed by the league during the Grey Cup 100 celebrations in 2012.
In 1919 the winners of differing football unions would face off for a Dominion Championship. At least that was what had happened before and that should have been the plan here.
The potential contestants included the Winged Wheelers of the Montreal Athletic Association. They had taken the Interprovinical title. Alongside them were McGill University who had won the intercollegiate title and the Toronto Rowing & Athletic Association who were Ontario’s champions.
McGill announced they would not contest the championship. This left most feeling that whoever won would be winners by default only as one of the strongest teams would be missing.
It is clear from contemporary reports that people felt the whole thing needed better organisation. Varying rule interpretations also needed to be formalised and aligned.
What came next
There is a certain irony that international peace had followed the First World War only for the Canadian Rugby Unions to fall out.
However by 1920 they were able to contest the Grey Cup once more. The 8th Grey cup game saw the University of Toronto defeat the Toronto Argonauts 16-3.
That season a new record crowd as 15,000 fans had turned out to see the University of Toronto and Mcgill contest a match.
Changes had been made to the overall code but enforcing that was still proving difficult.
One thing as clear though, there was plenty of interest in the game and the Grey Cup would survive. I wonder what those responsible for running the game then would make of it a century later?
Banner image: The Grey Cup of the day. Image from nationalpost.com