In spite of their elegant morning coats and fancy pants, the well-born boys of Eton College, England's most celebrated "public" (i.e., private) school, are tireless devotees of sport. Their athletic tradition is long—the school was founded in 1442—rowdy and storied, even though Wellington never really said all that about their playing fields. What the duke did say was that he owed his own spirit of enterprise to the "tricks I used to play in the College garden." Now. with equal spirit, Etonians play a host of violent games, in uniform (like the natty young gentlemen playing the Field Game at right) and out.
"Gentlemen may not make any unnecessary noise," commands a notice in an Eton College gym. So, suppressing his urge to grunt, the Etonian at left manfully, and mutely, lifts his barbell. A recent innovation, weight lifting is considered "hardly on," but boxing, "fives"—a form of handball (right)—soccer, Rugby, cricket, fencing, rowing and running have long been thoroughly on. Whatever you're doing, you pretend not to care a fig. No Etonian would ever think of warming up. "We've known chaps go straight from a rugger match into a boxing tournament," says one tutor. "So nice, so terribly natural."
Of all Eton sports, the Wall Game is the most hallowed, and the most futile. Not a goal has been scored since 1909. The main point of the game is to move a ball past a certain mark on an old wall and thus earn the right to try for a goal. Etonians maintain that it is really an intellectual exercise. "The secret," says one, "lies in knowing at precisely which point in the heap to push your fist to be most effective." To pursue this study without losing an ear, they wear woolen helmets, as well as uniforms of studied and raffish antiquity. It may seem like mayhem, but at Eton you get caned anyway if you fail to exercise.