Fablass Refereeing, Look You

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Ou Est le Papier ?


I was never the type to be cursed with too much street cred. Never been known as hard. By anyone at all. But that’s fine, as the late, white MIchael Jackson would say, “I’m a lover, not a fighter” (and there my similarity with Bubbles’ owner ends).  However, I did like to try to carry with me a kinda Jim Rockford—loveable rogue—bon viveur—lad-about-town—rough diamond sort of image, which was invented to say “Hey look, I don’t have to swing punches to handle myself. DON”T mess with me mate.”  Fortunately, thanks to my ability to foresee punch-ups and my penchant for the exit stage left school of acting, I never had to put up my dukes too often.

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Small Boy Gatecrashes Adults Only Rugby Photo. NB: Another winning season under my leadership. Just.

But the little aura of invincibility I possessed buggered off completely one Saturday afternoon in Bromley, South London (not Kent) about a year before the above snap was taken. I was playing inside centre for my school team against a touring French Club side. Dunno why we were playing a drunk touring club side, we just were. Pissed-up and Punchy they were, just like I wanted to be later on in life. But for now I was a schoolboy playing against men. Albeit youngish men, and not very good ones at that. They were called something like Chateaneuf Rugby Club, which was quickly translated into Soixante Neuf (by our coach, Buster), which kept us amused all the while up to kick-off.

But here’s a surprise for you: The oppo’s open side flanker was a cheating thug. Imagine that ! A Flanker: cheating; A Frenchman: niggly. A FRENCH OPEN SIDE FLANKER: Niggly and Cheating . I know, it’s hard to believe. So, as was bound to happen (and this may be the point of this piece —you knew there’d be one somewhere, didn’t you ?) I ended up having a scuffle with this fella. It wasn’t really a fight — he punched me on the nose and I swung (swang?? swinged ??) a huge Dick Barton punch in his direction and caught him hard, smack on the shoulder blade.

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An artist’s impression of what happened in Bromley that day. The artist has since been dismissed.

And then it happened: Estimates vary between 5 yards and 25 yards as to how far my father had run on to the pitch in an attempt to break up this set-to before he came to a sudden halt, blushed, shouted “Oh, sorry”, spun round on his heels and took himself off again. I didn’t see any of this, of course as I was far too busy being punched in the face. But everyone else did. The frenchman and I curtailed out pugalistic activities as the sound of me yelping was being drowned out by the laughter of those around us. It was clear to all present: I needed my dad to save me from a fight on a rugby field. Told you I was hard.

But this is how the french play their rugby: HARD. I’ve been present at many a dust-up on the field in France (present, you understand, not active). I’ve watched from the safety of behind the posts as the team from the French Town we were visiting punched and kicked the living daylights out of us (well, I say us, I mean my mates). I’ve seen legions of my colleagues in maroon and gold shirts become victims of assaults on the pitch by opposition players, cheered on by the ref shouting “Allez, Allez” and waving his arms around in that gallic “what the fuck are you complaining/bleeding about?” sort or way. I once even asked the opposing hooker, (a huge, beared bear of a man) in my very best Franglais,  if he could ask his team-mates to go easy on us; that we’d been on the piss for three days and “really weren’t up for a fight today, just a laugh”.
“Don’t esk me mate”, came the reply in fluent New Zealandish “I jist got ‘ere from Aucklund”.  He was a recent purchase of the club from down under. Apparently New Zealand Senior League front row play wasn’t violent enough for him. We were losing by 40 points after 33 minutes when I called for “Three Cheers” for the opposition and we left the field. It was what Field Marshall Haig would have called a tactical retreat. We capitulated faster than any French Army could ever had done. Almost.

So anyway, the mouth-watering prospect of France vrs England today should herald the start of a particularly enjoyable 6 Nations season. The French were appalling last year, so will be excellent this year (probably); the English will be overpowered up front, and the few who did tour with the Lions will be too fatigued to mount a challenge for the title this year (probably); the Ref and assorted officials will merely be part of an Anglo-Saxon conspiracy, hell-bent on cheating the French out of the match (probably) and there will be niggle, aggro, punches, boots, set-tos and stand-offs a-plenty (WITHOUT A SHADOW OF A DOUBT).

England v France - RBS Six Nations No-one hates the English more than the French — apart from the Welsh and the Scots. The Irish, Australia, New Zealand, The Belgian Congo, Dutch East Indies and parts of the Miliband family (©Mail Newspapers). And anyone else who knows me — so you can bet the smaller of your testicles that a little bit of, ow u say ? Fisticuffs will be in evidence this afternoon. It’s part of the game. This game may well have been shorn of competitive line-outs, wheeling in the scrum and proper sideburns, but unlike the Super 73 (or whatever it’s called this year),the northern hemisphere version of Rugby Football still retains some semblance of a contact sport. With contact sports you get physical contact, which occasionally escalates into physical confrontations. Especially if you hate that bastard over there. So who will win today ? I haven’t the foggiest. England have faith in Stuart Lancaster and his big plan for Team England (not to be confused with Andy Flower and his big plan for Team England), so let’s see how they go. For me, it’ll be Wales for the Championship, they seem to have just enough strength on the bench that you need nowadays. Or the French. Or England as an outside bet. I’m sure of it.

But I won’t fight you over it.

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Misty Water-Coloured Memories of the Way We Was


If you ever need proof that there was, indeed, a God, you need look no further than the fascinating news story that they have unearthed a couple of very early episodes of Dr Who, which up to now had been presumed lost. Wiped. Erased. They had ceased to be. Bereft of life, they rested in peace. After transmission, the intelligentsia at the BBC decided (and, let’s face it, who could argue with them in this instance) that all traces of performances by Fraser Hinds — he of Emmerdale Farm fame— should be deleted, destroyed and copied over with episodes of Pogles’ Wood. They needed the space and this sort of tosh should make way for future, quality programing — say, Michael Bentine‘s Potty Time (it meant something different then than it does now).

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Clue: Front row, brown patterned socks, open crotch.

Sadly, copies of the offending articles were unearthed in Guinea-Bissau, or somesuch place. So the geeks and the gits of the Dr Who Brethren can sit there, cup-a-soup cradled in hand, and relive 1960s shite telly. 14 minutes of badly-restored cardboard theatre and wooden actors, but which nevertheless get us ready for the next series of BBC World’s Syndication Sensation, adverts and all. Having turned 34-and-bit yesterday, I am old enough to remember when Dr Who, Blake Seven and The Brothers were all we had to watch if we didn’t want to go and play with weird uncle Colin and his ‘finger puppets’ in the garden. No Sky TV or ITV8 for us, but at least the BBC was commercial-free and still employed professional entertainers and real journalists. (Come Dancing and David Icke apart).

(As an aside there is a house down my road which the inhabitants have hilariously named “Gallifrey” — I kid you not— complete with name plaque. I got a wee bit tiddly last night and The Incumbent had to pull me away as we walked past, lest I piddled in the garden and over the sign).

Isn’t it uncanny (if not astounding), that every time there is a new Dr Who Series in the offing, someone in Ulaanbaatar unearths an episode starring Patrick Troughton or Jon Pertwee or the like (odd that that they always leave the shows starring Sylvester McCoy buried in the attic)? Just when your mind wanders off the subject, the BBC ‘news’ announced someone’s found Tom Baker’s “original” scarf, or Paul McGann’s  long lost “talent”.  If you’ve ever watched The BBC DailyMailBreakfast Show, you’ll know what I mean: New Series Advert Masquerades as News Item. Every single sodding morning. We sit there and take it all in, like The Emperors New Clothes or the new Petshop Boys Single. I predict a riot. Some day.

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Rare image depicting The 1978 Dartford Hair Parting Famine. U13s Purdey Appreciation XV. Clue: Front row, early signs of obesity, small boy at side, open crotch

When I had a proper job, (they used to pay me to look at snaps, pix, photographs— ART , darling!) every 4.6 months someone would offer me snaps “never before seen” of Marilyn Monroe; Every 5 weeks I’d be shown a “new and exciting” set of pics of 1950 cars, still being used as Taxis in Havana, Cuba. But to be fair (and I’m nothing but fair) these monkeys  sorry, photographers, were only trying to earn a living. They were not to know they were the 73rd to offer the exact same thing. I’ve been offered a black & white set of images of an empty supermarket, shot in the name of “art” (I didn’t buy it), and worse was even asked once by a supposed journalist (I do hope to God she no longer exists in this space/time continuum) for “all the great photos of Diana that have never been published”. Honest, that’s what she asked me to find.  I have witnesses. She had a million ideas like this. The same person asked for a photo of “a woman breathing”. Oh ! and of a woman/model “who looks older than she actually is”. Think about that one for a while. She outlasted me at the paper.

I won’t say her name, cos it would embarrass her. Or maybe it wouldn’t. So thank, you Corinna Honan for years of chuckles over those, and all your other hilarious requests [subs- can someone edit this name out before it goes to print please. thanks] . I’ve just Googled her. She works for The Daily Mail !  Ha !  You couldn’t write this stuff. Even though I just have.

So in the spirit of not having anything to say, anything to advertise or promote (although, I do know of a sensational shop which has a thousand of ideas for Christmas gifts for all the family. More on that, here, after 9 o’clock. Now here’s Carol with an awfully bad guess at the weather) I thought I’d show you, as my 34th Birthday gift to you, from me, these two completely irrelevant photos, recently unearthed by experts in Dartford, Kent, and published today by me in Dartford…er…Kent. No angle, nothing to promote. I just found em.

Just thought I’d show them to you. Let this be a warning to younger readers. Say no to Guinness and Ginsters Pasties (whether they are made by Dwarfs, or otherwise). Resist the temptations of Tesco’s Trifle and Scrumpy Jack. Look how gorgeous I was and how I’ve ended up.

The end.

Now here’s an advert.

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Johnny Be Good, 10 Years On


November 22nd 2003. The Rugby World Cup Final, England vrs Australia.  A date tattooed on the brain of all Englishmen, not to mention a few Strines and Welshmen, I shouldn’t wonder.

This movie even gives due credit to Old Dartfordians’ part in Johnny Wilkinson’s finest hour, if the movie poster is to be believed. And about time too, I say ! The bloke playing me looks a bit on the heavy side, but I guess that’s for comic effect.

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A Welshman Writes (yes, honestly)


Take your time to read this by Stephen Moss who on Saturday gave Grauniad decipherers his take on the game of Rugby Football.

Stephen earns himself an invite to this year’s Sharp Single Christmas party for a) making several valid,interesting and fair points; and b) being one of the few Welshmen I’ve every read not to claim to have been a schoolboy international. At anything. 

Rugby: a sport so boring its fans make it great

By 

guardian.co.uk, Friday 15 March 2013 

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In the depths of this grim winter we’ve all needed something to keep us going, and for me it’s been rugby union’s Six Nations championship, which comes to a crunching conclusion tomorrow with three matches, including what promises to be an epic encounter between Wales and England in Cardiff.

Now, rugby is not to everybody’s taste. It’s dull, plodding and the laws are unfathomable, say the cynics, who contrast it unfavourably with the flowing, relatively straightforward game of football. And in some ways those critics are right. But they are missing the point that rugby is sport at its purest because, in reality, all sport is boring. It’s a tribal rite, not an aesthetic exercise, and no sport does tribalism better than rugby.

I had better admit at the outset that I am Welsh: born in Newport, which once prided itself on the greatness of its rugby team. (The team has taken a nosedive since I grew up there 40 years ago.) At secondary school I was taught by quite a few rugby players who played for Newport, including Colin Smart, the England prop who became famous when he downed a bottle of aftershave in a drinking contest after the 1982 France-England match and ended up in hospital.

I grew up with rugby, and loved the way the game defined Newport, who in 1963 were the only side to beat the mighty New Zealand All Blacks during a tour that included a remarkable 37 games. This muscular, dour industrial town based on iron and steel articulated itself through rugby. The football team was a national laughing stock, but the rugby players were world-beaters.

An England-Wales match is a titanic clash of cultures, histories and identities that no other sport can match. Football might claim England v Germany has the same resonance, but I don’t buy it. The emotional charge of Wales v England at Cardiff beats anything, and much of the power of Six Nations encounters is derived from the way the fans impose themselves on the occasion. This is so much more than a game.

The anthems often seem to last as long as the matches, especially in Scotland and Ireland, where they set popular anthems alongside the official ones. And the singing during games is fantastic. Whenever I hear the Irish sing The Fields of Athenry, I feel like crying, especially if they are beating the Welsh at the time, as has too frequently been the case in recent years.

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Set beside all this emotion, whether the sport is a great spectacle is irrelevant. Which is fortunate because, if you treat it purely as an aesthetic form, rugby is unwatchable. The ball disappears under a heap of bodies for long periods; the scrums are endlessly set and reset as referees struggle to impose discipline; and no one really understands the rules, which makes the giving of penalties a lottery. A game lasts 80 minutes, and if 5% of that is made up of running rugby you’re doing well. The rest will be scrums, mauls, punch-ups and a small man squatting over the ball for minutes on end as he lines up a kick at goal which has resulted from some alleged offence no one can understand in the first place.

Last week’s Scotland-Wales game was reckoned to be one of the worst of all time, with neither team able to establish any fluency. It became a battle of the boot, and saw a record number of penalties in a Six Nations match. But I found it gripping. True fans don’t care about the boredom or opacity of their chosen sport. All they are seeking is validation. Of course it’s nice to win in style, as the Welsh teams of the 1970s did, but what really matters is getting one over the other nations, especially the English.

Sports like to pretend they are interesting for the casual watcher, but on the whole they aren’t. No one in their right mind would sit through a four-day golf tournament unless they were related to one of the players; cricket is best dipped into online or on the radio, or used as an excuse to sleep in a deckchair at Hove; a five-set tennis match between Federer and Nadal is a supreme athletic confrontation, yet even that starts to pall by about the third hour and I usually try to time it so I get back to the telly for the tie-breaks; as for football, it is entirely beyond the pale – all that diving, play-acting and moaning to the referee after the match.

Rugby commentator Brian Moore frequently says, “It’s not football”, when he is berating a player for indulging in soccer-style antics – complaining to the referee, say, or rolling around theatrically after being head-butted – and let’s hope that will always be the case. Rugby is the Eton wall game but with fewer points of spectatorial interest and a much less comprehensible set of rules. Therein lies its greatness. The game is so awful to watch that the crowd, the fans, the nation willing their representatives on to victory, have to create the drama.

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…And the Winner Is


 Best Performance in a Leading Roll (in a Foreign Comedy)

frederick Michelak

In a tightly contested race, the award of biggest comedian on show yesterday went to the French No.10 Frédéric Michalak for his near perfect portrayal of an explosion in an idiot factory during an amateur production of Les Miserables in Paris last night. Michelak, although easily carrying off the award (while trying not to drop it), had to fight off some pretty strong competition, notably from the likes of The Stade de France groundsman, Monsieur Herbe du Somme; Scotland’s own Jim Hamilton for Sunday Morning Lummox —his harrowing portrayal of a 1974 ExB Lock Forward with a forearm smash addiction; and Luciano Orquera, the Italian Outside-Half for his reprise of the Daniel Day Lewis‘s role from My Left Foot.

But in the end the award rightly went to Michelak for possibly the most embarrassing display by an old man on a sports field since Muhammed Ali ‘fought’ Trevor Berbick or Henry Leconte stopped his ‘zany’ antics on the ATP veterans tour. Michelak, of course, even in his prime could never be accused of having been an Ali, but yesterday many french rugby fans were heard to dub him “Leconte”. Or something like that.

The 30 year of from the south of France (born To Lose Toulouse 1982) is also in the running for Worst Director of 14 Other Men, and The Academys honorary Do Us All a Favour and Hang Up Your Boots Award (colloquially known as The Warnie), but has been withdrawn from circulation until further notice, having been found to contain at least 90% donkey.

Who Nameth This Child ?


Gotta love this from last week’s Independent Online.

Billy ‘36′ Twelvetrees and the best nicknames in sport

Nicknames perform important functions.  Some represent the high regard in which the recipient is held: Ace, The Panther, Big Man, Love Machine, that sort of thing.  But enough of my school days.  Others confer a sense of belonging, of acceptance to a group: Mr Cricket, The Kid, Eric The Red.

But, personally, I prefer the ones that give me a good old belly laugh.

billy twelvetrees 300x225 Billy 36 Twelvetrees and the best nicknames in sport

Billy ‘36’ Twelvetrees

What a start to the Six Nations.  I’ll let the proper rugby writers dissect England’s new sense of adventure, Ireland’s thrilling near-collapse in Cardiff and Italy’s monumental achievement in overturning the hapless French.

What I want to celebrate here is the emergence onto the international stage of the man with the finest nickname in the modern game.

Respect to Geordan Murphy.  It’s thanks to his Dublin accent that we arrive at this piece of mastery.  As in “Twelve trees are tirty six.”

Mark Waugh – ‘Afghanistan’

Life isn’t fair, is it?  Mark Waugh was one of the most elegant batsmen ever to take the crease.  He was graceful, technically correct, possessed of a cover drive that somehow managed to be both languid and violent, and able to whip good-length balls from outside off-stump through mid-wicket better than anyone bar Viv Richards.  Not only that but he remains the finest slip fielder I’ve ever seen, gobbling up catches off seamers and spinners alike in kid-leather hands.

And what nickname did this giant of the game get saddled with, being less of an early flourisher than his brother?  ‘Afghanistan’: the forgotten Waugh.

Such is the luck of the draw when you’re a twin, I guess, particularly when that twin is the relentless Steve Waugh (another epithet Mark had to put up with was ‘Junior’).  However, one member of the Barmy Army once tried to redress the balance by shouting, “Oi, Stephen.  Best batsman in the world?  You ain’t even the best batsman in your family!”

Alex Loudon – ‘Minotaur’

Cricket seems to throw up amusing nicknames for fun.  The late Graham Dilley was known as ‘Picca’.  Allan Lamb was, perhaps more obviously, called ‘Legga’.

My favourite of all time, though, even surpassing dear old Mark Waugh, was the title bestowed on Alex Loudon.  Although a highly talented all-rounder, Loudon never quite fulfilled his potential, gaining a solitary One-Day International cap for England.  He became known as ‘Minotaur’ because, as someone put it, “that’s all he ever went on.”

Still, Loudon had the last laugh.  He quit the game and started dating Pippa Middleton.

‘One Size’ Fitz Hall

I shall never, ever tire of this one.

I could go on about how appropriate a moniker it is for a journeyman pro with an uncompromising style who’s equally at home in midfield as at centre-half.

But, really, it’s just a very funny pun.

Martin ‘Chariots’ Offiah

Brilliant on so many levels, this.  As the man himself once explained when asked why he got the nickname:

“Because I could run very fast, I suppose,” he told the interviewer, exhibiting the sort of incisiveness that brought him 501 career tries, “and it rhymed with how people pronounce my last name.”

Reading between the lines, “how people pronounce” his last name is not the way that it should be pronounced.  Something like ‘OFF-y-ah’ is more correct, I believe.  But, hey, let’s not let that ruin a high-quality piece of wordplay.

Stuart ‘Britsa’ Broad

I know I’ve banged on about cricketers a bit.  But I can’t resist finishing on yet another.

You probably won’t have heard this.  Mainly because the group among which it’s been shared has, thus far, been quite exclusive. For me and a select band of cricket fans, the current England set-up includes characters such as ‘Tinker’, ‘Foxy’, ‘Yogi’, ‘Previous’ and ‘Vesta’.  But there’s one who stands head and shoulders above the others, and not just because he’s 6’5”.

Ladies and gentlemen, in case you haven’t read the sub-head above, I give you Stuart ‘Britsa’ Broad.

Beat that if you can…