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.
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.
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).
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.
A correspondent wites:
Whilst on missionary work in one of Cardiff’s more trendy [sic] areas, I happened upon the below establishment. I immediately thought of you and at once assumed that you had given up the Blog & T-shirt business, opting instead to make bread-based snacks in one of the needier outposts of The Empire. I then, of course, realised that opening a sandwich shop would be an act of pure lunacy, and the last act of a desperate man (as opposed to the 1st act of Henry V).
Anyway, I thought you may be interested in the snap wot I smudged.
I also hope you’ve ditched the Yellow Pages delivery idea.”
The management of The Welsh & Welsh Lions were today given a rare insight into the ‘mind’ of James Horwill, the squeaky-clean Wallaby Captain. Horwill, not previously known for putting a foot wrong [check this for me someone, please—MB] , inadvertently left some papers, including his personal tactics & calls notebook, on the seat of a Sydney taxi cab as he was travelling from a court hearing to attend a court hearing.
The driver, passed on the documents to one of a group of Scotsmen who were hanging around the Lions training ground, with nothing to do. The document reveals the inner most thoughts of this, most complex of all international sports stars. Speaking later from inside his restraining cage, Mr Horwill would only say “I like chips with Brown gravy”, before he was muzzled by his keeper and led away to attend a court hearing.
A member of the press asked why The Lions didn’t possess anyone with the wit, charm and grace of Horwill. It was then pointed out that there was one, but as Jim Hamilton is Scottish he was not considered for the team.
Lions officials hope that Horwill’s notebook will give their scratch side, made up of 15 men from the 1 Nations, the edge in Saturday’s match.
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 Stephen Moss
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.
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.