Proper football

I would like to say that I played rugby at school. Technically speaking I did in the sense that, during games, we sometimes as a class played rugby and it was not unknown for me to be on the same pitch. And there all similarity ends. When positions were being decided I invariably volunteered to play wing. Not because I was especially fast or particularly elusive but simply in order to avoid any likelihood of having to handle the ball.

Most play developed in this fashion. After what seemed like minutes of Neanderthal grunt, the ball would unexpectedly emerge at the back of the scrum. Assuming the number eight failed to gather it cleanly, he would typically be engulfed by the opponents. More stalemate – rucks, mauls and God knows what else. Sometimes the opponents got the ball. On rare occasions the scrum-half managed to retrieve it and, faced with the opposition pack approaching at speed, he would hurl it in the general direction of the fly half. At that point either the flyhalf caught the ball and it would be declared a forward (and therefore illegal) pass or, infinitely more likely, he would drop it. More mauling mayhem and the crumpled body of the flyhalf would be revealed, entombed in mud.

Basically, the chances of the ball being handled cleanly, passed accurately and conveyed in a fluid manner as far as the wing were essentially one divided by Avogadro’s number. In other words, zero. Most games went by without incident (and by incident I mean any contact with the ball at all). Sometimes entire terms.

But very very occasionally, about as frequently as solar eclipses, the ball would make its way to me if, for instance I had been foolish enough to follow play by jogging along the touchline.

Desperate situations call for desperate responses. Finding myself in such an invidious position, I had a simple solution. Take once sharp step to the right and hoof the ball in the general direction of the posts. Oh, and simultaneously fall over.

The use of the boot had two facets deserving commendation. Firstly, if the ball landed anywhere upfield at all I looked like a tactical genius, a rugby visionary if you will. Secondly, it enabled you to land a misplaced boot directly into the testicles of the opposing flankers. “Sorry. Accident.” one might shout over the screaming vomiting figure on the ground struggling to breathe.

If you are lucky, you would be sent off, and therefore able to drain all hot water having a shower.

Some 30 years after I had last played rugby, my son found himself on the rugby field at his school (Judd). Many of the young lads there had already played rugby at their prep schools. But my son had gone to… a state school. His exercise exploits had been largely kickabout football in the playground rather than rugby football played on the acresof lush green sward afforded them by the private school system.

“Any advice, dad?” He asked me on the day of his first rugby game. I had much advice but little time. Complexities of the game, nuances of play could wait for another day. Keep it simple I thought.

“Yes” I said. “Stay clear of anybody with a number below 8”.