Thursday 1st December 2011
HANG up me boots? Never! Still available to play this weekend if they ring… though I’d probably find an excuse not to turn out again for Cainscross 4ths Reserves XV: carrying a strain in the back, shoulders, thigh or wherever.
Brought up in the West Riding, I was a young follower of not only football and cricket, but also rugby league.
We lived not far from the Mount Pleasant ground in Batley. At sell-out games against Wakefield Trinity or Dewsbury, my father would lift me up on to his shoulders so that I could watch those broad-bellied oxen-men, grappling and grasping on the mud-marsh field of dreams: pennant scarf held aloft, the rattle’s wooden ratchets caressed in hope.
At grammar school, in Hull, I met the other rugby, with line-outs, rucks, mauls, wing forwards. Had to be scrum-half, in the fray’s thicket, terrier-nippy, shouting at lumberjack second rows, looping passes, grubber-kicking.
I must point out I wasn’t that good, but always keen, urgent, insistent; loud in triumph, despondent in defeat… though often picked out of position, playing wing three-quarter, where the ball rarely reached.
As an undergraduate, I hooked up with large, boisterous Tony, for whom training meant the pub, match days meant a few ales beforehand, and the game itself a strutter’s stage, where the good Easton-in-Gordano farmers’ lads were more distracted than our opponents by his thunderous calls of:
“Once more unto the breech! Avast, ye dogs! A plague o’ both your centres!”
The Cainscross ground, Victory Park, you can see from the train: the finger-beckoning H’s.
Having scored four tries on my debut, at scrum-half for the 4th XV, I was given one game for the Seconds, contributing too many shambolic fumbles in a heavy defeat. The Thirds suited me well enough, until the day I came home bruised of rib and ice-mud-sweat covered, the changing room being only a running-water-less hut at the Wherever-under-Ridge recreation ground.
Not played since. Still available, mind, if selected.