Why I watch the rugby

Friday 24th February 2012

1958; a wintry Saturday afternoon; a father and his boy enter the Old Shoulder of Mutton; a fug-mist of cigarette smoke; the bluff-gruff voices of working men in drab clothes; dark green upholstery; pint glasses of thick, black stout; a clack of dominoes.

“Nar then, Jack. That yer lad?”

“Yuv mist start. Arthur’s gorrit on.”

It would be some years before we had our own telly. Dad, a regular, was good friends with the landlord. I scurried up the stairs, into their private quarters: a cave of mysteries within the larger cavern of hunters, grinders, fire-breathers, and carcass-splitters.

England were already 6-0 up, against Ireland at Twickenham. It may have been snowing, but that was probably the screen; hard to follow in black-and-white, when mud-covered shirts of white and green blur to the same dark grey; the slug of bodies; fug-mist above the scrum; the ball smudged and slippery, like a bar of Wright’s coal tar.

Players with the names of valiant explorers, of swashbuckling adventurers: Butterfield, Hetherington, Marques, Currie… and an early sporting hero: Dickie Jeeps. Later came a pleasing symmetry in the full-back for Scotland being called Scotland (Ken).

Enter Bill McLaren, the voice of rugby…

“A little bit of argy-bargy there… he’s as quick as a trout up a burn… the ball’s gone so high there’ll be snow on it when it comes down.”

…and the All Blacks, with their magnificent pre-match haka, so influential on a Hull grammar school’s third team, we spent more time rehearsing a similar chant than practising for matches.

My son and I once met another well-known commentator, Cliff Morgan, on a train into central London after an England trial game at Twickenham. He hadn’t been able to get a programme, so couldn’t identify the wing forward who’d had an impressive debut. I offered him mine, intending to let him keep it. He took out a pen, autographed the cover and handed it back.

Tomorrow afternoon, it’s Wales. Again without a television, I may well pop into my local.

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2 Responses to Why I watch the rugby

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Marcus for understanding a welsh girls passion for the majestic game by allowing me to squirrel away upstairs…sitting crossed legged, paying homage to a black and white portable , to watch Wales secure a victory against Ireland in what turned out to be a Grand-Slam year.
    I think I was meant to be writing Japanese poetry…? What a fantastic weekend that was…much love..hope you are wellxxx Claire Erasmus

  2. Butch the Lad says:

    I was there today Marcus. A very expensive way to get depressed. Then again I was with a gaggle of lovely Welsh friends (it is possible!) so life and love was affirmed. Sospan fach xx

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