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.