Our little school in the suburbs of London was nothing special. We had our fair share of triumphs and tragedies. We had people of a certain genius who would go on to great things; and we had our fair share of stupids. Like Geoff, for example, the fastest runner the school had ever produced who would go on to represent his country at athletics. Unfortunately, his lack of a brain also led to him to guide the entire school down the mainline railway towards London on what was supposed to be the Annual School Cross Country race. If someone hadn’t have stopped him, he’d be halfway down the Channel Tunnel by now.
If there was one thing our school WAS good at, that was fighting. You see, far from being middle-class suburbia defined, someone, somewhere had decided in the early 1970’s to move “problem” families out of dark, dank inner-city London and out in the country, where the open spaces would, presumably turn them into better people, skipping through fields and being nice to fluffy animals. What a load of bollocks. We ended up with a village full of psychos, crooks and close relations of the Kray Twins who’d cut your knackers off and rob you blind as soon as look at you. OK, I’ll concede that some of them were lovely people, and I’m not just saying that because of the coffee table nailed to my head either. And their psychotic kids went to my school.
No-one remembers how it started. There was probably a playground argument at some stage, or at the very least a whole host of bragging followed by someone fetching somebody else a damn good kicking. The upshot of it was that it was decided that all the fourth form boys (that’s tenth grade to you Americans) would be “compelled” to fight for the honour of being The School’s Hardest Fourth Year. Someone even had the idea of taking our school champ and facing him off against the champs of other local schools (who we hated with a venom, naturally), but subsequent events meant we never quite got to that stage.
A secret For-God’s-sake-don’t-let-the-teachers-find-out committee was set up and the rules laid out. Fight until the other boy surrendered. No weapons except fist, boots and head. Non-triers would be ridiculed. Every boy’s name (and one girl as well - Lynn was a savage animal who cared not a jot if you were a boy or girl. She’d kill you anyway) was put in the hat and a draw was made for the first round. With an elaborate system of seedings based on whether you were deemed “hard as nails” or “a poof”, the first round parings were made and the tourney started.
Get up and fight, ya poof!
The secret committee were masters of their work. They’d scour the playground at breaktimes and made sure the fights happened. Some boys were willing, some were not. The protagonists were taken (some kicking and screaming) to the Hallowed Place between the sports hall and the science block, where no school law held sway and teachers never went. Most of the time it was the fighters, their seconds and the referee, specially selected to ensure foul play. It was like a duel, only with Bovver Boots.
The early rounds went off relatively quickly, with the wimps tending to run away and hide when it was announced they would be fighting the likes of the second-seeded "Bozzer". Like me, for example. I eventually gave in to official “persuasion”, came out of the toilet stall and took on third seeded “Turnip” in a one-sided contest, which saw my limp body peeled up and posted back to my parents within thirty seconds of the start. Gaz refused to accept the meek surrender of little Eric Smith who took tail and ran for his life. The chase was on and the school was treated to a Keystone Cops-style chase of competitors and "judges" round the playground as Gaz repeatedly kicked the retreating Smith up the arse until he reached the safety of the cloakrooms.
The competition itself lasted for a couple of weeks, a tribute to the skills of the Secret Committee as they managed to get fifty kids to beat crap out of each other over several rounds. The veneer of secrecy was wearing a little thin though, as teachers soon got to hear the classroom gossip as the event reached a climax. The first rule of School Fight Club was not to talk about School Fight Club. But we all did. All the time. The whole thing wasn’t helped when Sean opened a book on the final outcome, and large quantities of lunch money began to change hands, mostly backing Psycho Phil, who’d been to Borstal for clocking some kid twice his size over the head with an iron bar. Phil was ace, the guy every kid wanted to be. It was rumoured that he’d even had (gasp) sex with a lady once, without having to pay, even. He scared the shit out of me.
However, as we reached the last four, bravado got the better of the competitors. The Law of the Hallowed Place was soon forgotten, with the American Paul vs Psycho Phil rumble going off right in the middle of the playground in front of an audience of hundreds. This was to be our undoing. I was in the front row. Paul dived in with a haymaker of a punch, missed, and ended up on the floor. Phil kicked Paul in the head. Phil kicked Paul in the head again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. For several minutes. There was blood everywhere, the Headmaster stormed down from his office along with the entire school staff, whistles and cattle prods. The police were called. The entire school was kept indoors for a week.
There was no winner, but no-one was going to argue over Psycho Phil’s victory by default. No-one had been so consistently maniacal throughout the entire tournament or spilt more blood as he single handedly destroyed the flower of Britain’s youth. I’m pretty sure that the other two semi-finalists were secretly relieved that neither had to fight him, as by the law of averages, one of them would probably have ended up on a slab in the local hospital, or worse still, in trouble with their mum. Sean the official bookie, called all bets off and kept our money, wisely giving a generous cut to Phil to ensure his survival.
The event's passing was marked by a school assembly in which the local vicar was called in to lecture us on “declining moral standards in today’s youth” while several of us sniggered at the back, comparing bruises and the contents of Metal's recently discovered stash of pornographic magazines which he’d left in the school darkroom. It was during this assembly that the Headmaster made his famous "If this is the law of the jungle, then I'm King Kong" speech. The bloody liar, he wouldn’t have got past the second round.