In the year 1823, during a school game of Association Football, the young William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it in his hands. Not only was the cheating git immediately hauled up in front of his fuming games master and thrashed soundly, he also invented the sport of Rugby and inflicted decades of insufferable pain and wanton violence on the generations of schoolboys which followed him. The bastard.
Hold still, this won't hurt one bit
I remember a time when I was actually quite the star with the oval ball. At the age of twelve, I was Mr Prince’s secret weapon in the school team, a nippy little scrum half who could throw a mean dummy followed by a blind-side run to the try-line that suckered the opposition everytime. A scrum to the Blues invariably meant four points, and on one occasion, the joy of being carried from the pitch on the shoulders of my team-mates.
If only they had let me down before they reached the dressing room door. I’ve still got the scar above my left eye. I picked up another scar weeks later, just above the bridge of my nose. This time from American Paul, who having just settled in England was still ignorant of the rules of the game. Any game, in fact, and leathered me in the face with his great size nine boots. And like a fool, with blood streaming down my front, I played on.
Despite this, my love affair with the rugger continued. Dad had me doing all the physical jobs round the garden to “build me up like JPR Williams”, but I couldn’t help thinking this might have had something to do with the fact that he couldn’t be arsed to rake up the leaves himself.
I hero-worshipped the All Blacks, those rugby geniuses from New Zealand and JPR Williams, the flying Welsh fullback with the pork-chop sideburns. I got a real leather rugby ball for Christmas and slept with it in my bed for three months (and we’ll have no smutty comments at the back, thank you very much).
All of a sudden I wasn’t twelve years old any more. By the time me and my schoolmates reached the age of fifteen, me the late developer stayed more-or-less the same size. The rest of the rugby squad had grown to the size of brick shit-houses. Prinny didn’t have the heart to drop me from the team, and moved me further and further back, away from the bone-crunching action.
The last straw came in a practice match. Turnip burst out of the pack, ball resting in the crook of his arm, sweeping all before him. Turnip was a farmer’s boy, used to hauling bales of straw around and didn’t take any shit, not least from the skinny little full back cowering between him and the try-line.
To be fair, I did try to get a tackle in. I dived at Turnip’s thrashing legs, there was a sickening crunch, and that was the last thing I remembered of that particular day. Just like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, they peeled me up from the mud, leaving a student-shaped impression on the pitch and carried on with the game as if nothing had happened.
Prinny didn’t have to drop me from the team. I begged him to drop me down to the bottom group full of fat kids, asthmatics and One-Legged Mike who only had one leg. I could blend in with the crowd there, dodging the half-hearted tackles of full-backs shivering in the mud with their hands up their jerseys, never once worrying about where the next boot in the head was coming from. It was bliss.
And that was the end of Rugby Union for me. It was far too dangerous. Sport was for watching.