Rugby and cricket were my compulsory school team sports, and, although I loved them, I was not adept, possibly due to an eye injury I was not aware of until much later in life. Developing a fear of letting the side down, I agonised over dropping a ball, therefore often did so, to my shame. Athletics was more of an individual event, and no hand-eye coordination involved, so there was no fear and I simply gave of my best; cross-country and long distance being my forte.
In cricket, I bowled a mean chinaman, but was a useless bat or fielder, not judging incoming spheres at speed. In rugby, my six-feet four frame suggested a lock position, but I was too skinny; although excelling in line-outs, I buckled in the scrums. Full-back was my choice position. I could kick with either foot and was unafraid of tackling. Despite the shape, the ball is bigger, so I missed it less often.
Keen players in IPS, the agency I worked for in London in ’69, like Biff Babb and Dave Bursey, persuaded me to join their club, Hampstead Rugby Football Club. They were in the top teams, but, after one match in Seconds at lock, I opted for a lower team at full-back. Still, it was an experience I cherish. We played all over London, often in the rain or snow. The worst was pulling on a previous team player’s sweaty wet jersey, after they had finished their game, due to the shortage of kit.
The club met in a church hall somewhere in Hampstead. Beside fixtures, not much rugby was discussed. Beer flowed. We would attend ‘training movies’ there; the first blue movies I had ever seen in my sheltered life. These were not taken seriously, but were attended with ribald remarks and howls of laughter. Members’ stag parties were held there in a similar fashion.
At the time, besides their rugby, the club was renowned for its expertise in singing the most comprehensive list of filthy songs, which, as they were in their way ballads of a sort, appealed to me. The club’s dubious fame was enhanced by the production, by the Jock Strapp Ensemble, of LP records called Why was he born so Beautiful and Other Rugby Songs, followed by More Rugby Songs, and 2 volumes of books with the all the words, Rugby Songs and More Rugby Songs, compiled by Harry Morgan.
Favourites were Eskimo Nell and The Good Ship Venus, of which I still know most of the lyrics! Dan, the Lavatory Man was another hit that we sang, not to be found yet in those volumes. Our prowess in filthy verse earned us many a free round in post-match pubs.
Absolutely not PC now, and the floodgates open on derogatory remarks about closet gays in the locker room and in the scrums by such as have never known the comeraderie of rugger. Each to their own…