My Ecellence on the Field of Sporting Valour

So its established as fact that I am, and never was, what could be called “sporting”, I do not partake in sports, I never have partook in sports, I must have been a huge disappointment to my father who partook in every sport known to man when he was nobbut a lad and would proudly tell us of his time as a youth playing football for Meanwood on a Saturday morning and cricket for Meanwood on a Saturday afternoon and then billiards for Meanwood in the evening.

We’d sit and watch sports on TV with our dad and if our team lost he’d be desolate whereas on the other hand I’d shrug my shoulders and flick the channel over to see if Kojak was on, not caring less about any sporting endeavour was a done deal with me in our house.

And so it came to pass that the 11 year old me joined the big school, Leeds Modern Grammar School and on the first Friday of the first term all 120 of us First Formers were sat in rows in the huge and bloody freezing cold gymnasium (it always was bloody freezing cold yet still managed to stink of juvenile sweat), and it was announced that the first term of the school year would be spent playing football in the double games lesson – “Hands up all of those who used to play for their junior school team”.

Our junior school didn’t even teach sports, it had a playing field with a football pitch on it but we only had one male teacher and he was bloody clueless so we never had an organised sports lesson at all, I kept my hand down.

All of those who had played football for their school were placed into “Group One”, the elite football players, they would be coached by our elite Carnegie College of Sporting Excellence sports master, fair enough-ski.

“Those who sometimes played for their junior school football team and who would like to be considered for the Leeds Modern football u-11s please put their hands up”, and those boys were picked for Group Two and they got another Carnegie trained sports master to mentor them, I kept my hand down.

“Those boys who would like to learn more about improving their football skills but who didn’t play for their junior school team please put your hands up”, they became Group Three and got a Carnegie sports master who actually excelled at rugby but knew a bit about football, I kept my hand down.

“Those boys who have never played football before in their lives but would like to learn, please put your hands up”, they became Group Four and got a trainee sports master in his first year out of college who was only a few years older than we were, I kept my hand down, there weren’t many of us left now.

“Who the bloody hell is left and how the hell have you got to 11 years old without the slightest interest in football ?” is what Sinbad Simpson shouted at us, I shrugged my shoulders, maybe it was because this small group of hero’s who were left didn’t actually give a shit about football, or sport in general, an attitude that was clearly alien and illegal to Sinbad Simpson, we got Pussy McNeil to take our double sports lesson, Pussy McNeil, a history teacher, 90 years old and rotund like a barrel, rotund like a large barrel, but he said he’d help out and how hard could it be to take Group Five in football – we didn’t play much football that term, we just stood around talking because Pussy McNeil didn’t turn up half the time and the school only had three football pitches so there wasn’t even any room for us on the playing field.

And then came the second term and we all found ourselves sitting on the freezing cold floor of the freezing cold gymnasium again, “This term we play rugby” announced Sinbad, “Hands up all of those who played for their junior school rugby team” and they were Group One, unsurprisingly the same boys who had been in Group One in football too, they got Tyrer, Carnegie College of Sporting Excellence rugby specialist.

Now I liked rugby, I had a season ticket at Headingley for Leeds Rugby League FC, so when Sinbad asked “Hands up all of those who enjoy rugby” then to my, and everyone else’s surprise, I put my hand up and to even more surprise I was picked for Group Two, the semi-elite group, some of whom actually got to play for the school.

It was the following week when I was stood on a cold, wet rugby pitch in my brand new Leeds Modern rugby shirt (reversible) in the cold wet January hail, when a voice in my head suddenly felt it time to speak out, “What the fook are you doing here?” is what the voice in my head said to me, and to be perfectly honest I didn’t have an answer.

And lets not forget, this was rugby union we were playing, legalised thuggery, and as Group Two we were cannon fodder for the Group One players, Group Two versus Group One on the top pitch is what they’d said and here was I wondering where on earth to stand on the pitch as they lined up to kick off, where should a flanker stand at kick off, for thats what Tyrer had told me to play as, a flanker, or at least I think he said flanker, they could be a bit coarse these rugby coaches.

I don’t know if its ever been done since but I managed to play rugby union every week against the elite Group One team for a whole term without once being tackled or involved in a tackle, not once, and for a flanker, who lines up in the scrum (I discovered) then that is some achievement, achieved by the simple means of passing the ball immediately it ever landed in my open arms, always keep a space between you and the opposition, never run towards the opposition, and pass the ball within half a second of receiving it, my golden rules for surviving a full term of rugby without ever getting your kit even slightly dirty.

And then came the term where we played cricket…


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