Field Athletics and the probable reason why I don’t really excel

It would have been difficult squeezing five different and concurrent games of cricket onto the Leeds Modern Grammar School playing field, big though it was, it wasn’t THAT big, and anyway, it only had one “square”, which is actually round, but never mind.

So the elite Group One boys got to play cricket on the square every Friday afternoon of the summer term, boys like Johnny Johnson, well turned out boys who owned white trousers and white cable knit sweaters and wore them as if they were born to rule, boys like that always had faces that you’d never tire of slapping, like David Cameron for instance.

There was always the practice nets of course, a football pitch had been commandeered for the practice nets and the Group Two boys took those every week, the one who thought they could make it all the way to, well, Group One.

After that they sort of ran out of ideas, no more room for any more cricket pitches so they took the bottom rugby pitch, the one that always flooded in winter and prayed that it would stay dry all summer, got some men from the council with whitewash and a paintbrush and a desire to draw straight lines and drew a running track around it, called it an athletics field, “Group Three, you’re doing track athletics today” they’d say and the boys who had thought that they would somehow be in with a chance of playing cricket for the school having put up their hands to the question “Who would like to play cricket for the school but has never played the game before in their lives ?” would spend eighty minutes running around and around a former rugby pitch and trying to avoid the still swampy swamp at the bottom end, seriously Mo Farrah would still be a refugee if he’d had to train with our facilities.

Group Four, probably cross country, which just left us, Group Five, those that were left after everyone else had put their hands up to something else, the ones who were left sitting on the cold, cold floor of the gymnasium staring at the hard uncompromising stare of Sinbad Simpson as he regarded us pitiful specimens of 11 year old males and wondering how, every year he was left with such wasteful driftwood after he’d selected his school teams, wasters and vagabonds who didn’t give a fook about sports, he took it personally you could tell, it was a personal slight to this Carnegie qualified sports master, and if you were crap in his geography class as well he’d assume that you had some vendetta against him.

“Field Athletics” is all he said to us and then dismissed us with a wave of the back of his hand, now I know what it means now but when I was eleven years old then Sinbad Simpson may as well have been describing the approach and landing pattern into the planet Zarg to a posse of Zargonian space cadets, in their native language of Zargon, I had never heard fo “Field Athletics” in my short life until that moment and neither had any other member of Group Five being that we all didn’t give a fook about sports of any kind, at all.

“Whats Field Athletics” we all mumbled to each other as we walked down the long playing fields towards the swampy bit right at the bottom, we hadn’t been told to walk all the way down the fields to the swampy bit at the bottom but it went without saying that Group Five would be doing field athletics on the swampy bit at the bottom for all of the other groups already had their bit of the huge playing fields sorted out, so that just left the swampy bit at the bottom.

Depending on how slovenly you walked it could take you nearly quarter of an hour to walk all the way down to the swampy bit at the bottom and then when we got there we found that there was no-one waiting to supervise us and no apparent sign of any equipment to do this “Field Athletics” with, so we found a dry patch on a slightly raised part of ground which was covered in long grass, and we sat down on it and waited.

About seventy minutes later the bell went for the end of the school day so we all stood up, brushed the grass seeds off our shorts and walked all the way back up the hill to the school, so much for Field Athletics, it seemed that Field Athletics consisted of sitting around in a field and doing even less work than a boundary fielder in cricket.

“Group Five, field athletics” is what Sinbad Simpson said the following week and so we all took an eternity to trudge down to the swampy bit at the bottom of the school playing fields, found our little hillock of long grass and sat down again.

After six more weeks of stunning field athletics inactivity Sinbad Simpson suddenly appeared, “POOF!!!” just like that, just like a pantomime wizard appearing through the floor of the stage with a flash of gunpowder, we never saw him coming at all, just a flash and there he was, with his beard and suspicious eyes.

“Right stand up and show me what you’ve learned”

We all stared at each other, “We’ve learned nothing sir” would have been the correct answer but obviously Sinbad Simpson, head of school sports, was under the impression that we had been receiving some field athletics tuition these past eight weeks and so we kept our mouths shut.

“Come on, who’s got the shot putt ?”, we glanced at each other again, what the bloody hell was he talking about now ?

Sinbad Simpson was glaring wildly around him now, beady eyes flashing here and there looking for evidence of field athletics, “Come on, who’s got the javelin, where’s the rake for the long jump pit ?”, apparently we had a long jump pit, that was news to all of us.

“Scuse me sir” said a boy from another form who’s name I never knew, because he was from another form, “but, erm, what are you talking about sir ?”

Sinbad Simpson went apeshit but not necessarily completely at us for it became obvious that we had supposed to be under the command of a stand-in sports master these past eight weeks, one who was supposed to be teaching us all about field athletics but who really wasn’t a sports master at all, they taught something else and had probably just muttered “Aye ok” from behind a newspaper in the staff room when Sinbad Simpson had asked them if they’d take us for field athletics – the stand-in sports master had obviously forgotten.

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3 thoughts on “Field Athletics and the probable reason why I don’t really excel

  1. The story used to circulate that the bottom end of the Leeds Modern playing field had been used during the (First? Second?) World War for the disposal of military hospital waste (bandages, body parts …). Hence, allegedly, the curiously pungent smell and stickiness of the ever-present mud.

    Incidentally, being in Group Five for Leeds Modern School sports was never as bad as being in the very lowest category – the Spares. (Consider the mathematics: 4-form entry (A-D), 30 pupils in each form = 120 souls: 5 groups of 22 cricketers = 110 souls). The luckless Spares – sensitive and profoundly unsporty – could be called upon to make up the numbers in any of the more enthusiastic Groups. Thus, at worst, a trembling unwilling weakling could find himself, bat in hand, up against a Group One psychopath doing his Fred Trueman impersonation.

    The Spares were not in general made up of the intellectual sports refuseniks: they were bright enough to recognise that a comfy Group Three or Four posting was the best billet for a quiet life.

  2. Jerry and Nick, this is all ringing faint bells. I remember being drafted into a rugby team playing the year above (a real set of bruisers) and being passed the ball at the end of a sweeping movement. All the lay between myself and glory was a line of six-foot-something murderers and a lot of mud. The teacher on the team (whose name I forget but he taught history, a blond bloke) stopped the game and shouted to the assembled masses…”Good god, I’ve never seen such a petrified look on a human face!” Mind you, he was probably trying to get me back for the time he asked for an essay of historical interest nd I turned in a tome about the Second World War battle for the mid-Atlantic, coz my dad happened to have a book about it. I think he was expecting something more like ‘How the Tudors invented crisps’ or similar.

    Jerry, were you the mover and shaker behind the lunchtime bridge games?

    Steve L.

  3. Lunchtime bridge ?

    I can’t even play Snap – lunchtimes tended to be spent behind the old fifth form block trying to grab a read of Nicholas Oldham’s Dads; porno mags, which left everything to your imagination and not much porno at all.

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