I was five foot three and weighed eight and a half stone. I was tiny and as light as a dandelion clock. The whole year group played rugby. They were big, burly kids. On Wednesday afternoon they were divided up into six teams and allocated to the three different pitches where they all played a game.
The five of us leftover were given a rugby ball and told to kick it around at the far end of the field, out of the way, where we couldn’t get into mischief.
I was right pissed off. I was tiny and thin but I was strong and wiry and extremely aggressive and nippy. I’d already been thrown out of cubs for being too wild. I was the champion of British Bulldogs. I was thrown out of scouts for being too wild. I was the sporting champion of my block. My whole life was spent running wild in the fields, up trees, in ditches, riding horses and up to all sorts. I was co-ordinated, determined and fearless. Yet I couldn’t even make the sixth team. It was insulting. I knew I was born to be a rugby player.
I put up with it for a few weeks but it was so boring kicking a ball around with six other non-combatants. They were useless. It was obvious that we were considered the dregs. Nobody even checked to see if any of us had any potential. As far as they were concerned, from a cursory judgement, we were too fat, too uncoordinated, too unfit, or too little to be of value on a rugby field.
After three weeks of boredom, I went to see the sports master Kallinack and complained. He brushed me off.
In frustration, I went home and demanded that my mum write a note. I was steaming. Kallinack read it grudgingly, weighed up whether he could put up with the hassle of sticking to his guns and grudgingly made a decision. It was of little importance to him. He put me in the sixth team and ousted some other unfortunate into the wilderness that existed behind the touchline.
I played like a man possessed, or at least a boy possessed. I tackled, wrestled, charged and fiercely contested for every ball. The teacher in charge had put me in as a hooker. I asked him where I had to be as I was a bit hazy about the rules. He said my job was to be where the ball was. That’s where I was.
I was under every maul. I was charging every kick. I was wrestling the ball off anyone who had it. I didn’t care what team they were on. That ball was mine. I was a demon. I had no regard for personal injury. The rules were a little bit of an unknown but I had five weeks pent-up frustration and unlimited energy to burn.
The next week I found myself promoted to the fourth team. Once again I was like a firework exploding in their midst. I wanted that ball. I chased it down and once I had it I was a fury. Nobody was getting it off of me. I ended the game bruised, battered and exalted. Many of the bigger kids were afraid of me. My determination more than made up for my lack of finesse or brawn. I was a midget H-bomb. They saw that I had no limits.
I walked off the pitch clutching that ball. I was loving this!
The next week I found myself in the second team. The second team were important, they actually played other schools. Somebody had said something. Kallinack gave me the once over and I thought I detected a little hint of admiration in his eye. I would show the bastard. I would teach him to leave me out on the touch-line. This time it was not so easy. We played against the first team and they had craft, speed and stamina, but I was a ferocious dynamo and I had something to prove.
It took me a few more weeks for me to break through into the first team. Trevor, the school hooker, had to drop out with bad burns on his back, caused either by someone putting a firework down his shirt or deliberately burning him with a lighted cigarette, depending on who you believed (he was a bit of a bad lad). I took his place as the school hooker.
Once I was there no one was going to get me out.
I played like a dervish. The centre of that scrum was mine. I didn’t care which side had the put in, I fought for that ball. I’d fling myself in there. If the other guy was foolish enough to get his legs in between me and the ball that was his look-out. I swung on my props and fought for that ball into their second row. My job was to get it back for my side. Every ball lost was a mortal blow. I wasn’t happy unless I hooked every ball and even if it was deep within their scrum I still fighting for it. This was where being small was an advantage. I could stand up and swing on my huge props. I could reach into their scrum and battle. It took other teams by surprise. It was normal to acknowledge second best when it was the oppositions put in. Not with me it wasn’t. I won a fair proportion.
The following season I was playing for my county. Nobody would ever write me off again.