My daughter, Bethany, told me a story about something good she did at work, but circumstances dictated that she was unable to claim any credit for it. It reminded me of a rugby league story which I’ve since recounted a few times.
I used to play rugby for Sunderland in the mid-1980s. We played a friendly match against Clayton ARLFC in Bradford and afterwards, 5 Sunderland players were asked if we would like to join the Clayton team on a short tour to the South of France to play two matches in Toulouse. We were not really part of the Clayton team but we were welcomed anyway, and made lots of friends. At this point, I could tell you stories of some of the events of that memorable trip, including:
- a drunken visit to the Pernod factory,
- indescribable mass seasickness on the Portsmouth to St Malo ferry,
- the time I fell asleep in a French café/bar and awoke with my right arm completely clean-shaven,
- trout fishing,
- getting lost in Auterive and having to blag a lift back to our base using translation skills gained from my French language O-level,
- an England v France size contest (I’ll leave it to your imagination to determine what was being measured, suffice to say the little French scrum-half won after the English prop-forward quickly admitted defeat before having to remove his trouser belt).
This particular story is about one of the best moments I’ve ever had on a rugby pitch. In a tough game played in blistering heat, the score was 20-20 with less than a minute to play. Our French opponents were in possession, virtually on their own line, but in a final display of Gallic flair they whizzed the ball out to their left-winger who cut through our defence and went flying down the touchline. I was the only Clayton player who made an effort to chase. With every stride I was slowly gaining ground and, after a 90m run, we arrived at our try-line together. He glanced across at me and put in a full scale dramatic dive into the corner to claim the match-winning try. I did the same thing, smashed him in mid-air with every ounce of energy I had left and managed to dislodge the ball and prevent him scoring. The final whistle blew immediately afterwards.
The French winger and I gathered our breaths back – or as the Australians call it, “sucked in the big ones” – we shook hands, helped each other off the ground and joined our teammates at the other end of the pitch in an act of cross-channel, end-of-match camaraderie.
Back in the changing rooms, all the players were buzzing; no one had expected us to even get close to the French team, let alone leave the match with a draw. I’ll never forget the moment that our captain was talking to all the senior players in the team and said “What a fantastic match, but who made that crunching tackle at the end to stop them scoring?” No one said anything; inside my head, my brain was screaming “Tell them, tell them it was you”, but I didn’t. I thought in that moment that I would come across as a needy little nerd in a team of relatively tough rugby players, so I opted to sit there in silence.
Did I do the right thing? I’m not sure, even to this day.