Scrap Book Project – School Sports (1)

School Rugby

When I was a boy I used to like playing sport, especially football and cricket even though I was never especially outstanding at either.  At school, when we were lined up against the wall and team captains made their selections I suppose, generally speaking,  I would be in the second wave of call ups in between those who were considered to be the best (those who everyone wanted on their team) and those who were completely hopeless and were avoided like the plague.  I suppose you would describe me as average, as with everything else in life.

School sport at Hillmorton County Junior School was really just about having a bit of fun, P.E. in the playground, a gentle game of rounders and French cricket at the nearby recreation ground and the annual Sports Day at the end of each Summer Term.

But in 1965 when I left the Junior School and went to secondary education at Dunsmore (now Ashlawn School) all of this changed and the whole thing took on a new dimension and became altogether more competitive and serious.  Dunsmore was a school that was proud of its sporting pedigree and achievements and expected all of the pupils to play a full and active part.  Because I was going to school in Rugby this meant Rugby Football and this was a whole new terrifying experience for me.

Before turning up on day one in September some during the summer holiday I had to be kitted out with the new school uniform and all of the appropriate new sports kit from the school outfitters, J M Squires at their shop in Sheep Street in the town.  The claret and blue reversible rugby shirt was made of a heavy cotton, the navy blue shorts were baggy and voluminous and the socks were too big and itchy.  To complete the kit there was a big pair of old fashioned ankle length boots made of stiff leather with nasty cork studs nailed into the sole. As well as the winter sports kit we had to have P.E. kit of sky blue doublet, white shorts, ankle socks and white plimsols.

First year sports afternoon was on Friday and so at the end of the first week I packed all of my kit into my duffel bag and looked forward to being on the playing field.  Naturally I was a bit apprehensive because although I had never played rugby before, or ‘rugger’ as people used to call it (presumably to differentiate it from the place) I knew that it had a reputation for being a bit rough and some of the other boys were considerably bigger than me.

The changing rooms were at the back of the playground and smelt permanently of stale sweat and carbolic soap.  They were functional and stark with rows of pegs for our clothes and wire baskets for our shoes, no lockers in those days and any valuables had to be handed in for safe keeping.  As soon as we were changed and ready we were required to line up for a kit inspection before being released through the blue double swing doors and out onto the playing field.

For the very first lesson we were given some basic instructions about the rules of the game and the general principles involved.  Not all the rules of course because there are a lot of them and they are quite complicated and then the games master, Wyn Morris, split us up according to size and his judgement on whether we would make rugby players or not.  Morris was a rugby fanatic and walked and talked with an arrogant swagger that struck fear into us boys.

He was also a bully in a time when it was acceptable to be a bully.  It must have been obvious to him that I was most unsuitable for the scrum and with little spindly legs he probably didn’t think I had the pace for the wings so I was in the group of potential scrum halves, that’s the poor chap who puts the ball in the scrum and then gets jumped on by all the big boys the minute it comes back out again.

After about thirty seconds I knew that rugby football wasn’t my thing but for the entire first term until Christmas every Friday afternoon was a miserable two hours of being bellowed at by Wynn Morris and being tried in a succession of different positions to see if we could find one that was suitable for my non existent talent for the game.

I hated it and as the winter wore on it got colder and wetter and muddier and when it got colder and wetter and muddier the kit quadrupled in weight and I barely had the strength to lug it around the field without the added burden of picking up an odd shaped ball and running with it.  Finally however, after what seemed an eternity, the whistle would thankfully blow and it was all over and there was a mad undignified dash for the warmth of the changing room and the communal hot shower.

16 responses to “Scrap Book Project – School Sports (1)

  1. Andy, as usual I enjoyed reading your article. I was terrified of Wynn Morris but after a couple of seasons I became good at rugby. In the army I played for my regiment, and went from strength to strength. Keep up the great articles. Catch you soon old friend

  2. Takes me back… I was always in the ‘last to be picked’ line of scruffy wimps in non-fitting ‘homemade by mom’ PE kit!

  3. enjoyed this – and my how things change! Also like your writing style – i.e. “winter wore on it got colder and wetter and muddier and when it got colder and wetter and muddier the kit quadrupled in weight….”

  4. Your rugby sounds the equivalent of my hockey. So pleased when we could opt out for cross country running instead. ie walking around a few local tracks, past the boys sports field and a few fags for the naughty girls (not me) in the bus shelters.

    • Cross Country is my next post! I used to like that, always good for a skive and just to get out of school felt strangely liberating. One week the naughty boys (the smokers) managed to set fire to the old railway bank with a carelessly discarded match and that meant a couple of weeks running around the school field where the masters could keep their eye on us!

  5. The Netball at my school was made of concrete (what ever the weather)……. don’t remind me.! Looking forward to your cross country recalls but it will no doubt remind me of,my very worst memories of school and running across fields….. no fags…… but still a bit of a wheeze.,

  6. Hmm, memories; I used to hide, anywhere, in the roof of the showers under a desk, behind a hedge, or wherever in my attempt to avoid games. Mostly it worked, occasionally they would have a purge and deliberately seek out those they knew were shirking, but when they did all the athletic and sporty boys grizzled about having the games-haters on their teams as we were hopelessly inadequate. The games master was particularly mean, he also took us for Maths and he hated me as I was no good at that either, but that’s another story for me one day perhaps?

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