21. Digging For Victory With Punchy Mr Oddjob

Evergreen Cup Rnd 2

Weybridge Vandals 5 Derelicts 35

Forty-something and a little out of condition, he looked a familiar sight to seasoned exponents of vets rugby. He’d retained pretty good upper body strength over the years despite the expanding waistline and that troublesome knee. Damn that bloody cartilage that kept giving him gyp. Still, when the mood took him, he gave it an hour in the gym and worked that cross-trainer damned hard before hitting the free weights just long enough to enjoy the buzz, but avoid a seizure. Inevitably, he suffered the obligatory three-day aches and was then just about supple enough to trot out on a Saturday afternoon for the Vandals vets, albeit with liberal applications of sundry fiery ointments.

And at a guess, he was once a nuggety bugger on the pitch, a real awkward customer with a bit of gas and good hands… 1st XV for a while… although these days he liked to think his game was more about speed of thought and tactical positioning. And, f*ck yeah, he still looked “fly” in the black shirt… is you ignored the  3XL label. Tidy. So watch out Mr Oppo Tighthhead! To be precise, watch out Mr Derelicts Tighthead!

Such thoughts were popping like space dust through the ranks of Vandals front row as they eyed-up the scruffy assortment of Derelicts going about their luke-warm warm-up routine with what can best be described as calculated idleness. Perfunctory line-outs revealed Scud the ancient hooker mostly could not hit a barn door, let alone the No4 jumper. And this half-hearted Derelicts ritual nonsense, performed and perfected match after match, season after season, seemed to indicate to the home team what was to come for the following 80 minutes. The Vandals’ fat boys licked their lips in anticipation of dishing out a drubbing.

The whistle blew and off they scampered towards the raddled mob in red and white hoops. But quite quickly the horrible reality began to dawn on the Vandals. This wasn’t any bunch of geriatrics to be bullied into submission. This wasn’t just any old vets side. Beneath the shabby exterior, this was an M&S vets side with pedigree and intent, and a rather surprisingly piquant sauce. And with just minutes gone, the Derelicts were running phase ball from turnover. Quick hands from Rodley, slick hands from both Gazza and Pirate-faced Cliffy and a killer final pass from Secret Agent Percy put filthy-tempered fullback Vic The Vet through the defence to race over the line to score.

The bewildered Vandals scratched their heads in befuddlement. They felt somehow they’d been done over by a pickpocket. Affronted and huffy, they thundered after the kick off and strove to put the oikeys from Dorking back in their box. But they were immediately under great pressure from Dorking and their handling let them down, while the Red & Whites put together further passages of play before the influential Guinness-taster Ginge drew his man on the charge and fed grumpy old Vic for his second try. With Gazza converting both, the Derelicts were in a good position.

Meanwhile, in the front row, the Vandals loosehead realised to his dismay that he was way, way out of his depth,  as his body was pulled this way, that way, forward and backward, so the ref couldn’t see exactly… what  Punchy Mr Oddjob was up to. And before long, the rattled Vandal prop’s blasted dodgy knee was playing up again, wouldn’t ya know it, and their skipper called, Post Office Counter-style, for “Loosehead Number 2 please” to come and shore up a scrum that was by now creaking.

Loosehead No2 was a good operator who hadn’t played for a few years. Poor lad. First game back, in The Cup, Punchy Mr Oddjob at his destructive best. Crouch, touch, pause… engage, and simultaneously Loosehead No2 felt unexpected pain around the upper jaw and ear as he clashed heads with The Punchy One. Then in a split second he felt his binding arm being bent at an angle unfit for purpose. Holy strewth! The numbing pain would stay in his arm for the remaining useless minutes he spent on the field until he too would be forced off with, er, a dodgy knee/ankle/elbow. “Can we have Loosehead No3 please…”

All the while this personal, one-sided battle was being waged, the Vandals were piling on pressure in broken play and eventually their meaty, beaty, big ‘n bouncy winger bounded through about 15 Derelicts’ tackles to score. “Pretty sure I missed him twice,” fessed up The Challice, magnanimously afterwards. “Me too”… “and me”…

At this point a lesser side might have thought the game was up. And into the second half Vandals upped the ante and made a series of assaults on our line, a line which held, under the massive encouragement of The Challice, magnificently firm and tackled immaculately for 15 minutes to break the home side’s spirit.

Next move upfield and Dorking acquired a third try for Old Grumpy Boll*cks. Good hands again from Secret Agent Percy and Reigate Mike eventually provided Vic with a gap through which he darted and weaved miserably to the line. It was at this moment that we and the Vandals both knew they weren’t coming back.

Meanwhile, Vandals’ Loosehead No3 was having a torrid time of it. His left arm was now buckled under his entire body and, if he wasn’t much mistaken, being forced by the beast with no neck opposite to tickle his own testicles. Which was quite a feat, he had to admit. As Sir blew up for yet another scrum, Loosehead No3 could have sworn he felt that familiar twinge around the knee/ankle/shoulder/elbow coming on and with a sad shake of his head, he trudged to the sideline to express a sigh of relief as one might do at the extraction of a rotten tooth. It heralded the call for “Loosehead No4 please…”

“What, another one?” exclaimed brazen Punchy Mr Oddjob. “Don’t they like me or something?”

It was no better on the other side. Mozza, though it had taken longer, had seen off Vandals’ Tighthead No1 with a rather dicky knee, and Tighthead No2 was hoping for better luck when on came fired-up Farmer Dave to let loose the pent-up frustration of being on the sideline. And he dealt firmly with Tighthead No2 as he might one of his truculent sheep, lifting up his head swiftly just beneath his opponent’s sternum with such force that he heard the poor lad’s breath escaping from his lungs at force, much like air from a punctured tyre.

All perfectly legal, of course. But all of which gave the immaculately turned out custodian of the whistle a bit of a mare in his first game in charge at senior level. It was a pleasure to see our man Tap, master of the dark arts, in his Mr Gamekeeper guise. The initial, perfectly enunciated, exhortations to “now come on chaps…” and “I’ve seen that…” and “put him down… NOW” were to be replaced with ruthlessly awarded penalties at the merest hint of skulduggery, split infinitives or dropped aitches.

“If I don’t keep a firm grip on the syntax and grammar, Moz, we’ll be witnessing the most dreadful sub-estuary slang, a lack of verbs, improper pronouns and, dare I suggest, completely inappropriate use of tenses… and I just cannot permit that,” he said with a pursing of the lips and a tilt of the head. “Back ten and next time I’ll resort to cards.”

In the end Brother Tap acquitted himself extremely well in his ill-advised pale pink socks. “When he pinged me,” admitted Kinger later, “he was spot on… if a shade excitable.”

By now, the Derelicts were in imperious form, none more so than The Challice, Botty and The Count who played as well as any senior club back row combination can have done this season. It was never better illustrated than the Red & Whites’ fourth try where the back row exchanged passes at speed to leave Gazza an easy run to the line. It was a joy for the crowd to watch.

Try No5 very nearly capped a top afternoon for Punchy Mr Oddjob. The prop broke well, busy bugger Gerbil took it on and then filthy-tempered Vic set up Hairnet to scamper under the posts where he rightly resisted the temptation to pass to The Punchy One and grabbed the score for himself. Gazza, who kicked majestically all afternoon save the odd one that travelled backwards in the gusting wind, converted to make it five from five.

Moments later Tap called an early halt to proceedings, he’d become distracted by a pesky piece of frayed stitching having come away on a cuff and, frankly, he felt, it might have spoiled the game had it been left unattended.

Later, it was noticed that Botty, whose nose has remained an irregular shape these past decades, had been treated with one of Tantrumtrum’s mercurial cigarette tip-shaped blood-stopping filters. The hissy physio wodged it up his nostril, which not only stopped the bleeding and drew an expression of alarm from the big fella – but, according to Skip “left him with a straight hooter after all these years”.

Who’d a thought it? It’s been that sort of season.

Quarter finals next. I feel another Port coming on.

Squad:  Mozza, Scud, Oddjob, Farmer Dave, Kinger, Ginge, Hairnet, The Count, Botty, The Challice, Rodders, Reigate Mike, Gazza, Tantrumtrum, Young Robbins, Cliffy, Percy, Gerbil, Vic The Vet

NEXT: 22. The Cayenne Pepper Incident   Previous: 20. Lucky Undies