What were the chances of that? On Saturday February 23, 2008, Arsenal’s inspirational Eduardo da Silva AND Derelicts prop Mozza were both lost to British Sport with serious, career-threatening injuries. Neither would ever be quite the same athlete again. There was as much wailing and sobbing on the North Bank as at Kiln Lane. I’m pretty sure of this.
Having been helped from the field of play and carted off to the dressing room by Sponge and Botty, wounded Mozza suspected all was not well. Tap and his bloody curse had left the prop’s lower leg on fire, like a horse had given him a bloody good kick.
But, stung by Botty’s “you’re squealing like a girl” jibe, he resolved not to show further weakness lest it incur the infliction of more ignominy. So he discarded his neoprene field armour with care and all the humour he could muster and, half dressed, stumbled off towards the bar and the solace of a skinful of London Pride, the Derelicts ale of choice. That would sort things. It always did.
Just then, as he limped out of the fug and chaos of the dressing room, Guys Hospital’s spritely seventy-two-year-old hooker appeared and eyed him with what Mozza thought, if he wasn’t much mistaken, was sheer disdain.
“How’s your old prop then,” laughed Mozza.
“You mean,” said the hooker, “apart from the fact that you half suffocated him?”
“Did he not enjoy the game?” the prop asked awkwardly, his voice rising.
“And when he thumped you to get off,” berated the hooker, “you head-butted him.”
Shamefully, it was all true. The hooker’s equally ancient prop had been a nuisance and Mozza had simply dealt with the presenting situation a little too abruptly. But shortly after that his game had come to a sudden and very painful end as Tap’s curse struck.
“Anyway, you look in trouble,” said the old doc quite kindly, taking pity on the half-dressed lump limping in cartoon fashion, “want me to take a look at that leg?”
But just as things looked like they might start to improve for Moz, wild-eyed Tantrumtrum the physio suddenly appeared and declared: “That won’t be necessary, I’ll take care of him.”
And Moz felt sure he detected an evil glint in Tantrumtrum’s eye as he trudged forlornly into the physio room, to heave his bulk onto the treatment table.
“EEEOWWWFFFF,” cried Moz, as Tantrumtrum’s sausage-like digits prodded and twisted the inflamed, tender area around his Achilles tendon.
“Does that hurt,” asked the physio, “or that… or that… or when I do THAT…”
“Just a … Jeeezzus yow sadistic b*stard.”
“Well I can’t say definitely, but I’m pretty sure the leg’s not broken…”
“No! No!” pleaded Moz, “It’s not my leg I think it might be my Achi…” But before he could get the words out Tantrumtrum had been distracted by someone shouting that the kitchen was about to run out of Mr Brown’s burnt pasties and beans and off he scooted to grab his tea.
It was that sort of luckless day. So it was back to Plan A and off he trudged to get w*nkered to ease the pain and see if the Guys’ doc was still around if for no other reason than to cheer himself up by taking the p*ss out of his long baggy shorts.
A few days later, recovering from lengthy surgery to weld his completely ruptured Achilles tendon back together, Mozza had plenty of time to remember the circumstances of the injury as he lay with his leg in plaster in the grim surroundings of the geriatric ward in East Surrey Hospital.
Awash with morphine, Moz contemplated his fate. It was not the first time he had had to see his dear old friend Mr Tantrumtrum. He’d fixed him up pretty good plenty of times before, especially in the early days when he became a front row and his neck would ache as a result of a wily oppo nearly succeeding in shoving his head up his own ar*ehole or bending him in half so that he could virtually kiss his own nut sack. No, without the expert intervention of Mr T, his head may very well still be seated on his shoulders but it would almost certainly be at an unnatural angle.
Having started playing again as a centre, invariably flapping about in the midfield like Mavis the bloody Matador unable to catch his opposite number, he’d asked Skip how things were looking for the season ahead. Peering at him coldly and without drawing breath Skip had said simply: “We’re short of props.”
And that was that. Moz was volunteered to prop and got on with being ripped up and down by more experienced exponents of the dark arts, and having the piss ripped out of him by Punchy Mr Oddjob. Which meant a few trips to Uncle Tantrumtrum to be straightened out.
Anyway, was it an error or coincidence or cruelty that such a supreme athlete in peak condition had been billeted in an orthopaedic ward, brim-full of elderly patients? Clearly the NHS had based the place on a Hieronymus Bosch painting. One deranged soul bayed like a dog throughout the night, another kept repeating quietly in a Kenneth Williams voice: “Oh dear… oh dear, I don’t understand… it wasn’t meant to end like this.”
“No it bloody wasn’t,” thought Moz, ruefully, wondering to whom he should now donate his vast stock of Vaseline, Vick, Deep Heat (spray and sauce), Ibuprofen (capsules, caplets, tablets, gel), not to mention yards and yards of electrical tape (blue, black, yellow, white, yellow/green and red), armour (headguard, knee brace) and pads (shoulder, shin and sanitary). And not forgetting his trusty old boots with the longer studs for better purchase and occasional sly raking purposes.
And then, of course, his opiated mind reasoned, he’d have to drop the England selectors and manager an official letter of retirement. It was the least he could do for his country.
‘Dear Sir, I am the bearer of bad news I’m afraid…’
And, indeed, where now would the Derelicts find yet another prop? Thank heavens young, punchy Farmer Dave had joined the fun with his mischievous grin, but it could not hide the shortness of supply these days of chaps prepared to enjoy a rugged afternoon’s combat and badinage.
While he contemplated this, most of the other patients dribbled, honked, snored and wibbled. And then a rather fat bald bloke called Desmond gassed the entire ward having seemingly soiled himself. He then began quietly sobbing.
“F*cksake mate… What on earth have you been eating? Rotting badger lung? I’m Moz by the way… shall I call a nurse for you?”
“Sorry Moz. I think it was just a fart… You see,” lamented Fat Des through snot and tears, “it being Saturday afternoon, the wife dropped by earlier and slipped me several bottles of London Pride to cheer me up and, well, one thing led to another and… I’m not in such great shape these days. I’ve lost most of my teeth, I’m overweight and I’ve just had a prolapse… then I chanced a small fart to relieve the trapped gas… and this bloody happens…. sniff.”
“What are you actually in here for Des?” asked Moz.
“Well that’s a good question,” said Fat Des. “I’m not actually sure.”
And at that point, it all got a bit much. It all seemed too, too sad and unfair. Fat Des with poor bowel control and heaven-knows what else, Moz with a serious sports injury… both stuck in Bedlam.
Wallowing in his sadness for the passing of an illustrious career spent mostly in recent years never being quite fit enough, he knew how much he was going to miss being a part of this team, this Cheers Bar-style gang of heroes and zeroes, the mad and the bad, the loud and the quiet guys. The sense of belonging to a most diverse and wonderful group of characters, who all seemed to buy into the theory that if you look around a crowd and can’t see who’s the bellend, then chances are that bellend is you. Special shared laughs. And special special laughs earned by participating to your best in a team. And sometimes even enjoying sporting highs, watching and engaging with the final moments of really exceptional skill by talented players now in the twilight of their game.
And moments of incredible timing and good fortune too, moments when a lazy prop languished upfield on the 22 long after play had moved on. Then suddenly watching a lung-bursting run by The Count as he is caught on the 22 with no-one in support but… the dawdling prop. And the prop taking the ball on and instinctively throwing a dummy pass that the defence completely buys… allowing him to toddle through the resulting gap to dot down for his one and only Derelicts try. And throwing the ball into the air in celebration. Elation. There are few better feelings in life than scoring a try. Save maybe for going on tour. And touring with these people. He knew he’d miss that.
Moz pondered what life was really all about. Things begin. Things end. Things begin again. The prop in the wrong position at the right time to score a try. Things happen by chance. They end, they begin again. The beginning of the end. The end of the beginning. My my isn’t morphine just the bestest thing ever…
The end of a Derelicts prop. Where would they find another? Well, things happen when you least expect them.
And at that moment Fat Des – all 20-plus stone of him run to fat, but with a pretty thick neck, Moz couldn’t help but notice – dried his eyes and said in a small voice: “You know, I used to enjoy myself. Socialise. Liked a few beers and a bit of a sing. I did a bit of physical work too, kept up the fitness. And then it all went the way of the pear… everyone keeps telling me to pull myself together and I really ought to get out and exercise more.”
“Metamophosis!” thought Moz. “A chance meeting! As one Derelicts prop is lost another potential prop hoves into view… Carpe bloody diem!”
“Mate, mate…” said Mozza, seizing the moment, “I think I’ve got just the thing for you. What are you doing next Saturday afternoon? You can borrow my boots.”