Which One Of You’s The Hobbit?

Guernsey Vets 35 Dorking Derelicts 3

The Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch depicted sin and human failings. Bosch must have played veterans rugby. He used images of demons, half-human animals and machines to evoke fear and confusion to portray the evil of man.

The works contain complex, imaginative and dense use of symbolic figures and iconography, some of which was obscure even in his own time. He is said to have been an inspiration for the Surrealist Movement. We like that.

While the ‘Ones’ were doing the sensibile thing and preparing for their League game the next afternoon with an early night, the Derelicts party had discovered The Harbour Lights – St Peter Port’s version of the White Hart in Dene Street. And that was pretty surreal. What exactly went on in there on Friday night I am not at liberty to discuss, but think of the works of painters like Bosch – perhaps set to a sound track of the very best singalong classics – and you sort of get the picture, so to speak.

As evening entertainment, it was sublime. As preparation for an hour’s exertion under a scorching sun on a firm playing surface, it didn’t actually help much. Had we had the ability to be so, we would have been down-hearted as we turned up at Guernsey RFC looking like a scene from the Dawn Of The Dead, that not even pink shirts, shades and DJs could hide.

A quick headcount revealed just 17 players showing faint pulses, while the rest of the travelling squad of 97 somehow melted away to the bar. The skies seemed suddenly dark and ominous.  But then, a glimmer of hope in an otherwise desperate situation. The unexpected arrival of sprightly, if slightly reluctant, young Crooky – possessor of a shiny ring of optimism.

“I found these old boots hidden in a cave and they’re meant to bring me immense good fortune,” chirped Crooky.

“Hmmmmm!” mused  Rodders: “A hobbit! Now that’s got to be a bonus. There might be a Plan B after all.”

And with that, and despite his protestations that he wasn’t ready for what lay ahead, the veteran centre was dubbed Frodo and thrown a shirt.

“But I’m not ready to become a Derelict,” spluttered Frodo, “I’m too young, too fit and just look at the state of you lot….”

As his voiced tailed off, he looked around the dressing room at some distantly familiar faces of players who were once 1st XV colleagues and wondered how it had come to this. Saddled with a bunch of legends of the game, currently too fuddled to tie their own boot laces.

Observers wondered aloud how the rarified perfume culture of the Shire Hobbits in the 2nd XV this season would serve Frodo in the murky side of Middle Earth where the fetid Derelicts conducted their unsavoury business? And which of this foul blend of new acquaintances and old friends would assist this tousely-tonsured back with the rigours of his Quest? A mission, no less, than to toss the wretched stigma of a back playing for the veterans at such a very tender age into the Crack Of Doom.

“I’d like to bin my a*se in the Crack Of Doom,” groaned Hairnet, a broken soul. “That Guernsey Special bitter’s done for me and no mistake.”

The dressing room was surprisingly heady. Vileness abounded amid the disgorged contents of badly packed kitbags. Scud, immersed in his first full tour since 1947, quivered gently like a raspberry jelly. Nobody had remembered the tape. Several emitted gases, desperately hoping they were not liquids. There was precious little hot sauce, Vick or Vass. Dressing room lights flickered and hummed. Nausea threatened. Nobody was quite sure what was going on. Least of all young Frodo.

Wolfie was in the process of slipping on a pair of his daughter’s multicoloured clown shorts, when a voice of authority bellowed: “Just a couple of calls you’ll need to know Frodo, playing in the backs,” said The Challice. “Forwards going open … and forwards going blind. Got that?”

And then they were tumbling out in a cloud of sulphur gas onto the pitch to play rugby. We felt awesome.

The Guernsey Orks were not so terrifying, and the Derelicts were soon having a go and pretty much in contention. Of sorts. Most were playing on autopilot, except ironically poor Pomf The Pilot who had been thrown in once again at tighthead and for once had no autopilot to assist him as his feet rose up and down off the floor in the scrum, as the local loosehead toyed with him as a cat might sort out a nearly dead mouse.

Carlsberg Mike bent in slow motion to retrieve the first ball from the base of a ruck and fired it 40metres at speed in no obvious direction, while his eyes focused the opposite way. Handy Andy displayed his accomplished ignoring of the overlap technique. The excitement of playing alongside the feisty hobbit put an extra spring in Greedy’s stride. Frodo, though appalled, got properly stuck in.

We shipped a couple of unconverted tries before Gazza hefted a penno to cut the gap, and Handy Andy pulled off the save of the match with a stonking tackle on the bull-like island winger by way of compensation for his earlier tunnel vision and wasting of the overlap.

And at the interval there was just a small matter of a 10-3 deficit to rectify. It was that easy. And Frodo had survived the half and was emboldened to chivvy the boys along with some well chosen words.

“You fat, lazy, drunken f*ckers,” he thought, before catching himself “…er, let’s, er …do it. Yeah! Come on, we can give more than that… tackle around the fringes … support … pick and drive…” It was good stuff in the best Buzz tradition. And promptly ignored.

And at the turnaround we boasted not only Hairnet and The Challice, but also now Thorners and The Count to make it a very useful and mobile pack, while the backs were poised to strike at the very first opportunity. Oh yes.

But damn that baking Channel Islands heat! The 11.30 kick-off meant we were achieving critical mass at the height of the midday sun and our magical powers began to drain away, although the drunken skunk-like aroma in the pack proved as acrid as it was persistent to the very end. Mistakes, from both sides, meant an endless round of scrums which saw the front rows engaged in a tedious, pointless and sweaty excerise in how to please Sir and his persistent whistlings. And precious little else.

They scored a few tries. But we kept going and were eventually rewarded with the extraordinary sight of Glenn being attacked by an especially ferocious high ball. The towering kick came out the of the sun and chased him round and round and round in circles before he threw up his hands to protect his head from the menacing oval sphere, that inevitably smacked him smartly full-square on the ear for being a knob. There wasn’t a dry trouser on the park.

As the stagnant half meandered along, a voice of dissent rang out. “I don’t want to play rugby any more,” said Ginge, “I just want to drink Guinness.” Which he did periodically through the rest of the game until Sir eventually put us out of our misery and we went off to enjoy more refreshing pastimes.

Later someone would recall that, it being tour time once more, it must obviously be Glenn’s birthday. So we sang him songs, made a fuss and then made him drink the Yard – which he found a bitter sweet experience. It being neither an appealing thing to do on the third day of tour … nor in fact his birthday.

The Stigma of playing for the Derelicts may have been cast into the fires of The Crack Of Doom to burn for ever, but Frodo was sad. For he knew too well that other qualified Derelicts within the club would continue to dodge the inevitable call up. They didn’t know what they were missing, he lamented. An unforgettable experience which would take him many years to fully erase from his mind.

“You know Moz,” said Cliff, with an air of authority, as we enjoyed the post match hospitality of Guernsey RFC in the glorious Spring sunshine, “because you consume so much ice while you drink it, you can do a dozen and a half bottles – or more – of Magners and still feel fine in the morning. I think my brother told me that.”

And do you know, at the time, in the moment, it made absolutely perfect sense.

NEXT: Apocalypse Neuil L’espoire    Also available: Zen, Skip And The Art of Vets Captaincy

Squad: Moz, Scud, Pomf The Pilot, Skip, Ginge, Thorners, Hairnet, The Count, The Challice, Reigate Mike, Rodders, Gaz, Nozza, Raymondo, Lord Greed, Frodo, Gerbil, Glenn, Handy, Wolfie.
Extras: Thousands of ’em. Special thanks to Jonah and the good folk of Guernsey.