16. Tis A Scratch… A Mere Flesh Wound

Dorking Derelicts 12 Cobham All Stars 24

It had been several seasons since the siren call of the ghosts of the sparsely-grassed pitch three with its distinctive slope had first summoned me to lace up the boots once again. But it is fair to say playing for the Derelicts had involved a steadily growing list of aches and pains.

Initially, on post-match Sundays a warm glow of satisfaction usually descended. Coupled with a mild hangover and some gentle strolling about coaching the kids, any physical damage was masked until Mondays.

Mondays were a different story as we descended the stairs looking very much – as one colleague and fan of Gerry Anderson animations put it – “like Virgil Tracey”. Either that or on all fours backwards. Thunderbirds were mostly “not go”.

Things usually picked up by Tuesday and by Wednesday a game of touch rugby in the evening wasn’t out of the question as we started to look ahead eagerly to the weekend.

But recently the aches had still been lingering about at the end of the week, so the pain never actually went away… save maybe for Saturday night and that was entirely due to London Pride.

So I wasn’t sure about lacing up the boots again for the new season. Not at all sure.

But then I was forced to go to Crawley. If nothing else, a game of vets rugby, a couple of sherbs and ripping the pi*s out of each other beats a Saturday afternoon shopping trip to Crawley, no matter what muscular discomfort.

Then again, just about anything beats a Saturday shopping trip to Crawley. A truly unpleasant experience suffered by those for whom drinking at the plump leaky teat of the retail sector can no longer be put off.

And what a pleasure to be surrounded by hordes of nylon-tracksuited teenage boys and girls playing unidentifiable tiss, tiss, tiss music from their mobile phones. Just for my sodding benefit. Innit. Safe.’S’up dude!?’

S’up? I’ll tell you wassup Spotty. I want to push your noisy feckin’ phone up your nose, ignite your trackie and turn your preposterous baseball cap 45 degrees before forcing you to eat silica gel bags so that you stop spitting.

But it’s summer and I’m here with the Operations Manager. She thinks they’re dickheads too, but of course, quite rightly, ignores the little puss puddles. Her priority is to buy school uniform for the kids and to try on an array of garments herself. She likes that I’m there too. I can hold the bags and spend hours guessing how she thinks she looks in tops and frocks and shoes and… and… and you can guarantee that I will not guess correctly once. Not once, no matter how lovely I think she looks in said new garment.

I fidget. I ache with discomfort and boredom. My neck itches. I feel hot and sticky. If it were allowed of men at my age, I would cry and stamp my feet. I would break things. And I would bellow: “Well f*ck this for a game of soldiers.”

I suppose it could be worse. I know it could be worse. It could be a vast outlet village. Enough to soil yourself at the very thought.

So I do know it could be worse. But it could be better. It could, for instance, involve pulling on the red and white hooped jersey and rampaging about against our old chums Barns Green.

The thought lifts my mood and as I wander through the bovine crowds in Crawley and I begin to anticipate the holy rituals of applying the hot sauce, feeling the exquisite mix of excitement and fear rise in my chest and enjoying mates’ voices across the dressing room.

“Have you taken your anti-knobhead pills Wolfie?”

“Looks like those shorts have shrunk over the summer Kinger…”

“Well f*ck your eyes…”

“More product for Tap?”

“Where the f*ck is Oddjob?”

“Who’s got my No10 shirt?”

“We don’t have a No10 shirt…”

“Anyone got a stud spanner?”

“Use Scud’s false gnashers…”

“Oh dear… have you seen who’s reffing? It’s that pillock with the pink socks.”

“Have I got time for another before kick off?”

Barns Green cry off. Some fool instead accepts our first game against Cobham. Cobham! Two of the hardest games we played last season. No gentle re-introduction to the beautiful game for us. No let up in pain.

Astonishingly, we play well. Really well. Lord Greed inadvertently nobles their fast-looking athletic-limbed back with an over-enthusiastic tackle, deemed a tad too high. It serves to stop him in his tracks. Fortunately he’s too immersed in the agony of a twisted leg to remonstrate about the careless attempt to separate his head from his shoulders. Cobham no longer look so potent. Greedy looks sheepish.

First-half highlights include a lung-busting 40-metre break by Kinger. It must be the fetching new Baywatch-style barnet arrangement. Later we are treated to a length of the pitch interception by Rodders, stopped just short of the line. It must be the snazzy new slippers he’s acquired. Both bursts of exuberance warrant tries. But there’s nowt so lonely as a Derelict on a solo run. The support is not immediately visible and the chances are gone.

There are plenty of other shorter bursts, yet the All Stars take the lead against the run of play before Hairnet torpedoes his way through after several phases of well worked Derelicts attacks on the Cobham line. Gazza converts. The half passes in a cloud of wheezing and sweat. Familiar territory. Lord Greed gets a try but also spurns one glorious overlap and later spills the ball with the line begging. Wolfie suggests we send him to Coventry. Overall, we play with a bit of cohesion and Percy, Ludders, Gazza, Fast Graham and The Juggler keep The Cobham nicely subdued in the backs and throw some moves, some of which come off. Class.

Traipsing off at half time, a Cobham voice says: “Of course, if we’d had our regular boys out there I think we’d take you today.” The f*cking graceless *rse. I get that feeling of deja vu. I’m certain they said the same thing last year when we beat them. Deluded p*ick.

Our invincibility is short-lived. The All Stars get their act together, particularly in the loose and spoil our ball even though we field a stronger pack. The oppo thoughtfully draft in several young, fast boys to ensure themselves an advantage. “We’ve brought in a few boys from the Threes to make up numbers, but they’re not strong players,” their captain lies as we restart. One of them immediately sprints in for two quick tries. Another bounds around the park like a young deer. None of them shave.

We win no line-out ball, yet scatter them in the scrum. They win the majority of loose ball. There are cheap shots. There is gobbing off. The ref is exasperated. But there is much laughter.

There are positives in defeat. A huge effort by all especially in the pack. “See,” says Skip. “That’s down to me coming on.” Yes,” it is agreed, “the sheer power of our elderly skipper stops the rot.” He is dubbed Mark ‘The Power’ Witkowski.

Ginge thunders around the park like a labrador. The Juggler’s electronic hands have been re-set. Greg The Peg plays a blinder at 10. And Punchy Mr Oddjob returns to point out the shortcomings of the other two-thirds of the front row in no uncertain terms.

And so the pain continues. The beatings will continue, it seems, until morale improves.

Having been on the receiving end of Punchy Mr Oddjob’s character reading, Scud and myself remind ourselves that things could actually be worse. We could be shopping in you know where.

Squad: Prior Arrangement, Scud, Mozza, Oddjob, Kinger, Jonah, The Power, Ginge, Buzz, Hairnet, The Count, Reigate Mike, Rodders, Gazza, Greg The Peg, Percy, Lord Greed, Handy, Ludders, Fast Graham, The Juggler.

NEXT: 17. Spandex Ballet   Previous: 15. Looking As Cheerful As Any Man Could…