15. Looking As Cheerful As Any Man Could…


Derelicts 7 Sidcup Vets 17

“The rest of the bullets you stop won’t hurt as much as that first one.” – Sgt Markoff, Beau Geste, 1939 

I’ve always wondered whether I could’ve cut the mustard in the French Foreign Legion. Apart from the obvious difficulties. Lots of sand in your crevices, earwax-melting heat, not to mention the hindrance of a large *rse, a ludicrous hat  and lots of blokes called Fabrice, Antoine and Auberge. But I reckon I’d have got used to it. A few blisters from those heavy boots trudging across the Algerian sand, a great deal of sweating, chafing from those unforgiving serge uniforms and the occasional demented thirst from the damned North African heat… but otherwise I reckon I’d have been good for my 30 francs a month, standard issue absinthe and a camel.

And after Sunday’s fabulous effort, I think we all would.

It’s clear myself and the likes of Scud, Oddjob and Prior Arrangement are best suited to moist winter days when the soil is forgiving and where a chap’s tonnage and integrity counts rather more than his elasticity. So when confronted with monsoon conditions, we’re your men. By contrast, the harder ground would seem to present the fuller-figure player with a quandary, namely at what point in the week is it acceptable to cry off?

It’s a tricky question. Reminds me of the media whore who does girls on Mondays, boys on Wednesdays and prefers to be spanked by a Spaniard in a lilac frock on Saturday afternoons. The question being, of course, just when does he find time to recover from his welts to sit in front of a computer to write about perfume for a well known Sunday supplement? Would that be a good enough excuse to miss deadline? In fact, no worse than Skip was getting.

There were plenty of excuses flying about this week – touring with the Minis (okay fair enough), laminating the tea towels, Artexing the fridge and renumbering the offshore bank accounts to name but a few of the excuses wheeled out once it became clear the game was on, the s*dding pitch was rock hard and the temperature likely to exceed “clement”.

But though stripped of some of our classic density, the Derelicts stepped up to be counted on a day better suited to a substantial lunch, a plunge in the pond and a long kip. So there was a certain amount of trepidation in the air.

“I went out to Charing Cross to see Major General Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could in that condition.” Samuel Pepys Diary

If the contact situation in the 1st XV play-off game the day before made you wince, it made one or two of us Derelicts shudder. A bit like waiting outside the headmaster’s study. You know what’s coming, but there’s not much you can do about it apart from grit your teeth. So, notes had been taken. And from the off the pack magnanimously agreed to “let the backs run with it a bit”. After you Claude. No no,  after you Cecil.

It didn’t quite work, but the idea was good. With a rare appearance from the elusive Dr John in commanding form at No10, Sidcup –  a good bunch of chaps equally perplexed to find themselves battling it out in mid summer – floundered. Their bigger pack dominated the line-outs, but buckled in the front row. They foraged very well and their backs looked menacing on the resulting ball, but found themselves downed at every opportunity by Dorking’s excellent defence which made their hurried passes worthless. The Derelicts backs were simply fabulous, saving several certain tries with superb defence, supported intently by the back row of Buzz, Lord Greed’s brother Russell, Thorners and, later, Tall Rick the flanker making an excellent debut in his resplendent hat.

The French Foreign Legion succeeds because it is an amalgam of souls ineligible to fight for the French Army, instead relying on tortuous team-building tactics to forge them into a formidable force.

The Derelicts, like The Legion, were covered in dust and sweat and bits of cactus by the end. No challenges were shirked and the contact areas were heavily contested, restricting the oppo to a single first-half score. The play was not all on the back foot either with quick ball from Gazza at 9 helping Dr John create half chances and openings which threatened to set free Lord Greed, Teflon and grumpy Bryan The Flying Vet. The interchangeable wonders on the wings – Fast Graham, Nozza, Juggler and Wolfie – were also made to work overtime, non more so than Wolfie who made the serious error of challenging for a high ball with Oddjob. “B*ll*cks,” mused Wolfie, as he lay prostrate in the dust before suffering the indignity of being trampled by the oppo.

It being a cup game, we were somehow obliged to do the full 40-minute first half, plus Sir grudgingly stopping the clock for essential water breaks and injuries, of which there were a few. So when the first half drew to its close we’d been on the field for about 55 minutes, which as you know is often the sum total of our exertions of an afternoon in more agreeable conditions.

Anyway, this wasn’t a day for Mavis The Matador to be flapping the cape in the face of the oppo. This was a day to stand up and make your tackles, which we did, exhorted by Buzz to the very last. And I am proud to report that we continued to give it our all for the following 50, nay 60-odd minutes of the second half or however many Sir prescribed, including time-off for a short intermission for the sudden arrival of a swarm of bees.

The cloud of winged intruders were in berserk mode, strafing the superheated elderly chaps as they fled, arms flapping, in circles as they sauntered and stumbled aimlessly until the threat had passed and the swarm moved on, much to the relief of all. It was the fastest most of us had moved all season.

Apart from old grumplestiltskin Brian The Flying Vet, of course, who’s persistence paid off as he raced in unopposed for a try converted by The Doctor so that we’d at least troubled the scoreboard.

“That which does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” Nietzsche

Which may be so, but it doesn’t preclude revenge. So I’d just like you to know Colin, Sir, as I sit here writing days after the event still scuffed up and aching, that revenge must surely follow for making us play for the best part of two hours in the heat, you sadistic, whistle-happy, old toad.

Aaaanyway. What a season. Not enough ‘Ws’ perhaps and certainly a few opportunities lost and the odd mismatch. But generally we looked like we had a plan every time we went out and, more importantly, a good bit of belief. And boy were we cheerful.

There are those who continue – impertinently – to suggest we are perhaps too old for this veterans rugby lark. A preposterous notion.

And I don’t know about you, but I don’t need them to remind me of the ageing process. I have a bladder that does that.

Until next season amigos…

Squad: Moz, Scud, Oddjob, Skip, Thorners, Buzz, Dave Chave, Prior Arrangement, Tall Rick, Viscount Russell Greed of Kent, Gazza, Dr John, Fast Graham, Lord Shane Greed of Dorking, Teflon, Nozza, Bryan The Flying Vet, The Juggler, Wolfie

NEXT: 16. Tis A Scratch… A Mere Flesh Wound   

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