9. Zen, Skip And The Art of Vets Captaincy

Dorking Derelicts 13 Farnham l’Escargot XV 7

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree where Alph the secret river ran through caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea…

Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Quite the poet he was with a headful of opiates. The drug of choice of many seeking deeper understanding, the window into the mind, firing up the third eye.

Like Leadership qualities. A bit surreal really. Some have it, some don’t. Many of us will never understand how it works. Some of us cannot spell it. Most of us could not deal with it. And you can’t steal it.

What is it? Well… it almost certainly smells like good car leather polish, feels like Sherlock Holmes after a good tug on the opium pipe, if it were music it would be a mellow jazz, it tastes like a finest Sauternes with a side plate of foie gras. On a good day. On a bad day? On a bad day everything tastes like sh*te.

Captaincy brings highs, lows and a long list of distinguished night nadgers – the persistent worries from the deepest parts of the mind that demand attention through the darkest parts of night with their unreasonable need to be wrestled with until 30 minutes before the alarm goes off. Not everyone can be in charge. Not everyone is suited.

Now take Skip, a man of few words with brute sensibilities and a complex surname, yet fathomless depths of cunning and the longest address book in club history. On Saturday, years of sleepless, nadger-filled nights culminated in a sort of Timothy Leary-type LSD-style clarity and some decisions of breathtaking vision. I’m pretty sure of this.

Presented with a brow-furrowing conundrum of how to keep his abundant squad of brutes occupied in the face of pleas from an obviously depleted Extra A XV, while plotting to beat The Farnham, Skip called upon his many years of captaincy experience and decided there was no room for sentiment.

Without pause he sank the last of his pint of lager and despatched comrade Buzz to a rather faster afternoon’s exercise than the big boy had banked on. So bad luck Buzz on this occasion. Off to the Extra As for the afternoon. It had to be one of us.

Skip’s next decision however, was forged in darker corners. Ginge had taken the liberty for the benefit of the boys of bringing with him not one but two bottles of port, hoping for a bit of a rumble and a half-time gargle with his chums.

But Skip had other plans and sent him hotfoot behind Buzz to offer salvation to the Extra A XV … while cunningly commandeering the port. Ginge took the blow like the soldier he is and through gritted teeth expressed his delight that the half-time tipple would help gird our loins to victory. At least I think that’s what he said. Skip, implacable, never batted an eyelid.

Very cunning indeed. Even more cunning, however, was the appointment of yours truly at hooker in place of Scud who was spending the weekend enjoying the primary stage of the Austin Healey recommended hair restoration scheme he’d been promising himself. First stage a few tufts, second stage a modest all over covering and third stage turns you into a complete…

“Mozza at hooker,” reasoned Skip, “couldn’t possibly lose as many scrums or line-outs on our own put in as bloody Veness.” But surprisingly Skip seemed wrong, as most of our own scrums were lost until Oddjob kindly put me out my misery and took over.  And as for the line-out throwing, well, bring back Scud. Was this really Skip’s surreal plan all along?

Because the game was good, with The Challice leading once more by example and a few select words to encourage and admonish. For a change we didn’t concede an early try. Instead we swung straight into action and before Oddjob had had a chance to even exchange pleasantries with the oppo we were a try up after Greg – recruited from the Minis dads by keen-eyed Kinger – opened his legs Alberto Juantorena-style and showed his class, chasing a diagonal kick through the Farnham defence and dribbling over the line to score. Marvellous. Welcome aboard Jock, break out the bagpipes.

Things after that got even better. Spurred on by the new boy, Lord Greed and Juggles, Ray and Gerbil decided to look lively and the result was some decent back waltzing. We looked the part as we have for the last few games and rucked and mauled, ran and tackled, passed and kicked with good intent and enjoyed decent control (indeed a good deal more control than normal) as we pressed for a second score. Eventually Farnham infringed and Gazza sent over a straightforward penalty for 8-0 at the the interval and the timely arrival of the absent Ginge’s port. Huzzah!

We bade farewell to Hairnet who trotted over to the Extra As in a pre-arranged swap with Pomf The Pilot. But there was a small hitch.

Sheepishly, Pomf confessed: “You’ll have to wait 10 minutes I’m afraid Hairnet, I’ve just been binned.” It followed one of those serendipitous moments in rugby history, Pomf proudly declaring: “You’ll never guess what else, I’ve just bumped into my son Ted… he’s only been carded himself for the Ones on an adjacent pitch. How amazing is that!”

“Excellent,” observed Raymondo, “who would have guessed indiscipline ran in the family?”

Of course, there was already  a bit of self delusion going on among the pack and we conceded a converted try to concentrate our minds, before managing to up the ante. Playing down the hill, Gazza and Greg kept us pinned in their 22.

Then with time ticking away, Skip’s masterstroke of selection paid off. Desperate for a bit of line-out success, Mozza gave Oddjob the nod and lobbed a sneaky throw to him at No1 in the lineout and the human battering ram sprinted off down the line into space. Modesty should prevent me from revealing who collected the ball, ran on and delivered the scoring pass to Pomf on the burst to secure a fine win… but he’s right here in charge of the keyboard! “That was textbook stuff,” said one of the pack. And who could disagree with that? Hooker to prop, prop to hooker, hooker to back row, touchdown.

And we partied into the night. Not just a few of us, but a lot of us.

‘And ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man…’

Aaaaanyway… Guys Hospital on Saturday and the Evergreen Vase semi-final to follow soon. We now know what we have to do.

Leave Skip to the opium pipe, his yin and yang, his inner peace and higher understanding and who knows what circuitous routes he may find for us all to the path of true enlightenment. Several pints of premium strength lager should also do the trick,

I think he could be on to something…

Squad: Prior Arrangement, Mozza, Oddjob, Kinger, Thorners, Hairnet, The Count, The Challice, Pomf, Ginge, Buzz, Rodders, Gazza, Raymondo, Greg, Lord Greed, Gerbil, The Juggler, Ros.

PS: For the record, Hairnet got the first try last week at Cobham when the pack shunted them back over their line. Hey, none of us score many these days so happy to put the record straight, bud. 

NEXT: 10. Lord Greed: He Shall Not Pass   Previous: 8. Who Is That Fat Unpleasant Man?

Skip: Brilliant and implacable