In The Zone

It was Terry Venables, the former England football manager, who revealed the secret to his success in the game. “Fail to prepare… prepare to fail.” And this astute observation has proved as pertinent to high level kicky ball as it has to veterans rugby.

To achieve one’s potential… certain things must be in place. And no Derelict worth his half-time Port takes to the field without medical insurance, the number of a decent dentist, a letter of authorisation from the partner and a stack of antacid tabs secreted about his kitbag to cope with whatever post match entertainment presents itself.

Morning preparations might entail a light breakfast, coffee, a tactical poo (TP) and an energy gel, before heading club-ward for a pre-match sharpener or two and a dose of banter to ease the nerves.

Hydration at optimum, the dressing room will then start to fill and rituals will be performed. Another energy gel, another TP perhaps and a prophylactic double dose of ibuprofen possibly administered to offset the inevitable bruising and swelling to come.

The delicate balancing act of what to apply next vexes many an old trooper. If the hot sauce is applied too early to warm up the joints and muscles, there is a terrible risk of lathering the testicles in Deep Heat as the jockstrap is adjusted or, worse still, inserting a contact lens with contaminated fingers that will make the eyes smart for the best part of the first half.

Vick is often added to lubricate the nostrils for added air intake, working in much the same was as a turbo engine, goes the thinking, before the supply of electrical tape can be brought out or stolen and wound liberally around vulnerable fingers, knees, heads or any other extremity that needs a bit of support.

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Stolen boots (check), Neoprene limb supports (check), miles of electrical tape (check)…

Most vets carry some sort of old injury, ache or pain necessitating the wearing of a neoprene support on ankles, knees, wrists and elbows. And some of us wear all of them at the same time.

Finally shoulder pads, shin pads and jock straps are appended and teamed with musty-smelling, faded old kit, topped off with optional head guards, gloves and smears of vaseline about the areas prone to scuffage – ears, forehead etc

Valuables are then left in the communal bag for safe keeping (check), gum shield washed clean of last week’s mud and bood (check), TP (check),  nip of Port (optional).

Then waddle awkwardly towards a sub-standard, usually sloping, pitch spotted with goose or fox droppings… cruelly located miles from the clubhouse. Always.

Finally, break into a gentle jog to cross the whitewash. Stretch arms and legs, give fingers and wrists a bit of a shake.

Bingo. Prepared. Await whistle.

NEXT: Chapter 1: What A Scream        Previous: What On Earth Are We Doing Here?