Monday, July 31, 2017

Bugger Rugger: Why I totally hate schools' rugby, totally

Obviously, rugby isn't for everyone. This article was a surprise to me, a Yank, since I figured all Irishmen liked the game. Humphries' comments about playing second row are dead-on but, oddly, I like the position. - Wes

Pain, heartbreak and sorrow - that's what rugby has brought Tom Humphries. Now he says the sport should be banned and driven underground

From the Irish Times, 30 January 2001

Rugby people. Can't live with them. Can't shoot them. Mainly can't live with them. Can't afford to live with them. Haven't the bloodlines to live with them. Haven't the patience to live with them. Haven't the language skills to live with them. Haven't the desire even. Rugby people have always been college scarves and jutting jaws and silly songs I don't know the words of. C-A-N-N-O-T live with them.

Now, a quick word before we start. Every time I write one of my patented, bitter and twisted chip on-the-shoulder social-cripple pieces about the rugby world, the same smug epistles hit the desk all the way from D4. They tell me (surprise!) that I have a chip on my shoulder about rugby. "You're like a little boy with his nose pressed up against the window - come on in and have a pinty for croying out loud." I know. I have a chip.

Actually I like having a chip on my shoulder about rugby. It is my inalienable right. I will not have a pinty. Thonks. I am happy as I am. I don't like rugby and I work for The Irish Times. It's like being a day trader and working for Pravda. Listen to this. I have tried. I have reached out to rugby. I have gone forth in a spirit of understanding and fellowship and attempted to break down the cultural barriers between rugby and myself. For my troubles, I've had nothing but heartache and sorrow. Let me tell you something I've never told anyone before.

Once, and I am disappearing into a witness protection programme after the next full stop, I played half a season of under-19 rugby with Suttonians. Next time, I'd choose to do my time in jail, as my co-accused did. Despite being a Gaelic player, and therefore able to do some things most rugby people cannot do - i.e. catch a ball, kick a ball, run etc - I was press-ganged into being a second-row forward. This is like choosing to do a heavy lifting job in your spare time. For a few months, I spent my time with my shoulder pushing the buttocks of other men and my arm reached up between their legs. Even after a lifetime in the Christian Brothers, I wasn't prepared for that. My ears were always red and sore and my shoulders ached, but sometimes, to take my mind off all that, the opposing hooker would kindly give me a kick in the face. That's how rugby people run the game and it's how they run the world.

I thrived only in lineouts, those strange Masonic rituals wherein everybody uniformly mistimes their jump for some reason I couldn't initially understand. Clarification wasn't long in coming. After two clean catches, the person opposing you in the lineout would just reach across and pull your hair. Beats gravity every time. Hair-pulling wasn't a very manly thing to do, but neither was weeping: "Ref! Ref! He's pulling my hair." I learned to mistime my jump like everyone else.

For a while, I tried to bring several different coloured pairs of shorts to games in the hope that having the same coloured shorts as the opposition might save my testicles from being squeezed and twisted as we lay in panting heaps somewhere on top of the ball. The biting and hair-pulling I could take. Ball-handling was a no no - even from teams we played regularly. (Note: In the GAA testicles don't actually exist - except as a metaphor for guts. If a sliotar should whicker à tout vitesse into your testicular area, causing the 29 other players on the field to wince and you to double over squealing like a stuck pig, somebody will run onto the field, pour some water down your neck, slap your buttock and say: "C'mon son you'll be grand in a minute." This at a time when you need a general anaesthetic.)

Anyway it all finished between Suttonians and me one weekend when we played in a triangular tournament alongside the giants of the southside, Lansdowne and Blackrock. Now most of the team I played with were actually quite good at rugby and had won the Harry Gale Cup (no less) the previous year. This didn't save us from being treated like bumpkins on our venture across the river. It started with our kits, which were the same colours as Easons bags, and it went on all afternoon, no matter who we played. As luck would have it, on this Saturday morning we endured the sniggering of the Lansdowne chaps and beat them on the back pitch - in Lansdowne. This rightly fouled up the tournament. The plan had been that we would lose to Lansdowne in the morning and then obligingly lose to Blackrock in the afternoon, ensuring a Lansdowne v Blackrock play-off in Stradbrook the next day. Now, we yoiks would be going to Stradbrook. The story has a sad end. We met at noon the next day under Clerys clock. Maybe two of us weren't hungover. The others were pukey or giggly or both. The thought of perhaps beating Blackrock hadn't even kept them in for Saturday night. Why would it? They didn't hate Blackrock the way normal people do. They admired them. So we got pushed around Stradbrook for the afternoon and were beaten by a margin in the region of 60 points. In the second row it felt as if we were going to have our scrawny necks snapped like royal pheasants. For this, I had given up on a junior B football match with St Vincents?

I was deeply ashamed. I never went back. Never told anybody except my spiritual advisor. He quit instantly.

I gave rugby one more chance. Arriving in UCD and not knowing a soul, I put my name down when some jut-jawed, scarf-wearing, acne-free, pinty-type, lady-killing bastard announced that there was to be a class rugby league "to break the old ice, loike". I too would be an icebreaker! I filled out one of the little forms he gave out. I waited. The teams sheets went up on the lecture theatre wall. I skipped across like a happy little puppy. No T J Humphries listed. My eyes welled up. My heart welled down. I sought out the jut-jawed, scarfwearing, acne-free, gout-ridden, Dublin 4, bestiality-is-best-boys, pinty-type, lady-killing bastard and explained my position. Shome mishtake shurley, I said. His brow furrowed. "What's your name?" he asked. "Tom Humphries," I replied frankly. "Where'd you go to school?" he asked. "Fairview," I said. "Where's that?" he asked. (I should point out that his geographical ignorance was no worse than mine. (I got off the bus at RTÉ on my first day in UCD.) "Where the park is," I said helpfully. The park was in the news regularly then for gay-bashing incidents. "Well that's it," he said breezily. "The teams have all the 'Rock guys together, the 'Nure guys with the Belvo' boys, 'Zaga in with Clongowes, Mero with 'Knock and and so on. Roight? So sorry, but you lose out Humpho." "Oh," I said. I'd scarcely understood a word, but realised I had come within an ace of being saddled with a dumb rugger nickname all my life. I went forth and never sinned against my class or my people again.

There were other sad days in rugby's spiteful jihad against me. I lied about rugby to get into sports journalism, pretended I loved it, but soon got found out. I misidentified Brendan Foley as Moss Keane at an old-farts charity game and didn't work again for three months. I described King's Hospital, who haven't once won a small in-bred provincial competition like the Leinster Senior Cup, as the "whipping boys" of the event and the switchboards were jammed for a week by people who wanted to twist my testicles and pull my hair. I was invited to a pre-match dinner for a fixture I was covering involving Lansdowne, but when I turned up and they realised I wasn't quite what they'd been expecting, I was banished to a broom cupboard and given a hot beef roll.

I know these stories may be very upsetting for some sensitive readers, and perhaps there should have been an appropriate warning at the top of the piece, but I can only hope that any distress caused will serve as a warning to others. There has been enough hurt already. Stay away from rugby. It is a plague, sent to us, like the potato famine, to undermine the fabric of our society. The depression-era justification for allowing rugby to prosper (i.e. it's the only way most of these oafs will ever get jobs) is no longer sustainable. The sport should be banned and driven underground.

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