Saturday 23 February 2008

Team sports made me a fascist, and I absolutely loved it!

Many thanks to John of Renmore, who suggests that as I feel so strongly about Irish sporting attitudes, why don’t I drag my lethargic and critical arse off the sofa and onto the field of play?
He points out that I spend a great deal of time writing about sport, but zero minutes on a pitch.
Fair point John, and how are you to know that, quite apart from the fact that my 47 year-old body is just a tad past its perfect physical peak (I think I hit that in the 4th month in my mother’s womb), there is a personal and substantial reason why, whilst I love watching team sports, participating in them might catapult me back to painful times.
As a boy I was sent to an English Public School, that being the Private and Tom Brown variety, ancient, and to me, horrific.
Inasmuch as the S.A.S., Delta Force and other élite army forces undergo training so severe that recruits are crushed and pulped to smithereens and then rebuilt in the mould of indestructible killing machines, so too the boys who enter unto English Public Schools are blasted and bombarded by physical and psychological warfare, ripped apart in body mind and spirit, until deemed ready to be reborn as candidates suitable for Oxford and Cambridge universities.
Trouble was, the teenage Adley was not built for speed. Indeed, although I mocked myself before, my body is now in way better shape than it was back then.
Streamed into a year of exceptionally gifted lads, I found myself, for the first time in my life, at the bottom of the class. When this new nadir was swamped by a 13 year-old hormonal tsunami that wiped out every nano-nodule of self-confidence I possessed, my body reacted by getting bigger, and I ended up being a 16 stone 16 year-old.
My classmates were not only highly intelligent but also fit and strong. At Public School no greater glory could be gained than to play for the school in the ‘Rugger’ First XV or the Cricket First XI.
The Second XV or XI might still be considered worthy, but beyond that, you were absolutely worthless.
And thus was born the Adley fightback.
While my close friends trained hard and dreamed of team glory, your colyoomist spent vital classroom hours working out how to avoid sport altogether.
My school had a straight driveway that cut through the playing fields for about three-quarters of a mile. Being Public Schoolboys, we had to attend classes every Saturday morning and play ‘games’ all Saturday afternoon.
Six days a week I travelled to school in a grey uniform. Weekdays, pupils from rival Comprehensive schools boarded the bus in their masses, clad in either purple uniforms or green uniforms.
“Look lads, he’s different to all of us! Quick! Beat up the little shit!”
Even if I managed to escape a beating all week, I’d be guaranteed a hammering on a Saturday, because, clad still in grey uniform, I looked like an Amish child way before anybody in London knew what an Amish child looked like.
So each Saturday lunchtime I dashed as fast as I could for the school gates at the far end of the long drive, in an effort to make my escape before the Prompters and Monitors arrived to guard it.
Entrenched in arcane manifold layers of school hierarchy, somewhere above mere Prefects, yet below Masters, Prompters and Monitors appeared to a junior oik such as myself like demi-Gods, boys yet men.
It is no coincidence that Dementers fly around J.K. Rowling’s reconstructed English Public School.
I knew my Dementers by name.
Delightfully complicit in this arrangement was my beloved Dad, who set off for Finchley Road Tube Station, just as I made my frantic (and yes, most athletic!) dash down the drive. A half hour on the Metropolitan Line later, I met him, waiting in his car, and then scrambled about in the car to change out of my school clothes and into my Chelsea clobber, arriving at Stamford Bridge just in time for kick-off.
Brilliant! After all, hadn't my House Master told me to act on my own initiative, and take and active interest in team sports? Hadn’t I passed on both accounts?
Each year, come the Summer, I would persuade my Mother to persuade the family doctor to write a letter, explaining that my chronic hay fever must allow me to be excused from all outside sports, whenever I was suffering.
This dream ticket from sciving heaven worked well for two or three years, until some wiseacre noticed that I had never actually played cricket in any capacity for, or in, or around the school at all.
With my metaphorical tail between my legs, I was sent to play in the Meadow League, a dreadful collection of losers and misfits who were generally unable to tie their own shoelaces or breathe and blink at the same time.
Needs must when the Devil drives, and rising to my new challenge, I became temporarily exactly what the Powers-That-Were had wanted me to be all along.
Teams in the Meadow League were divided along House lines, and so I appointed myself White House Captain, and put a notice upon the prestigious ‘Today’ board in the main cloister, requiring all those eligible to play for White House in the Meadow League to attend a vital meeting in room 33.
From that moment my job was easy. I acted like a little Napoleon, dishing out positions of play, batting orders and tactical schemes, making sure I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my newly-won and completely illegitimate power.
I can still see my teams’ forlorn faces when, with only two overs (12 balls) to be played, and a chance of a rare victory over Mulcaster House very much in the offing, having allowed myself to bowl whenever I wanted and put myself to bat at No. 3 (everybody’s favourite), I decided to pull stumps, throw in the cricketing towel, because I needed to catch a train to meet up with my normal mates from normal schools who were going to a disco.
So there you are John. I love watching team sports, but I will always adore avoiding the playing of them, having metamorphosed into a nasty little fascist for a while, whilst in their thrall!

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