To those of you reading this who know me personally, the following sentence will come as no surprise whatsoever:- sport and I are quite happy to be mutually exclusive concepts. Coming from a family of devout football worshippers (the only acknowledged religion in the household), this has made me somewhat the black sheep of the clan. There are the occasional sporting-style pastimes that slip their way through - I'm partial to a bit of ten-pin bowling, snooker's not too bad and darts is, of course, the sport of kings (basically, anything that can be played while drinking a pint) - but, for the most part, the stirring deeds on heath and field* have always left me cold.
My desire for sport and I to be left to take our own separate paths was not always respected, however, and we were shackled together in unhappy union for three torturous months many, many moons ago, back in the dim and distant days of school. For you see, my school of the private persuasion and, while paying lip service to that old Christianity thing, their true worship was reserved for the holy altar of sport. Oh sure, they wanted the academic achievements, too, but if you were weren't interested in sport, you were generally held to be some sort of deviant.
The school's sport of choice, however, was rugby and this was posing them something of a problem. For, even among the sportlier boys, rugger was not the game of choice. Most of them wanted to play football. The school fielded three teams per year - A, B and C team - plus subs so, in order to make up the numbers it needed, it resorted to that tried and tested technique - threats. Potential recruits of a reluctant nature were presented with a choice - once you had deemed worthy of a place on the team, you joined the team or spent your Saturday mornings in detention (a traditional "rock/hard place" style arrangement). Not wanting to go down the detention route, I opted for the choice which brought pain and filth whilst suffering unpleasant weather conditions. I'm still baffled as to why I didn't just do the time to this day...
I wasn't picked for any real ability and definitely not enthusiasm. I was big and broad, therefore I was a prop. At no point, either, did it feel like the rules were ever particularly explained to me. It was assumed that all boys knew everything about sports so, you know, just get on with it. To this day, I'm still not really sure what on earth anyone's doing on the pitch (or why they'd even want to be there).
I perfected a technique which kept me as much out of the action as possible. Scrums I couldn't do much about but, the rest of the time, I mostly ran aimlessly around the pitch whilst trying to keep as much distance between me and the ball as possible. I thought it was reasonably surreptitious but, according to the parents who cane along to spectate when possible, it was more on the side of blatantly obvious.
After three months of this, I was the fittest that I've ever been (before or since) but utterly miserable. I hated the sport, I hated the training and I hated spending my Saturday mornings doing something I didn't understand and covered in mud. So I girded myself and went up to the rugby master** to tell him enough was enough and I was quitting the team. I expected to have a fight on my hands and maybe the threat of Saturday detention. He simply looked at me and said OK. He'd obviously realised as well that I was both hopeless and uninterested.
And so, sport and I went our separate ways. Our time together was brief but unpleasant and neither of us has been in hurry to rekindle that relationship. I'm fine with that. We tried it, it didn't work. And books welcomed me back with open pages...
* An actual line from our school song which also included the line "...and a cheer" to be followed by the assembled masses following it with a loud "Hurrah!" to the embarrassment of all involved.
** Pfft, I say "rugby master" - he was, in fact the groundskeeper and the parent of a couple of fellow students who, in reference to my surname, thought it amusing to call me "Captain" every single time (seriously, he laughed as if he'd just thought it up. Every. Single. Time.)