November 1961

I wondered what had happened to that rugby ball!

November, 1961

November on the Berryfield: duck weather,
we call it, with the rain pouring down
and the watchers standing on WWI duckboards,
chilled their fingers, eyes blinking against the wind.

West Country clay turns rugby boots into leaden
counterweights. Hands stuck in pockets, the railway
carriage where we changed is a distant memory.
The only reality, this wet clay holding us back.

Mouldy and muddy, our rugby jerseys are all the same
and it’s hard to distinguish friend from foe.

Trench warfare, we think, as the two packs strain,
a Roman tortoise, sixteen bodies, thirty-two legs,
crabbing from side to side as they seek a perfection
that will never be found on a day like today.

Rain shrouds the goalposts and the scrum half’s kick
is a yard too far from clumsy, chilled fingers
as they scrabble in vain at this soap-bubble nightmare
we call a rugby ball. Worn-out legs churn through
mud that clutches like an octopus at feet and ankles.

Running rhythms are lost. Wet clay fingers hold us back.
Grey ghosts of ancient alumni raise up our hearts,
help us to haul our opponents’ tired bodies down.

Comment: Just rediscovered this, revised it, and now I am posting it again. The Berryfield is where I played my school rugby. If anyone remembers the Berryfield, or actually played there, by all means drop me a line. That West Country clay mud was the devil. Heavy and clinging, it grew on your boots until they became as heavy as diver’s boots and gradually weighed you down. It was worse for the opposition than for us. We, at least, were accustomed to it. It was even worse for the cross-country runners and I have never forgotten those ploughed clay fields.