By Louis Rives
Sport was an odd thing in school, a semi-mandatory year wide expose of everyone’s physical ineptitude. For reasons unknown to me we played rugby. Despite public opinion firmly rooted behind the footballing cause, our school wanted to give the illusion of grandeur and play a game that few people can possibly enjoy. Rugby is in the same family of sports as cricket, the difference being that even fewer countries actually play it. Some of the more laid back areas of the former British Empire clearly thought that fifteen guys wrestling over a rubber egg for eighty minutes was not a good way to spend eighty minutes and thus stuck to hitting a small ball around a field for five days. That made far more sense.
We were by no means forced to play rugby but a certain social advancement could be garnered merely by turning up. You could hang out with highest caste in a legitimate scenario and sometimes girls would watch. Therefore we played. The problem with rugby and the main reason for its’ suspect global popularity is simply this. You just have to be a big guy. The élan of the small but skillful player is completely absent, replaced instead by brute force and mindless aggression. At no point in human life does this become more evident than during puberty. Returning to training one September around the fourteen-year-old mark, I found to my horror that half the waifs of the previous year had now become men.
Now intelligence does start to shine through in the game of rugby and this resulted in us all playing for the worst team. The 3rd XV was made up of three types of people. The ones who actually liked rugby and tried hard but were too small to make it further up the ladder. Then there were the maladjusted, violent nutters and finally us. You were left with the dregs, a Dirty Dozen (plus three) like, concentrated mixture of extreme sexual frustration with a hint of complete volatility. Training was pretty awful. You could be forgiven for thinking that the members of a team would like each other. Extra curricular rugby allowed individuals to settle differences legitimately. Ironically the same teachers that readily broke up fights in the playground would watch with glee as the exact same individual would gouge and head-butt one another until a feudal champion was crowned. It was glorious sport. Sometimes the violence was completely unmerited, I took a few pre-match punches from the looser cannons in the team who couldn’t wait until kick off to maim. Thomas once got took a full head-butt, well just because.
The matches were a testament to the nature of the game of rugby. We hardly ever lost. We were certainly in the lowest tier of private education and could not have been called posh by any stretch of the imagination. However simply by being a private school we competed with all the other posh schools across Scotland. Being the worst team we were paired against the other schools sporting rejects, most of whom sadly had no choice in whether they played or didn’t. These great conscript armies lacked the engrained madness of some of our guys and in most cases they simply rolled over. Wellington described his forces as ‘the scum of the earth”. I guess we were on a similar plane of consciousness. This all got thrown to the winds when we were drawn against an unheard team by the name of Preston Lodge. Just like in the ocean, in rugby there is always a bigger fish. This was it. In the shadow of the derelict power station, a team made of true gorillas really made us suffer. Our captain had got injured in the warm up, treading on one of the many broken bottles that littered the field. It needn’t have mattered. Losing 80 to 0 at half time I recall the game being abandoned for posterities sake. As we drove away in our bus we saw most of their squad driving away in their respective cars. It was a little suspect for an under-14’s game. It was at this point I thought, “fuck this” for a game of soldiers.
Quitting was not as easy as getting involved in the first instance. Like idealistic volunteers we had joined in the hope of gaining some social recognition that might lead to the prospect of at least getting near a member of the opposite sex. Now we wanted out. Nothing, not even a shag could be worth the grueling weekly torture of playing rugby. Another issue was that we had started to discover drink and the idea of a 7AM meet for a coach to Aberdeen became mysteriously less appealing after a couple of cans. Unfortunately the rugby staff were less keen to let us go. It was like a mafia. PE staff, in their inherent failings in the world of sport, existed only to vicariously live through the young players they coached. I must admit that due to my cowardice and lack of skill they certainly weren’t living through me, however without me there would be no-one for the golden boys to heroically flatten every week.
They started getting sneaky and scheduling training during school hours. No longer extra curricular, absenteeism was akin to going truant. Determined never to set foot on the field again I purposefully forgot my gear in the hope that I would be able to not participate and instead do something like reading. Faint hoe it was indeed as Mr. Brown, the head of rugby, asked why I wasn’t changed.
“I don’t feel well Mr. Brown, I have a cold.” I tried.
Mr. Brown hated people like me. I played cello and clearly thought rugby was a pile of homoerotic nonsense. In the instant, he knew I was never going to play again and so chose that my final training would be truly memorable. Instead of breaking me physically, as was tradition for the rugby staff, he would try to break me mentally.
Taking me alone into the changing room in an act that now would have dreadful repercussions in this day and age. He looked at me and asked;
“Where is your tissue? If you’re ill then wear is your tissue?”
I was caught lying without the relevant props. I said I didn’t have one. He repeated the phrase mock sarcastically this time. I responded in kind. He exploded. Again and again he screamed down those words that will ever be etched in my memory. Where is your tissue? Again and again he screamed at me. I tried to respond but he just rewound and unleashed himself further. Finally after five minutes, and to my intense shame, I cried. On seeing this he chuckled slightly. Then he left. I had now been debriefed and released from the rugby world.
Brown died of a heart attack about a year ago. On seeing this I chuckled slightly.
Louis Rive was born in London, England but raised in Edinburgh, Scotland. He infrequently attended George Watson’s College, Edinburgh before leaving early due to “irrevocable differences with the staff”. He studied Ancient History to MA level at the University of St. Andrew’s writing his final dissertation on the development of the toilet in the ancient world. Louis has been exposed to the working world since he left school aged 17 and has to this day worked a plethora of jobs.
Despite holding an MA from one of Europe’s top educational institutions, Louis has not gone down the road of many graduates in getting a “proper” job but instead continues to work many “dead end” jobs in an attempt to stave off the 9 to 5 lifestyle. From supermarkets to bookies, it is his experience within the lower reaches of employment that forms the basis of his writing.
An aspiring musician Louis is very interested in traditional music from Scotland and the wider Celtic world (aka Ireland). He is a fully trained cellist and also plays banjo and guitar to a good level. Currently residing in London, he plays in renowned Scottish music act, Deep Fried Fiddle. Alongside music, writing has provided Louis with an outlet to share his stories and vent his frustration at the often-ridiculous world of work.