13th September

On the Blue Wing

Standing out on the blue wing you waited for the ball. The hailstones kept coming and if the ball came it would be from the same direction, so you kept watch for it. The hail struck you in the face, blast upon blast. Your shirt was soaked. Some boys did up the top buttons of their shirts but that was an admission of weakness. Your shorts were soaked. You weren’t allowed to wear anything under them. You clenched your hands into raw, pink fists. If the ball came you would have to catch it with the fingers you couldn’t at that moment feel.

The pitch was marked out with creosote lines burned into the grass. At each end were goalposts like white gallows. The pitch was in a field that sloped diagonally towards you. If the ball came you would have to run with it, uphill into the hail. In summer the field was for cows but in winter it was for boys playing rugby.

The French master was on the opposite touchline roaring at the forwards, eight small boys against eight other small boys. He always shouted the same thing. It was either ‘Feet, feet, feet!’ which made sense if he wanted the forwards to kick the ball, or ‘Vite, vite, vite!’ which made sense if he wanted them to do it quickly. In his big duffel coat he seemed oblivious to the weather.

No matter from which side of the mess of bodies that was the two opposing scrums the ball emerged, it seldom travelled beyond one fly-half or the other. One fly-half or the other either kicked it or ran with it till he was tackled and the scrummage reconvened.

You were always on the wing, there was always hail, sleet or rain, the ball never reached you. Then once it did. It came in slow, looping passes from fly-half to inside centre to outside centre and as you staggered uphill it met you. Your numb fingers stretched for the sodden lump of leather, failed to hold it. The referee blew his whistle. ‘Knock on, scrum down, red ball!’ he shouted.

You never did discover what it was the French master shouted.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Subscribe here for more stories & music