I never played rugby seriously but often wished I had; I played the 11-a-side, while many of my friends had a chance to play the 15-a-side version. They got to handle balls shaped like eggs, while I scrambled around with a round one. They were diving and tackling, while I was complaining about physical contact. Every now and then I played a little pick-up version, but never the real thing. With my sprinting speed, I’d have probably played in the back line, winger or center, I imagined. None of this mattered much, as I had a good football career.
One Saturday, after playing for the bank, I retreated to the bar, as most players did, to have a few beers with my team and the opposing team. Our tradition was always to offer a cooked meal to visiting teams and then buy them a first jug of beer. Our club was near a Young’s brewery so featured their beer.
All was going as usual. The club had rugby, field hockey, as well as football teams, and each set would be hosting visitors in different sections of the massive bar. Then, I heard a voice I’d not heard for about 20 years. When I turned towards it, I say a familiar face, and several others from primary school. But, they were with the rugby players. I walked over and renewed friendships.
At age 11, after the selective 11-plus exam, I’d gone to a grammar school in central London, while most of my friends went to local comprehensive schools. The set of men I now saw had gone to one very close to our former primary school, where they’d gotten into rugby. My grammar school had stopped the sport some years earlier after some accidents, I’d heard.
One of my old friends that I met that day had been my nemesis on the track and we’d rubbed shoulders often in races at secondary school. He got the better of me too often 🏃🏿Fortunately, we lived in different counties so didn’t fight over spoils in those championships, but we tussled to represent at higher levels.
The group of old friends was especially interesting because they were all the sons of Caribbean migrants, from Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana. Back then, black rugby players were few, but their school had been in an area to which immigrants were flocking, so that was changing.
We reminisced, including that some didn’t seem to have grown much.😊
Another 20-plus years on, we’re not in touch anymore. They keep coming up in memories, though.