Having spent years waiting for my son to be old enough to play rugby, my excitement and enthusiasm definitely took a nose dive on the first truly freezing, wet and windy Saturday morning standing on the touch line with a not-so-mild hangover. Bleary-eyed and slightly dishevelled, I watched as twenty-odd nine-year-olds (although not as odd as the coaches), scrambled around in the mud. Why, oh why, does the rugby season run during the winter months and then end abruptly just as the first glimmer of a tentative summer appears? It beggars belief.
Never having been a member of the SAS, I certainly was not prepared for the sub zero wind-chill factor or the driving rain which was gradually seeping through my totally inappropriate trainers and the jeans that were just slightly too long. Within ten minutes I was soaked to the knees and mild hypothermia was setting in. Meanwhile, four grown men, ostensibly the coaches, were cavorting in a way that was just too energetic for that time of the morning – it was 9.15 on a Saturday morning – does no one have lie-ins anymore?
Warm-up (?) over and the opposing team of equally energetic small lads and their eager parents arrived in varying makes of impressive four-by-fours, raising suspicions that Belfast was to be over-run with marauding roos judging by the number sporting bull bars. As they disembarked, (the parents, not the kangaroos), the heavens ceased their incessant downpour, and feminine visions of loveliness with recently coiffured extensions revealed themselves from the climate-controlled interiors.
Not a squelchy trainer in sight. Ugg boots (the real ones mind! – not the cheap version from Primark) were the order of the day. I stood transfixed as I was examined by these paragons of virtue, found wanting and dismissed from their gaze. Cool boxes and thermos flasks appeared along with rather nifty little fold-out chairs complete with rugs to keep the occupant cosy on the sideline. I had half a packet of fluffy Polos to sustain body and soul, and a scrunched-up napkin with which to stem the permanent drip from the end of my nose and wipe away my salty tears of inadequacy.
Meanwhile, things were hotting-up on the pitch. Lines had been drawn, coins tossed and ends picked, all done by the coaches of course – the kids being much more interested in rolling down a muddy bank. As they mustered their charges and endeavoured to instil discipline and common purpose in the face of the enemy the sun actually made an appearance, and it seemed the gods were smiling on us, and those humongous golfing umbrellas could be stored once more in the Land Rover to be replaced with Ray Bans worn with a certain panache on top of perfectly teased tresses.
The whistle blew, the ball bounced in the opposite direction to which it was meant to go and thirty little lads scampered insanely behind it, over it, on top of it and beyond it, much to the chagrin of the coaches who were shouting much needed instructions. But their pearls of wisdom were scattered to the skies by the veritable maelström that howled around the pitch.
One little chap – not my son, though it was hard to tell by this stage thanks to the mud – seized the ball and went charging down the sideline much to the delight of the home crowd, who shouted encouragement much along the lines of “GO ON MY SON” – they’re everyone’s sons by this stage – when up from the away-end a Burberry goddess appeared, abandoning her cashmere throw to the mercy of the mud, and with dulcet tones that defied the wind, shrieked: “ TAKE HIM OUT JOSH, GO FOR THE KNEES, BRING HIM DOWN.”
Well, the rest of the match was lost to me. The pure visceral venom that was directed at a nine-year-old child even shocked me out of my hangover. Much as I enjoy a good rugger match and evoking certain violence on players whose parentage I have just questioned, it is nonetheless saved for special occasions (Ireland v England springs to mind for some reason). It is not, under any circumstances, to be used against small children; their coaches will do that for us in the cosy, half-time pep talk: “Get yer finger out, you’re playing like a girl,” etc.
Healthy competition and a bit of macho repartee is to be expected on a rugby field, and in my son’s case, actively encouraged as he has three sisters who all tend to bully him. But family dynamics aside, rugby mummies are a truly scary breed; their innate sense of superiority and aggressive “must win” attitude far surpasses that of their male counter-parts – they are trying to out-do the lads. No amount of touché éclat can conceal a mean spirit.