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Sunday, 5 May 2013

End of an earache

"In our country, true teams rarely exist . . . social barriers and personal ambitions have reduced athletes to dissolute cliques or individuals thrown together for mutual profit . . . Yet these rugby players. with their muddied, cracked bodies, are struggling to hold onto a sense of humanity that we in America have lost and are unlikely to regain. The game may only be to move a ball forward on a dirt field, but the task can be accomplished with an unshackled joy and its memories will be a permanent delight. The women and men who play on that rugby field are more alive than too many of us will ever be. The foolish emptiness we think we perceive in their existence is only our own." - Victor Cahn

It finally came around; the day I've been looking forward to and dreading for a while now. Today marked my last game as manager of PRFC's 2nd XV. We were up against GHA 2A at Braidholm, and we even got to play on the main pitch. The team have been pretty buoyant this week, with Frank Nitti, the team's new enforcer, insisting that the only acceptable result would be a win to see me off in style. Well, the win didn't quite emerge, but they certainly achieved the second objective. Stylish was exactly how I'd describe today's performance.

A word first of all about Alan Gibson, 2nd XV Coach. Alan had this team thrust upon him two seasons ago and I have to say he took it well. He works as hard as anyone at improving things and has something of an uphill task, as anyone involved with rugby outside the top echelon will testify. He's made my lot better and I appreciate that.

Rather than a traditional match report, I'm just going to waffle on about some stuff, and particularly some players, so be warned. It's a truism in rugby as much as anywhere that just when you think you've seen everything, life ups and proves you wrong.

Such was true today when our first hero, appropriately in the number one shirt, one Italian Stallion, the ravishingly good looking Michael Di Duca, announced around about the 60th minute that he would need a temporary replacement (bear in mind this conversation was taking place at a distance, so it was conducted loudly). When asked if he was bleeding, he replied, " Naw, I just need a shite", and left the field of play without further ceremony. Luckily his emergency was resolved quickly, poor Sean Butterfield arriving in position just in time to come back off as a considerably lighter Michael arrived back. At this point, the tears were blinding me.

Jingles, ah Jingles. GHA had just enjoyed a purple patch, scoring 5 tries in 6 minutes, when our heroic hooker spotted their modus operandi. He stepped up into their back line and beautifully intercepted a floated pass, taking off in a  southerly direction as fast as his chunky legs would carry him. Unfortunately, he had around 70 metres to cover, with a GHA centre catching him fast. Jingles reached a position around ten metres short of the line, hesitated, waited for the centre to catch up and executed a beautiful hand-off to the face. Sadly, he didn't see the juggernaut arriving from his blind side. However, with Paisley on the front foot, the ball was quickly recycled and the move ultimately led to the last try of the game, finished by the man himself.

TB. These are two letters which sum up my love affair with PRFC. Craig Thomson is his Sunday name, but he'll always be TB to me. He's spent the last couple of years since coming out of retirement lurching from one medical emergency to another, although his body never quite seems to get the better of him. Still recovering from a bad ankle injury, he nevertheless managed to score two tries today, so there's life in the old dog yet.

Spud. The illustrious, elderly, likeable, tough, irritating-in-a-way-that-only-scrum-halves-can-be, metal-detector-setting-off, Calum Walker played at full back today, which given how much metalwork he carries around with him is probably unfair of us, made his name a scrum half, and like the even older Grant Murney, has learned a few cute tricks along the way. It's always good to watch an opposition scrummy blowing off steam at the ref because Spud's pissed him off once too often.

Zane Grey. Only just returned to the fold, we've missed this Zombie Viking Vlad the Impaler. He's shaved the beard off and lost a shed load of weight, but he's still scary. Someone recently clotheslined him around upper lip level, and the immediate opinion of most Paisley spectators was , "Don't shoot Mongo. You'll only make him mad." The new, leaner version of Zane is having a ball. I'm not going to say anything about his style of play, except to say that he does it with the biggest cheese eating grin on his face I've ever seen. He clearly missed this sport, and it missed him.

Colin May. Over the last few weeks, Colin has done more than anyone to make my life easier. He's been a maniac, badgering, cajoling, threatening and schmoozing players to make sure we've got a team for a Saturday. Oh, and he's played a lot of rugby too. So far this season, he's played at 9,10,12,13,14 and 15 to my recollection, although I have to say I like him best at scrum half. He captained the side for the first time today and did a great job. He also gathered the guys in for a post-match huddle in my honour and insisted on a tunnel just for me. That felt good.

James MacRae, one of our islanders, had a ball today in the lineout. James is a flat out player, no nuances, no subtlety, just in-your-face toughness. Robbie Druce, back for a short holiday from Loonland, showed he's still got it. He's quick and he's a terrific tackler. Scott Sutherland, Lurch, the biggest Jean Valjean I've ever seen, has a weird running gait, but I shudder every time he runs into some poor bugger. John McLellan, the Galloping Giraffe. Like Scott, you suspect the seismometers at Paisley Observatory start making scratchy noises every time he collides with, or rather, runs over the top of, any defender not smart enough to run away or purchase an elephant gun. Ross Warden made what has become an all-too-seldom appearance today, up from Fareham for a visit. It's a joy to see this elegant runner, with his silky skills, finessing through the opposition like Mikhail Baryshnikov (Google it, you philistine). Who am I kidding? He's a big bastard who likes nothing better than doing steam roller impressions. You're beginning to see a pattern here perhaps? David Guthrie, or Davie the Jannie as he is known in polite circles. Davie took the game up late and has constantly surprised spectators. He attends training almost religiously and leaves everything he has on the field of play. He's his own biggest critic, and he needs to cut himself some slack now and then. Sean Butterfield, the social monster, party animal. After only two seasons in the game, Sean has become established as one of the first names on the team sheet. He's got some decent pace and he's strong. That'll do for me. Then there's Simon Keatley, the slightly built, elusive centre from Northern Ireland. He lines you up, cocks the hammer and pulls the trigger. Boom! Another tackle in the stat bank. Last, but by no means least, there's Shaun Brittain. He covered the width of the field today to make a try saving tackle. It was very impressive. The saying, "He puches above his weight.", could have been written about Shaun.

Now these guys are just a sample of the players on the field today. Over the three years I've been in charge, I've worked with some great players. Youngsters like Calum MacLeod, a prop forward who's solidly built, strong, dependable, yet can run faster than most back lines; Colin McKay, flanker-turned-winger, with a burst of speed and an absolute desire to be all that he can be; Mark McKinnon, a back rower who is built of granite, with absolutely no fear and whose jumping in the lineout is as good as any lock's; Murray Sutherland, Lurch's wee brother (although I use the word 'wee' loosely in this case), who works as hard as any member of the team and is another one of those lads who displays an intense joy in his game; Martin McKellar, all silky skills and an excellent kicker from hand; Andrew Gibson, a scrum half still developing his trade but showing every sign of being a cracking player; combine these players with the younger ones yet to emerge from the junior ranks and the future is bright.

Of those not quite in the first flush of youth, I offer a sample; Grant Murney, returning to playing in his forties, becoming a mentor for young players and the scourge of his opposite number in many games, is someone I owe a lot to. He knows why. Fraser Ross, Fraz, our regular captain until his trip to New Zealand to get married this year, has been a rock. He can play and has played in most positions on the field and appears to be able to handle any of them well. He is also one of the best on-field motivators I've seen. Paul Mallam, captain since Fraz went to NZ, has done a marvellous job. He takes the captaincy seriously and has done everything I asked him to. David Dodd, Mr Paisley, has helped us with some training and some of his usual brand of shoot-from-the-hip motivation this year. On the occasion of Doddsy dropping to the 2nd XV, there's always an air of expectation. That's the effect he has. If I've missed out anyone, it's senility rather than spite, honestly. Would I have played to watch these guys play. You bet.

As for those who are not playing staff, but have helped or influenced me, I'd have to start with Malcolm Dodd, who offered me the post of team manager in the first place. Malky befriended me when I first brought my son Iain to the cub 20 years ago, and has remained my friend ever since. His wife Kathy, has been the mainstay of the kitchen, cleaner and enforcer of discipline as long as I can remember. Grant Sweenie, head coach for the last two seasons has done everything he can to help me and I appreciate that. Taz, Fairley, Worzel, Davie Jack, Nelly, Marky, Pascal, Max, drunks, degenerates every one, and every one my family, I've loved every minute of it. To my absent friends, Tom Blair and Craig Grumoli, I miss you and will do everything I can to ensure the continuance of the club you loved.

I began with a quote from Victor Cahn, who summed up rugby as well as I might if I had his talent. I leave you with one from a great soldier and a terrible human being.

I don't know what effect these men will have on the enemy, but by God, they terrify me.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.

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