Great Sporting Moments, Vol LV
A brace of goals that I was meant to score,
Aged ten – how else can I explain them? Taken on the run
Or on the turn, from outside the eighteen-yard box.
The last-minute try that means we have won –
My first game for the big school's first fifteen – except
The full-time whistle has already gone. (I blunder on
Through their bewildered backs . . .) The catch
I take so deep in the outfield it almost knocks me
Backwards over the boundary. Last man out. End of match.
I can still see myself, skinny legs in baggy khaki shorts,
Forehand-drive my way through the singles draw
Against the white-clad ones on the tennis-club courts
And hurtle towards the crossbar that day I leapt
Into the record-book . . . How reliable these moments are
That I replay endlessly! But all the same it shocks me,
To think that I was once that little star,
So lean and taut and primed – the boy who mocks me;
How brief the main event, through which I must have slept.
Schoolboy sport always seemed to me to be a preparation for adult sport. This is natural, school being a preparation for adult life more generally. And yet, for me too, 'the main event' was all too brief. I didn't sleep through my short adult sporting life so much as hobble through it.
From the age of sixteen I broke an arm twice, dislocated a shoulder, tore the cartilage in a shoulder, strained ankle ligaments in both ankles, broke a leg, ruptured the cruciate ligaments in a knee, broke my jaw, had a compressed fracture of my cheekbone, and blew out an eye socket (these last three happened all at once - I still have a plastic plate under one eye). I also pulled various muscles (most irritatingly, the hamstrings) and was concussed two or three times (I forget).
Except for one broken arm (fighting) and the broken leg (football), it was all rugby. I played my last match, perhaps understandably, at the age of twenty-four. I always think that the game gave me up rather than the other way round.
By the way, another (well, the only other) of these sporting poems I enjoyed is by Kit Wright and is elegiacally concerned with cricket (it's the final one).