Rugby’s Special

A couple of weeks ago, the rugby commentator Ian Robertson announced that he is retiring.

News like this would not normally prompt so much as a shrug from me. Murray Walker, John Motson, John McCririck all left our TV screens and their absence has not touched me.

But Ian Robertson belongs to the rugby world. And rugby has been a part of my life ever since I can remember.

Truth is, I’m not over the loss of Bill McLaren’s warm, excitable tones.

I don’t play rugby, I barely understand the rules but I bloody love it. Not least because all the sounds associated with it are so stirring.

I’m not so tribal that I can’t appreciate a little Bread of Heaven or a Flower of Scotland. Hear the Marseillaise and I’m ready to throw myself on the nearest onion Jonny.

There is nothing more likely to raise the hairs on the back of my neck than the sound of a crowd at a Six Nations match or Five Nations as was. The tournament has only got better with the arrival of Italy (have you seen Sergio Parisse?).

As children my brother and I would watch the matches with my dad, himself prop for a local team. The gas fire would be lit and we’d settle down in front of Rugby Special.

The presenter, Nigel Starmer-Smith, was another man whose voice was a familiar to me as any member of my family’s.

The theme tune to Rugby Special was instrumental but we sang along to it. The lyrics weren’t sophisticated but highly satisfying. (Altogether now, ‘rugby dugby doo, rugby dugby doo – repeat until the music runs out).

I’ll admit, I often found the action difficult to follow. Back then, the pitches were real grass so they’d be churned up and, on wet match days, it would be difficult to distinguish one team from another as their cotton kits turned to identical shades of muddy brown.

These days of course, the pitches, like the players, have evolved. The turf is synthetic, the kits are VapoDri lightweight polyester and the players are a superbreed.

My earliest memories are of the likes of JPR Williams, Gareth Edwards and Bill Beaumont. Later I would develop crushes on Jeremy Guscott, Brian Moore (I know, right) and Jonny Wilkinson.

My dad was (is) a passionate and animated watcher of the sport. He’d grip the arms of the chair, shout, leap up and clap his hands. You could always tell a try had been scored because one or both his slippers would fly off and there would be a tense moment while we waited to see where they landed.

The dogs heard the Rugby Special theme tune and ran for the safety of the kitchen.

A few matches have stayed in my mind:

February 1991.

I am a student at Warwick University. My new boyfriend has bought himself a Paul Smith shirt and is visiting for the weekend. It is the most expensive item of clothing he has ever paid for.

I helpfully put a wash on and shrink it.

I am naturally cautious about breaking the news.

I edge into the sitting room where he is watching England beat Scotland 21-12.

He is so elated (England are on course for the Grand Slam title) that he barely registers the catastrophe.

February 1993

My (now) fiancé and I are at Cardiff Arms Park to watch England v Wales. We are standing at the wrong end. Lots of Welshmen are jeering. One is swearing. I don’t find it remotely threatening or offensive but a different Welshman takes it upon himself to apologise to me on behalf of his nation. We lose 10 – 9 when Rory Underwood is caught napping on the wing.

March 1995

I have had to start watching Scotland. Not because I have married a Fraser but because Eric Peters is playing for them. Eric sat behind me in Law O level class in the Lower Sixth. He would snap my bra strap and generally distract me from what was set to have been a stellar career as a QC. Today he is playing No.8 against Wales at Murrayfield and scores his first try. I regret mocking his highlights.

November 2003

Because World Cup Glory.

February 2018

To celebrate my younger son’s 18th birthday we have come to Rome to watch England play Italy. My husband and the boys go into Stadio Olimpico. I settle myself in a bar with a good book. They have banned me from the match on the grounds that whenever I am present, the wrong team wins.

The right team wins 46 – 15.

I discover a taste for Tignanello. A new superstition is born and I vow to always drink red wine on match days.

Lunga vita al rugby!

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *