Every child faces challenges at school. The first obstacle for me to overcome contained two of the most terrifying syllables in the English language: rugby.
For the first time in the school’s four-hundred-year history, a boy was exempt from playing rugby: and that boy was me. Doctors at the Eye Hospital felt that the vascular activity around my eye and brain was a serious enough issue that I shouldn’t engage in any contact sport. The fear was that this arteriovenous malformation (or ‘the worms’ as our family called them) could become damaged if I took a hit, and potentially cause bleeding in the brain. I think there were also concerns that somehow the syndrome could pass over to the other eye, or in some way damage the eye. I didn’t really understand — I just knew I would never experience the joy of a sticking my head between another boy’s legs.
And, if I’m being honest, I was pretty happy about this. I couldn’t think of anything worse than humiliating myself on a cold, wet field pretending to be rough and tough and like I could see what I was doing. I remember Dad telling me he had to play rugby at school and that, if anyone ran towards him, he’d simply throw the ball in the air to get it as far away from himself as possible. I think we’re both cut from the same rugby cloth.
So, for the first two years of school my sport of choice was badminton. Yes, hurly, burly badminton. Twice a week I would head down to the gym, clad in shorts and white t-shirt, to play against boys in the 3rd and 4th form who had fulfilled their rugby duties for the past two years and had wisely decided to seek sporting glory elsewhere. Surprisingly, I was quite good at badminton, but it’s just not rugby, is it? And there’s no doubt that when you’re in an establishment that recognises sporting achievement so highly, someone scoring the winning try in the dying seconds of a game will probably grab the limelight over me beating Kev Morgan 21-18. Thankfully, there was always drama.