Memories... (bloody hell is that Barbra Streisand I can hear singing in the background?!)
What did, or what do international rugby match days mean to you? What did they mean to me?
Way back, and yes, we are talking way way back, when I was little, they were great days of hope and excitement. England were playing, and the men is white were going to be awesome! Play was a blur in the morning, as my mind was focused on kick off time, and I therefore never let myself get too far away from a clock. I have to be honest, the build-up was almost better than the game, but then again I was an England fan!!
That sounds disrespectful to the players of that time, but the only disrespect meant is to the selectors of that time, as I firmly believe England had good players, but playing musical chairs with them every game did tend to hinder their ability to play as a team and win!!
Anyway back to the build-up! I was always seated and ready in front of the tv for the Grandstand music, and the montage of clips that they always started the programme with. Always a burst of adrenaline when clips of the great Welsh, Irish, Scottish and English players were shown and usually finishing on the brilliant David Duckham. Once that music had played, then there was no moving from that seat. Not for anything! Sandy could have passed and would not have registered.
Unfortunately my heroes in white rarely came out on top, and even in those days I could not work out why we kept changing players at such a fast rate.
Then came the great Billy Beaumont Grand Slam year, and the afternoons took on greater and greater importance! The trouble was that I was at school by now, and... looking back, bloody school! It got in the way of so many important things! - Such a waste!!!
The crunch game was against the Welsh, no change there then, and that Saturday afternoon our school first team were playing at home, so compulsory watching for all us young kids. Rugby was pretty important at Sedbergh, my school, so important in fact that on my first day there, we were walked down to the side of the first team pitch (you weren't allowed to walk on it until you played for the 1st XV) and lectured about the last time Sedbergh had lost there - if I remember correctly it was about six years before! I know I digress, but it must have worked because in the five years that I played there, we only lost one game... and that was not at Sedbergh!
Anyway back to the shocking dilemma. England versus Wales at Twickenham, the Grandstand music and all that, or compulsory watching of the 1st team winning again, no doubt in the pouring rain... The youth of today would just not understand! No Sky+ for us, and only about four tv channels!
Well we took the risk, found a TV that was working in the art school lecture theatre and the three of us hid in there watching Ringer get sent off and England winning a free-flowing try-fest. Well we won anyway!
At the final whistle we were so relieved, euphoric that we stormed out of the lecture theatre, screaming in excitement straight into one of the teachers and detention! It was worth it though.
I never dreamt that I would cross the big divide and move from mortal to demi-god and play international rugby. Those guys really were gods in my mind, certainly not mere humans. I remember going to watch a sevens tournament aged ten with the school, and at that tournament was the great Phil Bennett. A few of us sat by one of the pitches to eat our packed lunch, when the great man came and stood right next to us, to watch the game on that pitch. And I mean right next to us!! He must have wondered who the fat little kid was who just sat there staring at him with his mouth open! - it was a great few minutes, to be that close to an International player... a god!
So when I did get picked, it took me a long while to come to terms with the fact that I would not be sitting listening to the Grandstand music and then watching the game, instead, I would listen to the Grandstand music and then bizarrely be part of that game.
Maybe it is just me, but I was still the little kid. I still woke up on match day and on opening my eyes had the same surge of adrenaline. It was international day, the same great day, but just from a slightly different perspective now. And I loved it, just as I had loved it as an eight year old. I was not a player who had many superstitions, if any, but there were two things I always stuck with.
The night before a Test match, after all the team meetings, team dinner and any last minute chats with certain players as captain, I would head out for a little walk on my own. When we played at Twickenham, I would walk just up in Richmond, near the Petersham hotel where we used to stay, and from the hill I could see Twickenham. I would listen to the music I listened to at school, when I dreamt of playing for England, when I dreamt of being in this very position. A little Bee Gees, Journey, AC DC, ELO - cutting edge then!
I used to look out at the stadium and wonder what would happen the next day, all that music buzzing around in my head, and would try as hard as possible to make sure that whatever did happen, I made sure that I summoned up absolutely everything that I could give, to the game, the team, the shirt, as I never knew which would be my last game. It was my little way of reminding myself that I never ever believed that I would be lucky enough to be there, in that position, living my dream, and hence I had bloody better make the most of it.
And the second constant in my time playing, was that on match day, having gone down memory lane the night before, I always made sure that I was in my room to listen to the start of Grandstand. Always! Team meeting times would be arranged so as not to clash! Any physio, massage, talks all had to be arranged so as not to clash! I had to stand in my room, on my own, and watch the start to Grandstand, to listen to the music, see the footage, and think, 'Yes!!! Match day!'
Things don't really change that much... Such a kid!