MARSHY SPORTING ENDEAVOURS

By Glynn Roberts


SPORTING ENDEAVOURS 1


For many years, a rivalry existed between the marsh dwellers of Hollowshore and the more sophisticated denizens of Standard Quay and Iron Wharf. The differences of opinion have traditionally taken the form of shouted insults suggesting shortcomings in seamanship and manliness. To sort these and other matters out, it was agreed that a game of football take place, every year, just after Christmas, on Faversham Rec. This contest, not dissimilar to the Christmas game of 1914, though lacking in the gentlemanly conduct of the earlier fixture, proved every bit as muddy as the Belgium pitch, though lacking in craters, and, indeed, in poetry. The sea of mud, posing as a pitch, gave advantage to the Hollowshore team, it being their natural environment.


Football Association rules were, it appears, suspended for the day, the proposed five-a-side format having expanded to accommodate substitutes, reserves and complete strangers. As many as 20 players could be counted at any one time, most of them unaware of which side they were playing for. Ancient grudges were reviewed, and the scything down of the opposition players became an object in itself, the scoring of goals a distant second. In the absence of a referee, decisions were arrived at by an appeal to the players’ sense of fair play. That didn’t work, for there was none.


These were primitive games of football: the term ‘Beautiful Game’ had not yet been coined, nor would it be on Faversham Rec on a bilious day in late December. Results were inconclusive, the score irrelevant, though reaching double figures by some counts, and the injury tally within acceptable limits.


Over the years interest in the fixture began to decline. The more promising players were, inevitably, snapped up by the talent scouts for Chelsea, Manchester United and the like. The last game yielded a mere three goals and one death. Perhaps we should have stuck to netball.


SPORTING ENDEAVOURS 2


The next, and concluding contest, was played out on the Hollowshore home ground, across a dyke, a short distance upstream from the Shipwright’s Arms. It was a Tug of War and was to be waged over three legs, swapping ends after each so as to eliminate and take advantage of the terrain.


Even to the unaccustomed eye, a disparity in physique between the two sides could be discerned. The Hollowshore team poured derision on the underdogs, with some justice. Superb physical specimens we were not, having enjoyed a vigorous training regime involving tobacco and beer. The Hollowshore team, by contrast, with a two-stone advantage per man, were fully prepared, with their rippling muscles, spiked shoes, gloves, a penchant for bending pokers round their necks while ripping telephone directories in two.


We knew we had no chance. We were, as Donald Trump might have put it, a bunch of losers. The Hollowshore team evidently felt the same, but in the first leg we pulled them over before they had time to Vaseline their upper bodies. Didn’t expect that, did they? Complacency, what? What?


Well, getting pulled over by a collection of sandaled no-hopers made them think. Swallowing quantities of steroids, or adrenaline, or whatever athletes do while remaining within Olympic guidelines, they came at us in the second leg like Aspinall’s tigers finding the cage door ajar. We lost that leg fairly swiftly. Tigers are partial to a leg.


It doesn’t do to crow. A little modesty is not unplaced, and we’d learned a lesson. They hadn’t. So, it was down to the final. We swapped ends again, had a cigarette break while the opposition enjoyed a protein and carbs interval, and assessed the situation. It was bleak. Age discrepancy per man/woman was of the order of two decades. Our best years were behind us (sorry, Sue).


One of our number, Mr Grillet, identified, during the course of a second cigarette, a topographical anomaly: a right-angled deviation in the ditch, from which might be afforded some traction. It was worth a try: anything to put off the howls of derision, even for a few minutes. The advantage was duly exploited and we were able to hold firm against the first wave. They pulled heroically. Then they pulled desperately, until finally, through attrition, we began to make ground. As they were pulled towards the dyke, they began, one by one, to desert.


It was, as Wellington observed in an earlier fixture, “a damned nice thing, the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life”. That was roughly how we saw it, though, to be fair, we didn’t have the Corsican to contend with.


Curiously, only one team member attended the post-match drink at the Shipwright’s. The losing side must have had other, more pressing matters to attend to. Mr Goldthorp umpired, and Mr Street donated the very handsome trophy.


So...what's wrong with a small nostagic moment?