15.6.2003 Druids

Casuals: 192 nearly all out

Druids: More than that for 3 or 4

As I write this piece, I realise I have no facts on which to base my account, which is probably no bad thing in view of last week’s Rotheray affair. However, I remember changing the scoreboard total to 191 on the next to the last ball of the innings fully expecting not to be called upon again. How wrong I was. On the last ball either Tony or Sam scored a single. As they left the field it was remarked, unfairly as it happens, how their combined age might well compete with our total.

The exercise at the scoreboard was to be my major contribution to the afternoon. Others, as I understand it, felt the same. Rupert notably arrived late and did not bowl because of an arm injury. Whilst batting, he was embroiled in the one lighter moment of the day when responding to Marc’s resolve to take a quick single. ‘Yes’ was followed by ‘No’ by which time Marc was stranded well out of his ground. Walter Robins once said of Denis Compton, ‘If he calls you for a run, regard it as no more than a basis for negotiation’. Such is the company with whom Rupert struts his stuff. On most days, 192 would be enough, and we were comfortable until their keeper arrived at the crease. No bowler was safe thereafter. And it wasn’t pretty. Line and length counted for nothing as he slaughtered each delivery to somewhere in the arc between square leg and long on, finally holing out to a superb catch from Marlowe at midwicket. Their opener was more orthodox and reached his half-century once Marc and Bill, the pick of our attack, came off. He was the son of Terry Crystal, ex-England RFU medic still plying his trade with Leeds Tykes.

Marlowe, a resident of Harrogate, was a guest of Nick Bone, with whom he opened the batting. I’m uncertain as to the actual figure, but they would have been close to a hundred partnership before being separated. Those of a literary bent will recall Phillip Marlowe as Raymond Chandler’s famous detective, ably played on screen by greats like Robert Mitchum. Chandler attended Dulwich College where one imagines he was a devoted middle order bat for his house. His short spell on “The Daily Express” could even have been as cricket correspondent. Christopher Marlowe, who made a short appearance in “Shakespeare in Love”, was also said to have had a way with the words. In “Conquests of Tamburlaine”, was he thinking of Rupert and Denis when he wrote ‘These are the men that the whole world admires’?

Some of us were diverted from the main proceedings by events off the field. The big talking point was the journey. Nearly everybody got snagged in a traffic queue waiting for the lights at Harewood. Sam, Greg, Pauline, Jenny and myself turned round and went via Poole Bank, Leathley and Beckwithshaw. Greg kept us entertained with a few of his army stories, the most gruesome being the one about Mad Mitch and The Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, who would fight anyone on a Saturday night on Glasgow’s High Street, so a few wogs in Aden presented no difficulty.

A pleasing lunch followed and as we waited to bat, Bill showed us his latest concertina restoration. As a folk musician, he collects musical instruments, lately taking to repairing them too. Sadly we weren’t treated to a gig.

The Druids are loosely associated with Harrogate RUFC and are nomadic within the Craven area. They can even move grounds in a single day – Burnt Yates was the fourth venue for last Sunday. As we have a rudimentary youth policy, so they have no veterans policy. My one and only visit to Harrogate RUFC was on a stormy day back in 1984, a stark contrast to the glorious factor 25 weather in which we bathed last week. The following is an extract from my journal:

“The wind whistled across the park, driving the rain in gusty sheets. A wet twentysomething, hands in pockets, watched us from under his hood as we shivered, shoulders hunched in soggy shirts, dripping sleeves extended down over our hands in a forlorn attempt to keep warm. Skip, eternally optimistic, was brilliant with the lad, ‘You don’t fancy a game do you? You do? I’ve some kit in the car. Come on.’ Being short was the “Fettlers” lot in life, Northallerton RFUC’s ‘extra’ team, a graveyard of knackered veterans and a crèche for pimply-faced blind youths. But five? We couldn’t have played them at soccer. “Them” were Harrogate RUFC’s version of an ‘extra’ team and since they were short too they gave us one. We finished up playing twelve a side.

Or it was when skip got back with our new recruit, ‘This is Derek. He’ll play in the centre. Down from Aldershot, visiting his girlfriend,’ he turned, gave us an oldfashioned look and went to toss up.

‘Right we’re uphill first half lads. Their kick-off.’

Cold and wet, we walked to our positions. I sheltered behind Brian Iverson, a farmer made of teak.

‘This new bloke must be mad,’ I said.

‘E’ll’ve’ad a tiff,’ said Brian.

The referee was in his seventies and limped, ‘We’ll play thirties. OK skip?’ he shouted. Skip didn’t hear anything for the wind, but raised his hand anyway. The pitch was one of those you can vaguely see from the clubhouse on clear day, just on the horizon. Nice in spring for walking the dog. Late January, it had several ponds you could sail a model boat on. The rest was dark grey and sucked. There were no spectators and very little rugby. Play occurred mostly downwind along the bottom touchline. At least the wingers kept warm fetching the ball. The ref couldn’t decide who was who after five minutes, so gave alternate scrums and penalties to each side in turn. Nil-all at fifty-five minutes and everybody was freezing. Suddenly lover boy, whose shorts remained mysteriously white throughout, burst through and scored under their posts. The ref blew full time and walked off towards The Stray in the opposite direction to the clubhouse.

The scenes then were hilarious. We ran round kissing and hugging each other whilst they were mightily miffed. The bumpkins from up the dales had just beaten snooty Harrogate, something that hadn’t happened within living memory.”

After last Sunday, my personal series of matches against Harrogate RUFC stands at

one apiece.

Do sample The New Inn at Burnt Yates if you’re ever up there.

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