Contents The Gallery Rugby My First Game
The cloth badge used on 1st XV Rugby Jerseys (and for other sports too).
For me, the game started as soon as I had seen my name, "Loose-head Prop - B. Carter", pencilled in on the slip of paper pinned up by Terry "Action Man" Williams on the Sports Hall notice board a week before the game. I was truly in Heaven - my dream had finally come true, it was better than sex (not that I knew what that was at that age) - I had arrived! Sick from nervousness almost to the point of throwing up from the moment of waking up that Saturday morning until leaving Peel for the Sports Hall with my kit some two hours before the game, I was already in a state of near-brainwash by the time other members of the side started to arrive. There was the captain Rory Mather (who years later played for the US Eagles), and hooker Bob Pointer; there were Neil Carruthers, Peter Hargreaves, Bruce Miller and Tony Mullen. Most of all there was Tim Prouty, two years older than myself, the tight-head prop of all tight-head props.
The before-game sweat session was probably to blame for what happened. Tim particularly but also Pete from Lincoln hit me in the face several times, with Tim growling his usual imprecations of "Let the b*****ds' livers know we're here, boys". I began to lose all contact with reality. There was so much adrenalin sloshing around my system that I was more pumped up than a cell of Al Qaeda terrorists contemplating a group of Southern Baptists singing "Carry Me Across the Jordan". Then there was the College war cry in the woods (can anyone remember exactly how the chant went?). Then the run to the pitch, several hundreds of assorted heebies, other pupils, staff and fit females cheering and urging us on to blood-lust. Peanut too was in attendance. I have never been a drug user, but the effect of it all must be similar to popping a few somethings - I was really high.
Tim had said to me in the Changing Room "First scrum down - let him know you're there".
So I did.
The first scrum came after about one minute of the game. I didn't even think about it - as soon as my head connected with the opposing prop's, I gave him an uppercut with the left fist and he dropped like a stone. What happened next was something of a blur: I remember looking over to the side of the pitch whilst disengaging from the scrum and seeing the Norwich School rugby master throwing down his clipboard and running onto the pitch yelling "Outrageous!" I remember telling the referee that it was an accident, a clash of heads. I remember Tim looking at me and saying something like "F***ing hell Dover!" The other player stayed on the ground for several minutes but in the end was able to continue, at least for some time.
I stayed on the pitch, by some miracle. The game turned from that moment on into a bloodbath, with the tempers of both sides at boiling point. The entire match was littered with incidents every few minutes until the final whistle. There was the magnificent and extremely illegal rucking of Norwich School players' heads by Prouty; there was the elbow in my face that gave me the worst black eye that I have ever had; there were several punch-ups: no quarter was asked nor given and in the final minutes there was even a tripping incident by members of the opposition's 2nd team, whose game finished five minutes earlier than our own. I think it was "Quorn A-Z Alphabet Soup", Sean Cunningham, our left winger, who was deliberately tripped by one of them, an incident that was to be of priceless value some weeks later.
After the game I returned to Peel, conscious that I was being looked at and discussed. I showered, wearier than I had ever been before in my life. Soon afterwards a message came from Terry Williams, he wanted to see me. When I found him, he simply looked at me, grinned and asked in that measured voice of his "Left hook or right hook, Ben?" I sheepishly replied "Left, Sir". "Alright, go back to the house, there may be some fallout from this".
And indeed there was! Some weeks later, the entire 1st XV were called to the Admin Block to see the Nut in his office. His first question: "Which one is Carter?" The meeting was serious - the Headmaster of a Public School had written to the Nut apparently threatening to break ties with the school unless action was taken against the thugs who had put nearly his entire side into their Sickbay.
We had some ammunition on our side too. An extempore performance by Prouty in his own defence (the rucking incidents had been noted) - "Well Sir, there's this thing called a ruck sir, well sir, the ball's on the ground and you have to go in sir, and sometimes it can be a bit rough sir; yes, a bit dangerous, especially when a head gets in the way sir, and rugby boots have these studs sir, that's rugby sir" - "That's enough, thank you Prouty". My own recollection and description of the tripping incident came at an opportune moment, when the Nut needed as much help as he could get, in the form of counter-charges, to shape his response to the letter he had received.
Nevertheless, he was prepared to make one token sacrifice and that sacrifice was to be me. I was told afterwards by Rory Mather that the Nut had determined to ban me from rugby for the rest of my school career. If this had happened, it would have been a personal catastrophe. That it was averted I was told was down to the courage of Terry Williams, who told Wolsey that if I was banned, he would immediately resign.
Wolsey backed down. If this story is true, I would like now to thank Terry Williams for his courage on behalf of myself and the team.
One final aside. My nephew Thomas Carter (New) also played for the School 1st XV in the late 1990's. He told me a year or two back that relations with Norwich School continued to be poor and that rugby matches against them continue to be fought with the fury and some of the violence of past years. I can only hope that this is true.
By the way, we won 17-3.
Unfortunately I don't think Ben strayed too far from actuality, except I don't recall either Pete or I hitting him in the face before the game. Having said that, I take full responsibility for being the primary culprit for inciting Ben's "virtuoso" performance that day. Not necessarily something I am particularly proud of; especially in light of what happened about three weeks later. Having said that, even though we knew Ben to be a little "fired up," his Steve Finnane (the notorious Australian prop who broke Graham Price's jaw in 1978)impersonation took everybody by surprise! For Ben most definitely was not a dirty player - indeed one of the finest players in the school's history - a far better player than I.
What Ben says about Terry Williams saying that he would resign on the spot does not surprise me one bit, although I do not recall the event. Terry Williams was without doubt one of the finest individuals I have had the fortune to come across in my life. And as I think I've mentioned to you before, it was simply a travesty that his monumental character, integrity and talent were not acknowledged by the school. He would have undoubtedly made one of the finest housemasters in the school's history ranking up there with David Lockwood.
As I mentioned earlier; that day came back to haunt us all about 3 weeks later in a game with another Nemesis, Woolverstone Hall. The Thursday prior to the Saturday game with Woolverstone was the day of the infamous dissembling session with "The Nut."
The weather the day of the game was wet and windy. The rain never let up and the sky remained dark and funereal the entire game. It is probably accurate to say that we should have had the game well and truly won by half-time. We squandered at least 5 golden try scoring chances and took only one during a half where we were encamped in the Woolverstone 25. We were 4-0 up at the half turning to face the wind. But we weren't unduly concerned because for the first time in many, many years; Woolverstone were not a good team. Not a good team, except for a chap called Cyril Offiah, who played full back for Woolverstone that day and went on to play for Rosslyn Park, England "B" and eventually changed codes ending up representing Great Britain, if I am not mistaken. [According to the Woolverstone Hall Old Boys web site Cyril did not continue to play rugby after his time at Woolverstone Hall but his younger brother Martin did all that was listed - Sub-Ed.] But even so, we had kept Cyril pinned down and quiet in the first half dominating Woolverstone in every phase.
About 10 minutes into the second half, as Peter Hargreaves and I were getting up from a ruck about 10 yards from the touch line Cyril caught Pete with an imperious right cross and laid him out flat (to Pete's credit -- a hard man, no question -- he got to his feet, albeit groggily). As Cyril was moving away, I had a perfect opportunity to land the same on him but froze. Standing there looking me right in the eye no more than 10 yards away was The Nut. We looked at each other for a couple more seconds and I did nothing. I simply rejoined the ensuing scrum with Pete. To this day I feel like a complete sh*t for not acting. The game degenerated into a morass in the middle of the field. Even with the wind, Woolverstone never came remotely close to scoring a try. They were, however awarded two penalties, each about forty yards out, the last one from right by the touch line. Cyril kicked them both and Woolverstone won the game 6 - 4.
I can't help thinking that a number of Norwich School players from that era would have felt there was something poetic about the outcome.
I remember, Tim, the follow-on game against Woolverstone very, very well. I didn't see the punching incident against Pete. I was at the bottom of a pile of bodies at the time, but I do remember upon emerging seeing him, with his left hand held to his face, rather forcefully tell Cyril a few home truths. I also remember you being furious with yourself afterwards. My own contribution to that game was catching the "punky prop" in possession over their try line and forcing about five 5-yard scrums in succession, all of which we won. We wasted the chance of going further ahead, and perhaps putting the game beyond Woolverstone's reach - Rory Mather frankly wasted possession each time by passing out to the backs who couldn't do anything with it. I have to hang my head in shame though, and say that it was I who was penalised for barging in the final line-out of the game, which Cyril then slotted to give them the game. Afterwards, Terry Williams came up to each of us in the changing room and shook our hands - he was actually, or very nearly crying. I have never forgotten it.
In general, rugby I think defined my time at Wymondham, along with cricket of course. In fact, I had my finest moment as a batsman (I very rarely troubled the scorer) in the 1st XI by hitting a cover drive for four against the same Cyril Offiah, who was a lightning quickie as well as a fine rugby player. He got me two or three balls later, but I had hit him for four!
Tim is too kind to me I think. He himself was a school sporting hero, representing the school at everything with plenty of County and Eastern County thrown in for good measure. We are both keeping in shape even now - I am a fitness man with a bit of rugby for Moscow Dragons thrown in (now virtually finished, I have broken too many bones down the years, including my breast-bone this year during a 10's Championship in Warsaw), whilst Tim is a keen tennis player and runner.
What is the state of rugby at the school today??
Wymondham College Remembered