Rugby union was the sport which I played best, and which I most enjoyed playing. I attended a small school, Gosforth Grammar in Newcastle upon Tyne, which had only recently switched from soccer to rugby, but was very successful. In four years (Under-14, Under 15, two years Seniors), we won every game I played. I missed two – a loss and a draw.
Our school was the feeder for the Gosforth club, which won the English League in its first two years, and later morphed into Newcastle Falcons. We provided the core of the Gosforth and Northumberland County XVs.
One of our greatest rivals was Morpeth, a very hard-playing team with border reiver ancestry. We played them on one very cold Saturday, in falling snow.
I always thought that the point of the game was to get possession of the ball and use it to score. It seemed that not everyone shared my view. A player lost the ball on one side of the field, and a loose scrum developed. I went to join the melee, and found the ball lying on my side of it. I picked it up, put it behind me, and strolled cross-field. Meanwhile, all other forwards piled into the scrum, the two sets of backs formed diagonals, awaiting the ball.
I gradually accelerated and began to move in a wide curve towards the opposition try line. The ball and I were in sight of the Gosforth backs, but all eyes were focussed on the scrum, oblivious to the location of the ball.
Finally, as I began to sprint, one of the Morpeth backs realised what was happening. “Oi!” he yelled, “That big daft one’s got the ball!”
“That big daft one!” I continue to wear that name with pride; and, more than 50 years on, there are many who think that it is still appropriate.