A Question of Sport

Grozzle, or Mr Hayes, our physics teacher, if you want to be polite, decided on the grounds of my height that I should be anchor. 

I did not understand rugby.

He assumed that like all boys I did understand rugby or possibly he thought I would learn the rules as I played the game.  My strategy for football, keep away from the ball, was not such a good strategy for rugby.  Anchor is in the front row of the scrum.  I’m not quite sure what the scrum is for.  The front row had to link arms, with some other boys bent over behind us and then someone would push a thing that approximated to a ball into the middle.  The rest of the time I was supposed to be somewhere specific on the field for some reason.  No-one bothered to explain all this and I didn’t care enough to find out.  So, I was never in the right place.  I was shouted at but nothing was ever explained.  After about a year of this …

… I still didn’t understand rugby. 

I remember I had to bath after each match because my muscles hurt so much.  I had no idea why I had to do this.  Wouldn’t it have been better to put someone in the place of anchor who actually cared about the game?  You’d think so.  Well, I think so but then …

I still don’t understand rugby.

Grozzle shouted at me because I was never in the right place.  The truth was the right place was the last place I wanted to be.

Others expressed their criticism through brutal and systematic bullying.  I was always rubbish at sport.  I suspect it was because I was never interested in it and so never tried to master the moves.  I believed my own propaganda, I was no good at sport and that was that.  I had no interest in it and that grew into inability.

These days, I’m a school governor at a local first school.  One day I entered the office for a meeting and the senior teachers were discussing an article on the front page if the Sheffield Star.  A headteacher in a neighbouring school had been sacked by Offsted for allowing bullying in her school.

I was amazed and vocalised my amazement, to the disapproval of the staff, about how mild the bullying was.  The headteacher at my old school should have been sentenced to 30 years in prison, by the same yardstick.  I’m sure there’s a lot of bullying still going on in schools and modern technology means pupils can be bullied at home.  Tolerance of bullying today is far less than it was in my day.

Looking back from the perspective of over 50 years, I think I held up pretty well.  If I had to fight, I would.  I gave as good as I got, even though didn’t know why I was fighting.  Or, perhaps I do.  Most of those brutal fights were set up.  Others who were being bullied, were made to pick a fight with me for the entertainment of the ringleaders. 

This brutal pointless charade went on for years until I eventually turned on the ringleaders and it ended almost overnight.  It left me crushed.

My whole career has been marked by the dual strategy of keeping out of other’s way and in time learning to trust them.  On the other hand, standing up for others I see being bullied.  I’m not saying I’m good at standing up to bullies, I tend towards passive-aggressive, which is not always helpful. 

At a deeper level I know that bullies are isolated.  Power over others fills a void.  Just as no-one explained the rules of rugby to me, assuming I knew them or cared enough to find them out, so they have not learned what it means to be alive.  Kindness fills the void, not cruelty.

Day 13/21 of my writing challenge. Every weekday, I publish a short piece of writing on my subject, solitude. The writings are based on a daily prompt from Megan Macedo, who leads the challenge. These are all first drafts with minimal revision. Please comment if you find these posts helpful. Previous: The Food of Love. Next: Nothing Propinques Like Propinquity.

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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