Being A Rugby Mum: Mud, Frostbite And Chicken Nuggets
I’ve been watching and loving rugby for the best part of 30 years, a fact that not only made me feel incredibly old when I worked it out, but also made me wonder why I haven’t retained more information about the actual rules of the game. I blame it on my artistic nature, which means I’m all about the aesthetics and less about the actual mechanics; it also means I spent too much time as a teenager drooling over Scott Gibbs and not enough time working out why the ref had blown his whistle.
Anyway, I digress. I’m no longer just a rugby fan; for the last 2 years, I’ve also been a rugby mum. My son plays for Macclesfield RUFC’s Under 9s, and here are 5 of the most important things I’ve learned over the last couple of seasons:
1. Your washing machine is your best friend. Through thick and thin, night and day, it keeps chugging away to ensure you don’t have to buy more than one kit to cover midweek training and match day, otherwise you’d be eating beans by candlelight.
It’s a strange phenomenon that children grow exponentially faster than you can afford to keep them in sports’ kits, particularly if, like me, you’re a single parent. Not only does my 9 year old keep growing upwards and outwards like a particularly virulent dandelion, his feet also seem to defy logic. Added to the growing, there’s the issue of things getting lost in some kind of weird Bermuda Triangle which seems to exist between school and his dad’s house, and never seeing the light of day again; this season, we’re currently down one football coat, one gum shield, two water bottles and a pair of shin pads. My cunning plan to buy 3 more gum shields and keep one in the car, one in his kit bag and one in the house seems to be working so far.
2. Mud gets everywhere. No word of a lie, it gets in their underpants. I don’t know how, nor do I really wish to, but it does. When I drain the water out of the post-match bath, there is enough mud in there to sculpt a life-size model of Shane Williams.
Last weekend, as the last vestiges of dirty water dribbled lazily down the plug hole, my son peered into the bath and genuinely gasped at the tidemark of muck halfway up the sides of it; “Did all that come off me?!” he asked, with undertones of pride that unnerved me. Yes, son, it did, and at this rate, your next post-match ablution will involve a hose pipe and an OUTSIDE.
3. There is no match result that can’t be improved by post-match chips and chicken nuggets in the clubhouse with his mates.
I know we’re not supposed to keep track of scores or results, but come on! Everybody does. Admittedly not the score lines so much, because sometimes, even though I try to watch the whole match without blinking, there are so many kids galloping around the pitch that I can’t keep up. The grass is so long that neither you - nor, sometimes, the kids - can see the try line cones, and, to add insult to overly-vegetated pitches, I quite often can’t tell which one is my child, either. The benefits of having a ginger child (easily recognisable in the airport/play centre/supermarket) are negated the minute he puts his scrum cap on, and the horrendously neon, hideously expensive but instantly recognisable boots I bought him are the same earth-brown colour as everybody else’s within 2 minutes of kick-off.
However they’ve played, it all gets forgotten over hot food afterwards in the clubhouse; this is one of the many things I love about rugby. Both teams sit down together over a meal, with parents hovering hungrily in the background, ready to nick a chip if their child seems distracted enough by chatting to his or her neighbour. I would repudiate strongly the allegation that I’ve stolen chips from children who were’t mine - it’s an important life lesson never to leave your food unattended, anyway.
4. Rugby is a game for all shapes and sizes. Yes, even in this day and age of 6’6” Premiership wingers and hookers built like personal trainers instead of space hoppers, at grass roots level, you can still find a role for every kid.
There’s the shy one who likes to hover on the wing near his dad, but who has a knack of running in such a haphazard fashion that not only does he not know where he’s going, but neither do the opposition. Bingo! 3 opponents swerved, try scored.
There’s the kid who’s knee-high to a gnat but is so low to the ground that his sense of balance is of Jason Robinson-proportions, and who is almost impossible for the taller players to tackle legally. He or she is a diamond - every team should have at least one, but preferably two, of these.
There’s at least one girl with bucket loads of sass, who runs rings round the boys even though most of the time, she can’t see where she’s going because her scrum cap keeps slipping down and who tackles like a ninja.
And there’s the kid who thought he was going to hate rugby, who was all about football and Ronaldo and step-overs and who lay awake worrying about his first tackle session; who only went because he loves his mum and his mum has a mild obsession with this funny sport with the daft ball and the running into other people at high speed. Fast forward two months, and he’s the one bouncing around the pitch, tackling anything that moves and quite often, anything that doesn’t. It’s his mum standing on the touchline, shouting “SPREAD OUT!!” at every re-start (oops, really need to rein that in, although, honestly, they’re like a nest of baby birds at feeding time waiting for the ball. Drives me potty)
So, rugby really is the sport for everybody - albeit everybody who doesn’t mind getting flattened
every now and again. Tall, short, skinny, large, shy, bold - even gingers.
5. There isn’t a coat invented that can keep out the cold of standing on the touchline for hours. Every Sunday, I imagine the coat that I’d design if I was at all handy with a needle; it’d need to be at least ankle length, preferably with an elasticated hem to thwart that Baltic wind that blows across the open acres of rugby pitches straight from Moscow; sleeves that have gloves sown onto the cuffs; a hood like the ones Arctic explorers wear to stop themselves getting frostbite on their faces….in fact, let’s be honest, it’s a sleeping bag with a bit of extra stitching. And, of course, it needs to be torrential-downpour-proof too, because although the kids are as happy as Larry running around soaked to their undies, I draw the line at that.
6. Oh. There wasn’t supposed to be a sixth point. But I’ve realised, after writing the other five, that in spite of the constant washing, the expense, the driving, the bathroom-scrubbing, the frostbite, the car full of rowdy 9 year old boys talking about farts and tries, that I absolutely love it all, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
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