Beware of complacency!

I feel I should add a word of caution against the enemy of all sportsmen. I refer of course to the demon known as ‘complacency’. I well remember my days as a promising wing-three-quarter for Bewsey Grammar School in the fair city of Warrington. Our formidable games master, Dr Dullard, was a keen rugby football supporter and would regularly ram a red hot knitting needle down the ear of any boy caught playing the round ball game.

August 1911 was typical of those warm pre-war summers we all remember from the days of our youth.  Unfortunately, September brought freak hail storms and blizzards during which Dr Dullard would make us stand on the school roof wearing nothing but a primrose and blue rosette to save embarrassing the school nurse. He promised it would toughen us up and he was right. We won the first four games of the season and were joint top of the league. Our fifth fixture was against local rivals Fitzherbert Street Ragged School, who shared joint first place with us.

The day of the game duly arrived and we boarded our stagecoaches to set off for Fitzherbert Street. Since every horse in Warrington had been requisitioned by the local Territorial Battalion of the 1st Warrington King’s Own Foot and Mouth, we had to harness some of the local guttersnipes to the stagecoaches. They were quite happy to receive a flagon of porter beer and twopence each, but seemed even happier when the good Doctor ceased prodding them with his javelin.

We were brimming with confidence! The referee, Sir Nathaniel Ganson awarded us a penalty right under the sticks when one of the Fitzherbert team was spotted with a hole in his stocking.  Our full-back Hubert Pimple slotted the goal. Fitzherbert soon replied when their grimy looking prop-forward Boyd barged over for a try. Protestations that the try should have been disallowed on the grounds that Boyd was a colonial were dismissed by Sir Ganson.

Dr Dullard gave us his usual half-time pep talk which went along the lines of: “If you lose, I’ll kill each and every one of you on Monday morning, you little bastards!” This did the trick and once our winger Ebenezer Bevan sliced through the Fitzherbert defence, it was plain sailing. Unfortunately, their stand-off half Josiah Briers kicked two drop goals winning the game for Fitzherbert. As we looked towards our own bench, we could see Dr Dullard loading his blunderbuss, his face red with rage. “You’re dead! Do you hear me? You’re all dead!”

What were we to do? Dullard advanced upon us just as he had done to the natives at the Battle of Jodhpur. Things were looking very grim when the school nurse ran onto the pitch waving a specimen jar. “All is not lost Dr Dullard!” “Explain yourself madam!” Roared Dullard. “This is a sample of urine taken from the Fitzherbert stand-off half!” she gasped. “It contains the banned substance Vimto, which as you know has been a prohibited substance since 1908 when it caused the Italian marathon runner to collapse in the London Olympic Games!”

“By Jove! Madam, you have saved the day!” grinned Dullard. Then raising his blunderbuss, he blew the right leg off the startled Briers. “There! That will teach you British Fair Play!” How we all laughed as Briers rolled about screaming in agony. “Stop whining boy!” roared Dullard before turning to the school nurse “Put the magic sponge on that wound Madam. It might turn septic!” Then it was all off to the Wilson Patten Hotel for a slap up meal of boiled vegetables and one of ‘Hunter’s Handy Hams’.

All the best for the rest of the season,

Your old friend,

M. Cheshire, Warrington. nn