In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
The Holy Grail
He was a short man, with glasses, and a balding pate, white hair curling around his ears. He smiled, reminding me of a benign, if probably homosexual vicar. “Just fill in the questionnaire, please, Ben.”
There were some thirty pages and it took me about fifteen minutes to complete, with Simon, for such was his name, watching me over his glasses with his fingers steepled to his lips. I finished and handed the document over. As Simon read, I wondered if I should have come here. It was, I reflected, free to me, and my employers were clearly sufficiently concerned about my life, post Mobil, to pay for this counsellor to give me the benefits of his thinking.
At one stage he began to laugh heartily, and in a refreshingly masculine way. “You can’t do that,” he said, pointing to question 56.
I looked at 56. It asked what would I like to do most of all in the world, if I had the chance. I had replied, “Open the batting for England against Australia at Lords, and score a hundred before lunch on the Saturday of the Test Match.”
Simon shook his head. “Sorry, you can’t do that. I’m going to do it.”
Robert Croft, the Glamorgan cricketer grew up wanting to play Rugby for Wales and cricket for England. I grew up wanting to play football for Northern Ireland and cricket for England. Robert Croft at least achieved one of his goals. I achieved neither.
I have long supported England’s sports teams, cricket, football and Rugby, and it has not always been a rewarding experience. I remember 1966, of course, but was living in Australia at the time, so the immediacy and excitement of Bobby Moore’s heroes’ achievements were lost. This time was different.
Over the years I have concluded that Rugby is a better game than soccer, not necessarily on a skills level, but because of the behaviour of the participants. In the 2003 Rugby World Cup I passionately wanted England to win. They were joint favourites with the All Blacks, and it looked good. England, under Will Carling had lost the final 12-6 to Australia in 1991 in a game they should have won. They had been searching for the Holy Grail ever since.
It was easy in the first game against poor little Georgia, who were probably on a par with Epsom 3rd XV. The score was 86-6. The second game against South Africa was harder, but we still won 25-6. The Springboks were probably the fourth best team in the world. I listened to the Samoa game while working in my daughter’s lighting shop. The brave Samoans led for most of the match, but still lost 35-22. Uruguay’s minnows lost by a cricket score and England were in the last eight.
In the quarter final, the Welsh dragon managed three tries to England’s one, but the red rose still came through 28-17. In the semis, the Wallabies upset the joint favourites New Zealand and England outplayed our old ‘beloved enemy’ France. It rained during the game and the French captain wished England luck in the final, but excused his team’s loss as ‘the conditions climatique were against us.’ What, it never rains in France, then?
The long awaited final was played on a rainy Saturday evening in Sydney. The Holy Grail was in sight. Throughout the tournament the Australian press maintained a vicious campaign against England who were described as, ‘arrogant’, ‘old’, ‘slow’ and ‘boring.’
For several days before the big game, I could hardly eat with tension, and did not sleep on the Friday night. I have a confession to make. I decided that I could not bring myself to watch the game, but set the VCR. About 10.00 AM my sister rang.
“Did you hear the score?”
I was screaming inwardly. “I don’t want to know the score.”
“It’s all right, England are playing well. We’re leading 14-5 at half time.”
“Go away,” I told her, “and don’t phone again till this afternoon.”
Finally I weakened and switched on the box with about five minutes to go, and just in time to see Elton Flatley level at 14 each. “Oh, my God, we’re going to blow it again.”
Now that I was watching, I couldn’t break away, living those last twenty minutes on my feet alternately wringing my hands and biting my fingernails. The wonderful Wilkinson gave us the lead again with a penalty and then, unbelievably, there was Flatley again to level with two minutes to go
I can’t stand this; I will have a cardiac.
Steve Smith on the television said, “kick long, gain yardage, win the ball, hold the ruck, get Wilkinson in the pocket and give him the ball.” England drove on, Matt Dawson darted up the side of the scrum on the ground, gaining seven or eight yards before being dragged down. The ball came back to England, to the giant Martin Johnston. He saw that Dawson was out of place and he offered his body as a battering ram to gain a yard and give Dawson time to get back. The ball came out on England’s side, to Matt Dawson, who half turned and slipped the pass to Jonny Wilkinson in the pocket. Jonny swung his right foot as the despairing Aussies descended on him.
There was the ball, white in the stadium light, spiralling end over end towards the posts as the spectators began to rise in anticipation, their arms reaching towards the heavens. It seemed to be a lifetime as that ball went through the posts, as English players and Australians alike stood still to watch. It was through. 20-17. It was done, or nearly done.
The Wallabies kicked off with twenty seconds to go, and the ball came to Catt. “Lose it, Mike”, I found myself screaming, “put it into the bloody stand.” The ball was in touch, the whistle went. England, despite trying hard to give the game to the Aussies, were the World Champions. Johnston was handed the William Webb Ellis Trophy, from John Howard, the lemon sucking Australian Prime Minister
On Monday 8th December 2003 I went to Central London to applaud the team as they drove through 750,000 cheering fans. England held the World Cup. They had reached the Holy Grail, and there it was in Martin Johnson’s hands. But not just the team had reached the Grail. All the people watching in London and all those who could not be there, we too, through our Rugby players, had found the Grail also. Thank you, fellas, and congratulations.
Written by BM