First a disclaimer. What you are about to read contains much that is unerringly accurate, parts that are somewhat less so and bits that my memory might be confusing with scenes from "Frankenstein" the classic 1931 film starring Boris Karloff and directed by James
I believe it was a tighthead prop who once said: "Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart." The Fates have often played with my life; their dextrous fingers, like those of a puppeteer, pulling the strings that controlled my thoughts, deeds and words. I hadn't felt their presence in a while - No great civilizations had fallen, no buildings had burnt to the ground and Jessica Alba's lawyers had been quiet - but today the old trickster sisters were back. I could hear their cackles like dried leaves as it sank in. March 17th Altrincham Kersal away. A trip back to Timperley, the hamlet I grew up in and had been forced to flee 22 years ago to the day.
I have not always been the dour, taciturn man of numbers that I must appear like these days. In my youth I would often hold court in the Hare and Hounds, The Gardeners Arms and just about anywhere else that sold alcohol or, if all else failed, white wine cooking sauce. Regularly I would paint the town red, yellow, green and on one infamous occasion Marzipan. Then one night the villagers formed a posse, and brandishing pitchforks and billowing torches, threaded their way through the narrow streets to my house. "Where's the monster!" they shouted through the letterbox. I had stepped over the invisible line of decency. I had declared my love of the Earth Sciences and in a town where Particle Physics was king this was nothing less than heresy. Timperley at that time was the proud owner of The Sidebottom Smasher, a medium sized particle accelerator. Unlike the Hadron Collider built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), with the aim of allowing physicists to test the predictions of different theories of particle physics and particularly to hunt for the existence of the hypothesized Higgs boson, this one had been made by gluing a pea to the roof of a matchbox car which was then sent round a hot wheels track until it hit a wall or a cat, and had been designed to look for the semi-mythical Megs Bosom.
The town elders gave me a stark choice; renounce Geology and settle down to a lifetime of work on the nature and properties of quark-gluon plasma or be banished forever. I had until sunrise to make my decision. As the cock crowed the next morning I found myself on the only road out of the village, clutching a bag containing two marmite butties, a battered copy of Barbara Cartland's 'The Wings of Love" and a hastily drawn map detailing all that was known outside the town boundaries. There to the south east, next to the bit that read "Here be Dragons" and beneath a picture of a troll-like thing eating a man head first, was a red dot with the words "Ye land of scary Amazon Mums and funny egg shaped balls". With nowhere else to go I made my way to Cheadle Hulme.
And now I was back, on the very fields I had known so many years ago. I looked about me as the teams took to the pitch. The bushes seemed the same and there was no sign that I had ever been in them... Then the whistle blew, shaking me out of my reverie, a quick count told me we had a very small squad, just 14 players in all, which meant a lot of game time for everyone, and a lot to ask of our boys too.
Manchester kicked off and applied some good early pressure on Altrincham's defence, working the ball neatly and accurately across the pitch. Just when it looked like we would be rewarded with a try, Altrincham managed to turn the ball over and run the ball over the try line with a fine burst of pace. they were unlucky not to see the resulting conversion go over the bars. Again straight from the kick off, Manchester exerted themselves building a good attacking platform from which to try and score. From a lost Kersal lineout Manchester pounced on the ball and a one of our boys managed to scramble and "rat" his way through the home team's defence to score - not a pretty try and probably won't make it onto the U11s end of season highlights video but Manchester's period of good rugby deserved an end product. We made no mistake with the conversion attempt which saw the ball sail into a familiar bush behind the goal posts. There was some excellent rugby played by both sides for the remainder of the half, good scrapping for the ball, energetic ball carrying and some massive tackling which saw attacks pushed back by both defences. The scrums were few and far between, each team had two in this opening quarter and both won their own. There was a measly single lineout which Kersal lost and our boys were pinged thrice resulting in three penalties to none for Altrincham. Turnover-wise saw us 2 - 1 up!
Once again, at the start of the next period Manchester are rampant and they're all over Kersal like a rash! Very good momentum from the off saw Manchester passing the ball well and rucking excellently (which has been a feature all season) but again we failed to make the pressure count as the Altrincham defence does superbly and from a ruck Altrincham sharply pass the ball out to an on rushing player who neatly found a support player to score - excellent well worked try by Kersal, appreciated by both sets of parents. After a period of scrappy play, we began to reassert ourselves again running a bit more directly at the opposition rather than diagonally and for a time there were alarm bells ringing in the Kersal defence after some sublime attacking stuff from the boys. But again the home defence did excellently and then came back at us with a vengeance. In the end this second quarter ended Manchester 0 - Altrincham Kersal 1. We were awarded two lineouts which we won to Kersals' none. Manchester had three scrums which they won and Kersal had one which they won. We were awarded six penalties to Kersals three and we managed to turn the ball over three times to Kersal's once, so great rucking again boys!
Our lack of numbers was beginning to show, with little chance of being subbed there were some tired legs and bodies out there! Altrincham were able to roll more players on and off, giving their lads more of a chance to catch their breath. Manchester conspired against themselves in this half producing some messy all round play which you can't afford to do against a very good side like Kersal. They took full advantage and through a fine combination of passes, one of their players saw a gap in our defense and sped through to score. Manchester started to pass the ball out better and from a lineout a series of superb passes eventually found a Manchester player lurking to receive the ball and run it over the try line from 20 yards out. Manchester's forwards continued to pressurise and a lot of the play for the remainder of this period was played in the Altrincham half, but again Altrincham's defence was excellent.
The quarter ended one-a-piece with Manchester winning their two lineouts and also Kersal's two. Our pack also won our solitary scrum and both of the opposition's.
Fourth Period. Dead on their legs, Manchester soaked up all Altrincham could throw at them and still managed to attack often too. It must be mentioned here that our pack, which, due to injuries was shorn of a couple of regulars in there worked really hard to force pressure on the Kersal defence and the scrum stats for this half do them credit we won our own three scrums and both of Altrincham's. We forced them to kick under pressure once and won two penalties to their none. We had two turnovers to Kersal's one. Overall a pleasing result, won one, lost one, drew two. Due to our low numbers I expected far worse, especially as the morning wore on, so despite some sloppy patches of play, good work fellas! Score for this quarter Manchester 0 - Altrincham Kersal 0.
Final score: Altrincham Kersal 17 v Manchester 12.
Many thanks to Altrincham Kersal a great team, great club and great hospitality.