To be fair, J’s foster carers had done their best.
They loved their football, and he came to me, aged six and three quarters, bearing an England duvet cover and several well worn branded football shirts and pairs of trainers. During the fortnight we spent getting to know each other before J moved in, they’d even arranged an afternoon with their extended family on the sidelines at the local Juniors football tournament. Ask J who he supported though, and the answer was always simply England.
A sporty girlfriend had advised me that it was important that boys learn to speak Football from an early age, it being the lingua franca of the modern world, spoken more widely than English itself, and bringing boys and men together regardless of class, creed, nationality…… and team.
J humoured me for a few months. We had the football on TV every weekend, and he started training at Queens Park every Saturday morning. I’d been quite an ardent supporter of Brighton in my teens, going to all their home matches, so I knew a bit about the sport. Grandad George, his cousins’ grandad (and my brother in law’s father) used to send him his football programmes every time he went to a match, which J faithfully kept. But ask J if he was interested in the game, and the answer was always and consistently No.
One weekend, we went to stay with good friends near Nottingham. Dave watched J throw himself around in their local park and he said Try him at rugby. In January, I enrolled him with the nascent Kilburn Cosmos Minis, along with six other little ones, and we haven’t looked back. There is something about mud that children love.
J has not once said, in eight years of Sunday morning rugby training, that he didn’t want to go. That first winter, I remember Mike their coach saying “he’s got an awful lot of energy, hasn’t he” as J swarmed around the pitch like an angry wasp, yanking at tags. At school I’d taken care to explain his very troubled first few years, but at rugby I hoped to let things be and allow him to be himself, not defined by his past. I think that worked. His Kilburn Cosmos rugby coaches were unfailingly fantastically kind, supportive men and women who were wonderful role models in those early years. One winter five years ago when I was having chemotherapy, they, alongside other parents, went out of their way to be there for him and get him to training sessions and matches. I will always be grateful to them.
These days, J trains with Wasps and has just completed a two day summer rugby course, one of several he has undertaken over the years. He is starting this new season with the same vigour and enthusiasm that he has had at the start of every season. He mostly plays Flanker or Prop and of course I worry, but so far he has been fortunate to sustain just knocks and bruises and once, a mild concussion. What rugby has sometimes provided is a powerful, controlled and constructive outlet for his feelings of anger.
Ask him these days who he supports, and he responds that he’s not really interested in football. I’m incredibly admiring of him in this age where football is so dominant in sports culture, and let’s be frank, in male culture generally.
Let the season commence!
I am linking this post up to the wonderful Weekly Adoption Shout Out, #WASO week 82.