I was playing rugby at school when this huge boy about twice my size came bearing down on me with the ball. I wasn’t sure whether to tackle him or not. It seemed a life or death question. In the end, I think I tried to trip him up, which is apparently illegal. But at least I survived.
I seem to remember that he continued irresistibly down the pitch, with much smaller boys parting like the Red Sea before him until he fell on the ball under the posts. Rugby was his game.
I was not keen on rugby. But as nearly all the boys preferred football, the school made us play rugby quite often. I think it was supposed to be character-forming. Or maybe they just didn’t like us.
The question of size in sport is interesting. It seems to me that over the course of my life, the more successful sportsmen seem to have got much bigger. I used to enjoy watching rugby, as opposed to playing it, and at the time wings and centres were normal-sized – sometimes even small – as opposed to the great hulking forwards.
That is not true now: everyone on the field is huge, and great emphasis is placed on aggressive physical behaviour. This, together with the fashion for random penalties at scrums and ridiculous rolling mauls – which are just legalised obstruction – has turned me off.
Football is much the same. Physicality is much praised, and free kicks are pretty random, even with VAR – particularly as VAR still depends on judgement of grey areas, and not black and white.
You might think that cricket , without much physical contact, would rise above the search for something bigger, and so would sports like tennis and golf. But this is not true.
Think the impressive Freddie Flintoff and Sir Ian Botham, but think even more about the weight of cricket bats, which has increased so that you only have to get a nick on the ball for it to go sailing over the boundary and score “the maximum”, however bad the shot. This gives rise indirectly to reverse sweeps and that shot where you paddle it over the wicketkeeper (and the rope). That’s not beautiful, and not the cricket I knew and loved – perhaps because I was a bowler.
Golf clubs and tennis rackets have also developed into tools of fearsome power, so that weight beats skill in many situations.
I hope I am not being sizeist. I have nothing against big people, but I don’t like the idea that being big immediately gives you an advantage. I’m sure the odd rule change could put things right, unless you indulge in basketball, which is beyond salvation. Meanwhile, I shall continue playing chess.