In the early 2000s I was introduced to the noble art of kickboxing, it thrilled me and I loved it. I loved the honour and the discipline and I also loved the punching.
One afternoon a group of us were sparring, I was watching a man I'd never seen at the dojo before roughly fight with a smaller partner. His attacks were relentless and without mercy, the smaller man receiving a proper pasting, it was troublesome to watch. "CHANGE!" barked Sensei Russell. It was my turn to spar with this stranger, he grinned through his gumshield and winked at me as he came forward.
We circled around, sizing each other up. He snapped out crisp shots, I absorbed them and countered. He began showing his frustration at my airtight defence by throwing heavier and heavier punches, I approached and he fired out a vicious front kick, then another. I stepped back guessing what was coming next, a third, rapier-like kick flashed forward, I stepped to one side taking advantage of his poor balance and countered with a spinning back fist to his ear, his defence dropped, his head dropped and – using techniques I had learned both in the dojo and on the cobbles – I flicked out a perfect roundhouse kick to the burly youth's chin.
Upon impact I watched his eyes roll to white and he dropped to the floor, gumshield cartwheeling across the canvas, groaning like an incontinent pensioner. "Stop fighting," yelled Sensei Russell."Frost! 50 press-ups!" I smiled as I pushed out those press-ups. Shouting out each one, crisp and loud, while they lifted big 'un on to a chair. We never saw him again at the dojo.
I hate bullies.
For a very short time in the late Nineties, and thanks to my friend Ed Nadi's relentless pestering, I found myself training with the London Nigeria rugby team. I should point out that I am not Nigerian. He reassured me it wouldn't be a problem.
Training with London Nigeria was a real wake-up call for me. In the eight years since I last played things had changed, shit had gotten real. These guys went in hard. They were the first team I ever saw that fought with each other during training.
I felt sorry for the poor non-Nigerians we would be smashing up at the weekend.
The second training session I attended was being run by an ex-England wing forward, the Nigerian Steve Ojomoh. Toward the end of the session we had a small game in which Ojomoh played at No 8. I lined up as the opposing blindside flanker. It was cold and muddy, a long way from the warm sunshine of my beloved Lagos.
Under the floodlights the whistle peeped and a scrum was given. As the packs heaved against one another, I lifted my head and saw Ojomoh peel from the back of the pack, ball in hand. I instinctively unbound from my lock and jinked round the back of the scrum knowing exactly where Ojomoh would be.
He'd gotten no more than four feet from the base of the scrum when he met me coming the other way. My shoulders slammed into his midriff and my arms instinctively grabbed around his thighs of solid ebony. I drove him back and he landed heavily, spilling the ball under the weight of my tackle. The forwards rumbled over us and quickly recycled the ball to our backs.
We lay there for a second until the storm had blown over. Ojomoh stood, helped me to my feet and patted me on the arse and said: "Well done." He ran back into the fray and shortly afterwards the session was over. I had tackled an ex-England player and he had said: "Well done." I was chuffed to bits. I never officially played for London Nigeria despite being chosen for their second team. Somehow that tackle was enough for me.
Football and me have never got on. My instinct and love for the harder end of contact had always meant I was perhaps a little too heavy-handed for football. Somehow it left me feeling unfulfilled.
From 1991 to 1993, I lived on a kibbutz in the north of Israel called Kibbutz Bar-am. I loved it there, we picked apples and drank and made love and drank and smoked and laughed and swam and drank and in the afternoons while the girls sunbathed the boys would play football, and drink.
I started to really enjoy football and looked forward to finishing work so we could wolf down lunch ready for an afternoon kick-about.
After a month of hacking away at each other in the unrelenting heat, someone came up with the idea that we should play another Kibbutz volunteer team. We all loved this plan, it would give us the chance to leave the kibbutz for a while, play a bit of football and potentially meet some nice girls from the other farm and drink. Calls were made and pretty quickly a date was set. We were to play the neighbouring commune, Kibbutz Merom.
The match started badly for us. Within 15 minutes we were 2-0 down. The heat was so intense we were forced to stop several times during the first half to shotgun cold cans of Maccabee lager. This helped to sharpen our minds and before half-time we were back level.
The whistle blew for the second half and all 22 players shotgunned three beers as tradition dictated. I felt full of verve and running as I watched Kiwi Shaun jog out of defence. Seeing party animal Phil on the left wing near the halfway line he pings a quick, precise pass to him.
I was about 30 yards from the goal on the right of the box. Phil looked up and before my brain knew what was happening my hand had dropped its beer and lifted itself up, indicating to Phil that I was free. He floated an inch-perfect 40-yard pass right on to my chest. I wound up and turned, volleying the ball crisply with my left foot as it fell. I watched in silence, frozen, hanging in mid-air as the ball spun first outwards and then began spinning back. Their goalkeeper never moved, he stood stock still, beer in hand watching the ball flash past. GOALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!
The net bulged. I had scored a 30-yard screamer with my wrong foot. I peeled away pumping my fists, I was mobbed by my team-mates, and we whooped and hollered, shotgunning cans. It was the greatest sporting moment of my life. (We went on to lose 4-3 after they brought on three Israeli kids who were shit hot and completely sober).
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