Rugby Union: Calcutta, kilts and cannibals

Richards thrust the camera up Jeffrey's kilt and clicked ... the photo came out perfectly
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The Independent Online
At Twickenham on Saturday, my friend Dominic and I brightened up what, despite the scoreline, was an unengaging afternoon's rugby, by sharing memories of great Calcutta Cup moments and, indeed, great Calcutta Cup dents. We have both spent many a raucous evening in the Guildford Arms, a wonderful pub just off Princes Street in Edinburgh, where, following internationals at Murrayfield, the players traditionally enjoy a pint or eight before the post-match dinner.

On the basis that the players are the only ones in black tie, I once reasoned that all I had to do was slip into a dinner suit after the match to be feted by rugby fans. I reckoned I might just pass as one of the lesser-known England replacements.

Which was how, following the Calcutta Cup match in 1984, I ended up in the Guildford Arms signing dozens of programmes and fraudulently accepting pints of heavy from admirers.

Emboldened by drink, I even slipped unchallenged into the lavish official reception at the North British Hotel, where I admitted my deception to a friend of a friend, the mighty England forward Maurice Colclough. To his eternal credit, he did not blow the whistle.

Sadly, I was not at the Guildford Arms the night a far more infamous crime was perpetrated, by Scotland's John Jeffrey and England's Dean Richards, who were later scolded by the authorities.

Both, let's generously say, were a little tiddly when they returned to the pub after the dinner with the venerable Calcutta Cup itself, which had sustained a bit of a bruising while doubling as a rugby ball on the pavement outside.

My friend Dominic was there, recording the occasion for posterity, and, at one point, had his camera snatched by Richards, who thrust it up Jeffrey's kilt and clicked. As Dom recalls with pain in his voice even now, it was the only photograph on the entire roll of film which came out perfectly.

The camaraderie between Jeffrey and Richards that night is not altogether typical of the feeling between the Scots and the English. Bill McLaren told me a lovely story about John Bannerman, a fierce Highlander who played for the legendary side that in 1925 won Scotland's first Grand Slam. ("I was brought up on stories of that team," recalled a misty-eyed McLaren. "It was reckoned that half of them were made of corrugated iron.")

Anyway, years later, Bannerman was in the Borders making a speech, which McLaren reported for the Hawick Express. "The Irish and Welsh are our brothers," said Banham, "but as for that other lot..." At which an old farmer, his emotions roused, struggled to his feet. "Aye, that's it John," he shouted. "It's action we want, nae words!"

I love that image of the old Sassenach-hating farmer, but certain other manifestations of Anglo-Scottish rivalry are less attractive. I know several men called Angus, all brought up south of the border and far more at home in Clapham than Clackmannan, yet who shout loudly for Argentina and even Germany in international football matches against England.

That, I have to say, riles me. Especially as I have vivid memories of kicking over a freshly-mixed Pot Noodle - which then amounted to a fairly major culinary disaster - in my excitement when Archie Gemmill scored against the Netherlands to give Scotland a glimmer of hope in the 1978 World Cup.

When laced with bonhomie, of course, the rivalry between the English and the Scots can be great fun. At my golf club in North London few events are more eagerly anticipated, or more keenly contested, than the annual England v Scotland match. And the same is true at a neighbouring club, where one of the members, who happened to be the Fijian ambassador, once caused a bit of a stir by asking if he could represent the Scots.

The ambassador was a man of considerable wit and charm. He was also about six foot five and had reputedly been a second row forward on the fringes of the Fiji rugby team.

So the golf club secretary was understandably a little nervous when pointing out that the match was strictly regulated and that His Excellency could not possibly qualify for the Scotland team.

"I'm terribly sorry, but I'm afraid that to play for Scotland you must have some Scottish blood in you," said the secretary. "Oh but I do," replied the ambassador firmly. "My great-grandfather once ate a missionary from Dundee."

To this day, nobody is quite sure whether he was joking or just twisting the secretary's tail. Either way, it is a story which might give the Scotland selectors - who seem to have reached the stage at which they will pick a New Zealander on the basis that, back in his native Wellington, he once enjoyed an entire glass of Glenfiddich - some pause for thought.