Sport Book of the Week: Ferreting out the hawkish truth about `Pigeon'

Rugby Rebel:

The Alan Tait Story

Alan Tait with Bill Lothian

Mainstream, pounds 14.99 hardback

SPORT IS littered with fairy-tales. But you have to look to Alan Tait, the Scotland international rugby union wing and Great Britain rugby league player, to discover a ferret tale.

Tait, the Scotland threequarter who rejoined union after nine years playing the 13-man code for Widnes and Leeds, is keen on field sports and has enjoyed the companionship of lurchers, terriers and ferrets since childhood.

These last, like the dogs, are working creatures. It is unlikely that he would regard ferrets as fashion accessories. And it is safe to conclude therefore that he would not purchase the anthropomorphic designer gear - mock leather bikers' jackets, lacy lingerie, straw hats etc - which has just come on the market aimed specifically at ferrets (or more accurately, their owners' wallets).

A moving moment at a recent Edinburgh Reivers training session is a measure of the esteem in which he holds ferrets. Tait and his colleagues observed a 10-second silence in memory of Rex, a white ferret who went missing in action.

This book is different from many of its type. Tait, who is in the Scotland squad for next Saturday's Five Nations opener against Wales at Murrayfield, it would appear, lives up to the title. He is outspoken and, at times, outrageous.

Considering this left-winger is left wing, his boycott of Prime Minister Tony Blair's reception for the triumphant Lions was quite something. As he explains: "I felt my principles would not allow me to attend a party in our honour at 10, Downing Street... There are many places I would have followed the victorious Lions... but a gathering hosted by New Labourites wasn't one of them. I felt it would have been hypocritical..." Tait supports bloodsports so he stayed away.

He is equally outspoken on other topics. Jeremy Guscott, for instance, is described as having not so much a chip on his shoulder as "a fish supper", and Tait refers to the Bath and England centre as "Mr High and Mighty Guscott".

But Tait is also honest about himself, relating one instance when he proved to be as adept at exploiting legal loopholes as at finding gaps in defences.

He and his Widnes team-mates played on a Sunday and therefore were technically available for employment from Monday to Friday. The loophole in the law was that "working on a Sunday didn't count as regular employment so I... filled in... forms to qualify for a special payment... I was getting pounds 40 a week benefit." He eventually suffered a pang of conscience and stopped claiming.

Tait and his co-author do not dwell too long on the "matches what I have played in" formula which dogs so many of these autobiographies. And Tait is old enough to have achieved something, even if he is still only in his mid-30s.

He also reveals the truth (well, what he claims is the truth) behind his nickname "Pigeon", but is hawkish about much else. A better read than you might think.