Fri Jul XVI
Last day at MAGS. Its not been such a bad place really. Played Soccer Vs 4Long. Lost 1-0 to a last minute goad by Renil Sharma. Gashed my knee colliding with David Mitchell and had to miss P4 to get it seen to. Had to come home to have a shower.
And so my time at school in New Zealand ended in one of the strangest incidents of my entire school life.
Let us start, as they say, at the very beginning. Someone had the bright idea that our form should play a football match against one of the other forms. Coincidentally, it was arranged for the lunch break of my very last day at school. It was all very official, in that we all wore school football kit (or at least games kit) and Mr Toon, who was the master in charge of one of the other year group football teams, refereed.
The game may be another reason why my mind was not fully on that last week at school. Whenever we were together as a form it was all we talked about. There were high hopes that we would win, as we had three members of the school side (which overlooked the fact that two of us, Jamie Davidson and myself, were fringe players at best), but also concern that they had Sharma, who had been the star forward for the school team last year but who had decided (sensible chap) to play rugby this time around.
It was a very close, evenly matched, game and I still remember the sinking feeling as Sharma poked the winning goal home from a corner that we had failed to clear (unusually, I was back defending. Normally, I was the ‘breakout’ player, the one who stayed in midfield to pick up the cleared ball) and knowing that there was very little time left to play.
Before that, we’d had a chance to score, possibly the only other scoring chance of the match, and that is how I was injured. For some reason their defence pushed up too far and left an acre of room behind them. One of my side had the foresight to play the ball into that gap and I sprinted for it. Last line of defence on the other team was David Mitchell, the goalkeeper. The ball stuck in the mud – remember all of the rain from two days ago? – just outside the penalty area. He had to slide feet first as he couldn’t handle the ball. I slid in slightly quicker. I got my foot around the ball and poked it goalwards. His studs caught me full on the knee.
I wasn’t aware of pain at first. The agonising bit was watching the ball slide just past the post. Then I noticed that my knee was bleeding and that there were two flaps of skin, side by side, where the studs had gone in.
There was a small pause in the game whilst my knee was looked at. David, who was one of the nicest people I met out there*, kept apologising for what was a complete accident (he was still apologising when I bumped into him a couple of weeks later, in fact).
I was determined to play on, despite the blood trickling down my leg. At the end of the game, though, there was a problem. The showers in the changing rooms were out of order. This wasn’t a problem for the other boys. A quick rinse under the cold tap outside the changing block and they were OK for the rest of the afternoon. I, on the other hand, had an open wound. I tried to clean up as best I could and I remember Nathan watching me do so and then insisting that I had to let the school nurse look at the cut.
Nurse, on the other hand, pronounced the wound insufficiently clean to treat. This meant that for the first time in my school life I was given an exeat, a special slip allowing me out of school. I walked home as fast as I could, explained to my bemused mother why I was there, and then dashed back to school so as not to miss my final period there – stopping by the First Aid Room to get my now clean leg patched up.
There’s a curious end to this story. The wound healed with two little lumps where the flaps of skin had been. I carried them for years and then, one morning over a decade later, suddenly noticed they were gone. Vanished, as swiftly as they came. Which pretty much summed up my entire career at Mount Albert Grammar School.
*He reminded me a lot of John Gordon Sinclair in Gregory’s Girl. Which means that if he ever got it on with Clare Grogan I have the right to revise my view of him as a nice person.