Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, remembers rugby’s best-selling author who passed away last week and condemns the fools who had a crack at Eddie Jones on the train.
Michael Green, who died last week at the age of 91, did what a lot of us hacks want to do. He wrote a best-selling rugby book and when we say best-selling we really mean it – this one has been flying off the shelves for nearly 60 years. Forget Martin Johnson’s autobiography, Richie McCaw’s book and anything RugbySpy has written – this one really coined it in.
And quite right too. If you haven’t read it then put it on the to-do list – it is a classic.
Green wrote The Art of Course Rugby in 1960 and it sold out its first print run before it came out. Anyone who has tried to flog a sporting book will tell you that that just doesn’t happen – if you can get shot of a few copies to friends and family then you are doing well.
Green wrote the book after being given 75 guineas by a publisher to knock it out after one of his sideways Observer columns about grass roots rugby had been spotted.
RugbySpy’s copy of the hilarious book was published in 1982 and is the sixth reprint – there have been a few more since that – and it is estimated that the slim volume sold somewhere north of a quarter of a million copies.
You can still get it online and for the kids out there have a look at it – this is what rugby used to be like when amateur players hydrated on a Saturday with half-a-dozen pints of best bitter and dined on pickled eggs.
The words on the back will give you an idea of what it is all about. They include ‘How best to take advantage of a blind, short-sighted or deaf referee’ and ‘How to avoid paying for the beer after games’.
It is based around fictitious teams, the Bagford Vipers and Old Rottinghamians, who turn up at games with nine, 13 or 16, but never 15, men and contains advice such as saying the mark of a gentleman is one who gives his cigarette to the referee when he is taking a place kick.
Anyone who has played any level of amateur rugby will recognise the scrapes the teams get in. There are stories of the how to tour in the ‘coarse’ way and anyone who has ever been on a trip away with a bit of rugby thrown in will recognise the nonsense that goes on.
The Vipers and their rivals loved rugby – they were just rubbish at it and that is why we identify with them.
In one passage Green explains what wingers are for in ‘Coarse Rugby’. He wrote: “Wings in Coarse Rugby are not attacking players at all. I fact they are rarely even players. The wing is a sort of repository for injured players, old men, timid youngsters and the spectator who volunteered to play. His only duties are to throw in the ball (as wings did then) and fill any gaps that may arise.” Tell that to Anthony Watson.
It is all gentle taking the mickey out of yourself stuff and no less funny for that. The bloke had a real feeling for the game as it is played by the likes of you and I.
Green explained all this to Brendan Gallagher of The Rugby Paper a couple of years ago saying, “It was very British. I seriously doubt if the French would ever get ‘the coarse’ philosophy at all. It was about losing and being rubbish and incompetent whilst aspiring to be so much more. I suspect only us Brits find that gentle ego-pricking genuinely funny.”
Green, an enthusiastic thespian, also produced ‘Coarse’ books on subjects as diverse as acting, sex, golf, sailing and drinking and two side-splitting autobiographies.
The first The Boy Who Shot Down an Airship describes his childhood in Leicester, National Service and his stints as a junior reporter.
The second, Nobody Hurt in Small Earthquake, named after a particularly dull newspaper headline go through Green’s antics as a journalist, and rugby columnist, on titles on local papers such as the Leicester Mercury and Northampton Chronicle and Echo in the Midlands after the war, and his sackings, and stints at the Observer and the Sunday Times.
One time Green got sacked from the Mercury for activating their printing presses at midnight and being horrified as they started spewing out paper. He was looking for another job the very next day.
And he found it in Northampton where he got the job as rugby correspondent of the local rag by virtue of being the only rugby fan on the staff. He had earned notoriety by playing for the Saints second team, the Wanderers, whilst he was supposed to be covering their game.
The Northampton team of that post-war era contained players like Don White, who would go on to become England’s first national coach, Bob Leslie and the wing John Hyde who played for England shortly after leaving school.
Some of the tales, mostly involving the local correspondent, are legendary.
Back in those days the local man would travel with the team whereas nowadays we get told that it would be best if you didn’t stay in the same hotel as the players, thanks very much.
His first interview with White, the club captain, took place in a shower that was running and Green was fully clothed.
That cosy arrangement led to Green being debagged on one train trip to Liverpool when Saints were going to play Waterloo and the waiter at the Adelphi Hotel was told, by White, that the hapless hack was some sort of lunatic who just followed the team around.
Those two books are a real hark back to the glory days of the newspaper industry, no internet, not a mobile phone in sight, but plenty of liquid lunches, and utterly guffaw-inducing especially if you have worked in the business.
And just as guffaw-inducing even if you haven’t worked in the business and you have never had an irate copy-taker asking you how much drivel you have got left to dictate from some dodgy phone booth that smells like it has been used for a tramps’ convention.
Local crime, weddings and funerals, in those days, local hacks did the lot and Green did the lot.
But in our game he will be best remembered for The Art of Coarse Rugby.
Green could never understand why it was successful and became probably the best-selling rugby book of all-time.
We can – it is brilliant and he was a brilliant man. Chuck in all the stuff outside of the rugby and it was a life well lived.
They don’t make them like that anymore.
Back on Planet Six Nations it is all up in the air as we head into the fourth round of games this weekend.
And the inquests into England’s defeat to Scotland rumbled on when we pitched up to Oxford where Eddie Jones had gathered his squad for the week.
Hacks braved the best that the Beast from the East could throw at them to get to the hotel made famous by the Inspector Morse novels and it was worth the trip. Jones was gold as usual.
Not that Jones would have joined us on the train back home.
Jones has given up on public transport and after his encounter with some well-refreshed fans in Manchester last Sunday and who can blame him?
For anyone who has been living under a rock all week Jones left Edinburgh on Sunday morning to head to Manchester to meet Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford to watch Manchester United’s game against Chelsea with their former manager.
Quite why anyone would want to sit next to Fergie the day after Scotland have beaten England is for another day but hey, ho.
On the way to Manchester Jones had posed for selfies with fans in the standard class carriages of his rattler and copped a bit of stick.
When he arrived in Fergie Land it got out of hand as a group of punters, with Scottish accents, had a selfie with him then subjected him, after one had kissed him the head, to a mouthful of abuse.
Apparently there was more to come after the game when Jones headed back to London.
The England coach still looked a bit non-plussed about it during the week. These things just don’t happen in the southern hemisphere.
You would never get a bunch of All Black fans having a crack at Michael Cheika, the Wallaby gaffer, on a train in Oz. The fans don’t really travel anyway and Cheika would be up the front.
But if Jones didn’t know how the Six Nations affects people in this neck of the woods he does now.
That is no excuse for the behaviour of these half-witted louts after Jones had been gracious enough to pose for pictures with them.
The Scottish Rugby Union distanced themselves from the garbage and quite right too.
But it was an embarrassment to the game in the northern hemisphere – Jones is an Aussie up here – and you won’t be seeing him in seat 42b on the rattler anytime soon.
Who would be travelling like that after that disgraceful episode?