While on tour with my Rugby Club, I had the opportunity to meet a member of the www.askmen.com staff. I was asked to write a few words explaining why a group of eighteen 40 and 50 something year olds from Ottawa, Ontario recently left on a 4 day rugby tour to Freeport, Grand Bahamas Island. I looked at the askmen.com website and saw that their tag line was “to be a better man”. I believe that this means something different to men at different points in their lives. At the end of the day, improving oneself can only make you a better person; so I bought in.
The easy answer to explain this tour madness was that we wanted to avoid the final week of a long and hard Canadian winter. Trade the cold and snow for sun and beach, simple answer? Not quite, as with most things in life the answer is usually a bit more complicated. I will endeavor to provide some clarity.
Let us start at the beginning, circa 1988, the then Ottawa Scottish Rugby Football Club, embarked on an ambitious ten day tour to Scotland to play rugby with less than a full side of 15, with only 13 players. The teams we played were the Lismore Lepers, a social team from Edinburgh, Hill Head from Glasgow and Perthshire RFC. These teams hosted us in their homes, beat the living day lights out of us on the field and they would not let us spend a cent in the pub at night. Who said the Scotts were cheap? This was our first exposure to what rugby was really all about. Some of my own personal experiences included singing in a giant Roman bath tub naked with thirty men, being the last man out and having to pull the plug (grievous), drinking brandy that Napoleon had drank and watching Kenny drink beer out of my shoe. These images are engrained in my psyche as well as all of all of the other players went on that tour. Even though we were all different, we were the same; people immediately identifying with each other and helping each other get across the line, both on and off the field.
The Ottawa players that returned from that tour really understood what rugby was all about. It was an international club that we were now part of. It does not matter who you are or where you come from. Just pick up the ball and run hard, your mates will not be far behind, in support. A few years after the tour to Scotland we ran into a couple of British expats playing rugby for the Kingston Panthers, located in Kingston, Ontario. I remember one of the Brits, Davey looked over at me and hugged me at the pub and said “Chuggy you are my bestest friend in the whole world”. At that moment in time, I probably was, as he was flat broke and I had just bought him a beer. The Englishmen could not pronounce my Spanish nickname and I settled for Chuggy. Davey was part of the brotherhood of wayward rugby players whom needed assistance. After the Scottish tour experience, I was happy to oblige. I had heard that both Da vey and his sidekick returned to England and started their own business and did very well for themselves. Good on them!
Fast-forward 20 something years. Many of our teammates have gone through major life changes like marriage, raising families and careers. Many like me stopped playing in their early and mid thirties to spend time with their families and focus on careers. We were doing our best to be better men, better husbands and better Dads. Something always seemed missing when Saturday rolled around and there was no game to play. A few years ago a good friend of mine, “Fatty” rallied the old boys to form a team. The kids were older now, some wives had left, most of the spouses that were still around were grateful to be rid of their husbands for an afternoon,and Saturdays were now open. The Barrhaven Scottish successfully rampaged across Eastern Ontario for the past few years. Winning some and losing some but always playing hard and to the last whistle.
The game against The Freeport RFC http://rugbyfootballbahamas.com based old boys team named The Crack ed Conchs was no different. At a 4:00pm kick off on Saturday, it was 34 degrees Celsius. The Ottawa boys were not fresh from living large the night before. I remember going down in the first scrum as the number 8 man, almost losing my lunch. The mighty Barrhaven Scotts drew first blood with a nifty try under the posts; the Conchs answered back with a try of their own and added another couple for insurance. A sweet number 8 pick, (that’s me) pass to our Welsh scrumhalf and nice finish by the winger in the corner. I do not remember much of the third half of 20 minutes except that we were down a try and threatening inside the 22-meter line to even the score in the final minute of the game. Some forward skullduggery, perhaps a missed call by the Trinidadian referee, a Cracked Conch forward sprinted 80 meters with the ball, clearly acquired by dubious circumstances, to seal the game for the home side. The Conchs earned a glorious victory. Two tries to not enough. There was a real sense of accomplishment by both sides to making it to the final whistle.
The post game activities included an excellent meal put on at the Freeport RFC clubhouse. An exchange of rugby swag and maple syrup flavored Canadian whiskey (who knew). One of my old rugby boots from the 1988 tour had previously been bronzed and made into a trophy that nobody ever wanted to win. Regrettably Tony, of the Conchs earned the “Boot” for letting Spuds McChinsly, of Barrhaven RFC score a scintillating try on the wing. Tony’s comments after the match that sealed his winning of this award: “I never let anyone by me, who is this Spuds?” We all poured a bit of our drinks into the boot and chanted until Tony had consumed its contents.
The next day around noon Tony, still not completely right from his introduction to the Boot, had organized a boat cruise of the Freeport beaches area. I now know what the crew of the SS Minnow (Gilligan’s Island) felt like when they put to sea. Needless to say a good time was had by all and we all made it home safely, thanks, Anton. The boat cruise was described as a synthesis of the movies Blue Lagoon and Animal House.
The tour wound up with the Conchs delivering us to the airport, partly to appease local immigration officials that we were really leaving and partly to help see us on our way. The Freeport team was great, they treated us like their own family. There is even talk of an annual event; which I hope to be part of it. The lesson learned for me was that we all took care of each other, made new friends and did our best. Are we better men? I know so.
I would like to dedicate this article to Davey, your friend always, Chuggy.