blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

At the Twickenham Stoop

February 9th * was the day of the rugby fixture, Harlequins v. Wasps at the Twickenham Stoop. A capacity crowd of 15,000 were assembling to watch the game. We filed in through the turnstiles 40 minutes early, ahead of most, and made our way round the field towards the Gate 3 corner. Hot snacks were on sale from kiosks at all four corners.

We were in the BB stands, out of the sun, but also somewhat out of the wind. A girl had given me three handwarmer gels for free as we entered the stadium; two of them worked. It was too cold for sitting out of doors for two hours on metal seats without protection, so I put on all the clothes I had available and decided to sit on my rucksack, not realising until much later that it had a banana in it.

Most of the action was to happen at the sunny end of the field, a long way from where we were sitting; Peter used binoculars and the zoom lens on his camera. We couldn't see the screen from our seats but had a good view of the electronic scoreboard. The teams ran out to practise and warm up, rolling in the mud, lifting their very muscular legs in the air, throwing themselves at padded punchbags (instead of men, as in the game proper), practising their scrums and line-outs (i.e. high jumps, lifted up by team members) and passes. As far as I was concerned this was as entertaining as watching the game itself and not much different, since I knew I wouldn't be able to follow what was going on. At least I could tell which side was which, though: the Wasps were wearing distinctive yellow shirts and the other team not. You could tell which were the extras, too, because they sported luminescent orange jackets. Some of the players wore long black cloaks for the warm up; I'm not sure why.

Two bands of little boys came out on the field, lining up with team flags to give their heroes a guard of honour welcome as they ran on at the start of the hostilities, the Wasps boys in yellow and black stripes, of course. Some of the players had scull caps pulled tightly over their heads. Chris told me they were the hookers, making sure their ears wouldn't get bitten off during scrums. Right ...

We were 'Quins supporters, mostly, and Alex had a 'Quins flag, too. As the game progressed and the crowd got more excited, people started shouting in chorus and stamping their feet on the metal footways in the stands: "Har-le-QUINS," stamp-stamp-stamp! The stands shook with our stamping. It was great fun. Some burst into a song we didn't know, the Harlequin's theme song, conducted by mascots in bear suits wielding batons. Peter went down to buy himself a hot sandwich and a bag of crisps. "Oooh!" yelled the crowd when the Wasps scored or the Harlequins nearly scored, or perhaps it was "Boooh!" When a penalty kick was allowed, the 15,000 spectators went quiet with concentration, willing the ball through the goal posts.

A non-stop stream of jet 'planes flew in towards Heathrow just beyond the stadium and a strong wind from the west brought a series of brief rain showers too. The rugby players were covered in mud, faces and all. At half time a gardening team with pronged tools came out to flatten as much of the churned up turf as possible and the bear mascots walked around the edge at the bottom of the stands, giving the children hugs and high fives. Lots of people had come as families that day. The colourful crowd was very noisy, but very well behaved. Professional photographers used their heavy equipment and long lenses from the corners. They got better results than mine.

By the end of the first half, the Wasps were winning and it looked as if the Harlequins wouldn't manage to beat them. However, the team held what looked like a few prayer meetings in a huddle, with their arms around each other, and in the second half, the battle was more even. "Come on, 'Quins!" shouted the little boys, at the knock-ons, and when the players got into a scrum near a crucial white line (don't ask me which), Chris was shouting, "Push! Push!" At one point in the game I took a closer look at one of the scrums through Peter's binoculars and saw that the intertwining arms and legs looked quite intimate. It's a rough game. The tackles were dangerous and must have hurt a lot. In fact there were constant interruptions for dealing with injuries, the medics running across to the scene of the incident in their orange jackets, carrying their first aid boxes.

The 'Quins fought back, ardently supported by the crowd, finally scoring 5 points in the last 3 minutes of the game, to win 11-10. It was close!

The crowd were on their feet, in raptures. Alex and his friends in the row behind started a count down as the seconds ticked away, and the game ended to a great roar of cheers ... and a squashed banana. I ate it anyway.

*  9/2/14, a.m. We packed and stored our luggage at the Park Hotel, grabbed a quick breakfast on Broad Street in Teddington then walked to Emma's to help get Thomas dressed. Peter and Alexander were already out with the rest of Alexander's rugby club, meeting the "extra" Harlequin players at Twickenham Stadium. After a second breakfast at Squire's, the Garden Centre on Fulwell Road, Emma, Thomas, Chris and I caught the 281 bus through Twickenham to meet the other two outside the big stadium. There we said goodbye to Emma and Thomas and walked on with Alexander and his dad to the Stoop.

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