I am still shivering from my first ever game of rugby league. It was the bleakest of winter mornings and generation snowflake could not cope playing in conditions our predecessors classed as mild. Sitting with my team mates in one of the cars, we only had a small heater for warmth and a hope this game would get called off. Unfortunate for us a coach was on its way and full of kids who are obviously the same age but seemed to be a different breed of warrior.

We were the early Social Justice Warriors wanting everything our own way and always got what we wanted in the end. Shoulder charges hurt so much we got them banned, we had feelings so clubs started having welfare officers, the opposition always cheated so we got video referees to prove our point and worse of all we got the sport moved to summer months because we were freezing to death. We totally ruined what used to be the greatest game.

They arrived in a buoyant mood which dampened our spirits further because we now must take to the field when the league fixture demanded, instead of when it suited us. We couldn’t call off the game because Damo-Leeds, aged seven was so cold that morning he didn’t even bother to make a snowman in the garden, never mind wanting stand around on a rugby pitch pretending to play the game. I was so lonely as a child that I always looked forward to a snowfall so I could build my own friends.

All I remember from this fixture is we got annihilated by some kid who was bigger, faster and stronger than all of us on my side. He was older too but the Daily Mail probably was not interested in speculating his age because it was rugby league in the north of England and the media have never cared about our sport or anyone involved. Put this kid next to the recent Calais arrivals at any UK airport and he would have made front page news.

The first game I watched at Headingley was freezing as well so Mother Nature was trying to put me off the sport for life from the very beginning. She failed and I have since gone on to make no notable contribution to the sport and probably never will.

West Leeds

My lack of work ethic was even pointed out aged seven when I complained about having to play West bloody Leeds for the third week in a row. A team mate overheard this grumble and remarked that I had nothing to complain about because I did nothing, which was true. I was just there to make up the numbers and boast to the girls at school I was a rugby player.

All games I played for Rodley Rockets against West Leeds rolled into one and were unmemorable apart from the time I was introduced to the drinking culture which is still rife in the sport to this day. After one match, we went back into the clubhouse and played a game where whichever team downed their non-alcoholic beverages first won packets of crisps. I hated diluted orange so I lost this one for the team and alienated myself even further from ever making real friends.

Eventually I learnt how to grow a pair and now drink more alcohol than all my friends combined. My life is the envy of everyone I grew up with because I’m always uploading photos on Facebook where I’m in some cool bar drinking the latest cocktail. My team mates used to take the mick out of me but I am the one having the last laugh.

Primary School

Before it was Leeds Rugby Foundation, the academy coach and a couple of players used to come into schools to teach rugby league skills. It was here where I started to look like a good player amongst kids that wanted this PE lesson to be over. I even scored a length of a field try during one lesson which the academy coach called a classic.

I remember a teenaged Rob Burrow coming along one time and kids in year six were even taller than him. I never got to play with Rob but I tried tackling him which must have looked amusing to spectators who knew how good he was. At the time, I only really knew the names of a couple of first team players and the academy itself was still a mystery.

This all culminated with an inter-school tournament and the only way we could get on the team is by good behavior during a couple of lessons. I did my damndest that afternoon to be a teacher’s pet but to no avail, and went home crying. This emotional outburst got me on the team out of sympathy and I could not wait to impress the coach even more with my skills. Maybe even land a contract with the club.

Our team conquered all, but we had four players who played the sport outside of school hours weekly for their clubs. My big contribution was having thirteen kids trying to tackle me and still getting an offload away. That was one of a few rare occasions any of us on my team managed to get our hands on the ball other than the selfish four.

I have since come to understand that rugby league is a team sport and an over-reliance on certain individuals has made games boring to watch. Whilst I was never going to be a superstar, I do wonder how many potential elite players pulled away at this level because the diehards in a team never shared the ball beyond themselves. It’s gotten to the stage where wins are valued more than how the wins came about.

The academy coach asked me how I played that day. It was me he found entertaining.

High School

I never got onto my high school team because I wasn’t part of the sports clique.

In year nine my patellar got dislocated because the worse PE teacher of them all (a hard accolade to achieve considering the competition there) didn’t teach his pupils how to tackle properly. My tackling partner went straight to my knee with his shoulder and my patellar spun sideways before not quite popping back in. It was still painful but my PE teacher’s reaction was to walk it off.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is one great sports school which has produced two former pupils who are involved with the Leeds Rhinos first team today, and I was in the same year as one of them. However, if you didn’t like PE lessons, enduring them was a nightmare and rugby was the only time I shined in front of the one PE teacher I left with any respect for. He didn’t select the team though.

Damon Cooper

An adept grumbler hoping to rebuild many bridges burnt after my previous stint as a Rugby League blogger on SouthStander. Also, a seasoned gastronomer whose written for Independent Leeds, Culture Vultures and Leeds Welcome about various topics. Incredibly passionate about sport and the great impact it can have on people’s lives.

http://www.rugbyleaguehub.co.uk