We often walk our dogs on Alexandra Park. So does one of the Sale Sharks players. Despite the fact the Hub loves rugby, he didn’t realise that the owner of the cutest Jack Russells in Stockport was a Shark. All the times we stopped to chat, we never noticed his cauliflower ear or his muscular build. It was winter when we first met him, so we can be excused not noticing his build; but an ear is difficult to miss… Well…is it, really? How many times in a day do you meet someone new and take a look at their ears? You might spot a vulgar earring or hair sprouting like whiskers – though not from the same ear, I hope – but you never come away thinking, What a lovely person; I like their ears.
For months our dogs had played together, by which I mean Toby chased squirrels and ignored them; Molly hid behind my legs, away from the rowdy boys; Hugo ignored Toby and Molly because he was busy being a proper dog; and Hurley walked off with anyone who made the mistake of throwing his ball for him. We had chatted to the Shark thinking he was a porpoise like the rest of us, when his job happened to be mentioned in conversation one day.
The Hub was like a shark himself: scenting bloodsport, he dominated all further conversations with talk of scrums and sin bins and that’s the extent of my knowledge of rugby terminology but, trust me on one thing – there is no one so boring as a man in love with sport. I was left to be Hurley’s trebuchet. Not that I mind; he’s gorgeous and knows how to be a real dog on the park, unlike our two, who will play ball at home until there isn’t an intact ornament standing but consider that sort of behaviour in public non-U.
After many, many, many chats about rugby - how it is played, how it used to be played, who plays it well, who played it well, who didn’t play it well, who might play it well in the future blahblehblehblehblahblehbleh (by the way, I’m not casting aspersions on the Shark; he is charming company when he’s not being forced to recite league tables and statistics by my blHub) – the Shark must have twigged that the Hub rather likes it, and offered to get us tickets for a game. The Hub, ever-bashful, asked if he could make it four so that Tory Boy could go as well. The Shark, ever-kind, said Of course; and would we like hospitality bands for afterwards, to meet the players? The Hub fell sobbing with joy into his arms.
And so it came to pass. Eventually. Once a proper wardrobe was decided upon. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard to choose the right outfit for a rugby match, would you? You’d be wrong: it was warm last night, but what if it turned cold suddenly; or wet? This is Stockport, after all. I packed my mittens but forewent socks; wore a light jacket but not a jumper. The boys were sent upstairs to change three times until they looked comfortable enough to watch the game but not too scruffy to meet the players. Clothes littered the stairs, the beds, the floors. And then they bought Sale Sharks shirts in the Sale Sharks Shirts Store and changed into them, so it was all a fuss about nothing.
The game was brilliant. I had no clue what was happening but I was happy to watch two teams of butch blokes pile onto each other for eighty minutes. Wouldn’t you be? Rugby is waaaaaay more fun than football and the players don’t have hissy fits when a decision goes against them. They behave like sportsmen. There is no need for separate seating areas for opposing teams and no menace or foul language in the crowd. Rugby is definitely a sport I could get interested in. After badminton, it’s my favourite.
We made our way to Edgeley Park’s Insider Suite after the match, gaily waving our entrance tickets (flourescent orange wrist bands) at the minders. Tables were labelled with the name of the club’s sponsors, who each bring parties to the games, so we weren’t sure where to sit, but a waitress told us to choose an empty table and look like we belonged; so we did. We knew it had worked when a man rushed up to Tory Boy and asked, ‘Where’s Mr Kite?’ ‘I’m not sure,’ TB replied; ‘Have you tried over there?’ ‘No, thanks, I will. Please tell him I’m looking for him if you see him,’ he gasped, and charged off. Various people wandered over to inquire if they could take one or two of the pies with which our table happened to be laden, we not eating them after a huge dinner of boerewors, courtesy of our favourite son, Tory Boy (our favour changes according to which of them is nicest to us, so he’s actually the Hub’s favourite son, because I don’t like boerewors); a Gloucester visitor begged the whole plateful from us because it’s a long drive back, and we had the pleasure of watching pie-filled mouths beam at us in gratitude across the room.
Our Shark’s brother is a Jet, (part of the Academy; you’ve gotta love that whoever named these man-mountains is either a musicals fan or has a sense of humour) and we had met him the previous day. He’s even more charming than his brother, if that’s possible. He brought over what we had suspected was the Shark’s mythical fiancee, because he talks about her all the time but we’d never seen her on the park; and she was lovely too. How good it is to meet nice people involved in sports: not everyone is a Wayne Rooney, it seems.
I got the giggles. Our Shark sat with us for a while before taking the menfolk off to meet other players, and while we were talking, people came up for his autograph, which he gave with a smile and a friendly word each time. This is the same bloke who shares a dog poo bin with us on the park. It was a bizarre experience.
Spud had a wonderful time meeting the players, getting their autographs and wishing that he’d never given up playing, and we had a wonderful time right along with him, thanks to our friends Hugo and Hurley, who had first introduced us to their lovely owner. All good things must come to an end, however, and it was time to leave.
At home, there was an email from Viv: was that my Hitler lookalike goldfish (claimed to be in Stockport) that she saw on Have I Got New For You tonight? We checked; it wasn’t. Just how many fish looking like Hitler are there in Stockport? Good job we’ve got Sharks to take care of them.