High up there in the pantheon of sporting clichés there sits at least one about hookers. Somewhere behind the 47 crap jokes casually linking this most trusting of er… positions with flighty women and gaslit alleys. Somewhere on that flipchart of inclusive or exclusive banter between “Ya’ve got to be mad to be a ‘goalie”/ “Who ett all the pies ?” and “Gavin Henson is a Homosexual!” people say – even non-hookers say – they’re a special breed.
They are too. Anyone who is prepared to dangle off of the shoulders of colleagues in this most exposed of manners – with both arms effectively relieved of their ability to mitigate against serious injury – gets a pint of after shave from me. There must be surely a link between the morphology of their imperfectly expressed cruciform in the scrum, the necessary courage shown by hookers at all levels of their trade and the apparently described pathology of the breed? Which seems to involve on the one hand wholeheartedness and on the other a generally undemonstrative fearless mania.
And why wouldn’t it? Rarely in life is the head and neck so literally on the block; it’s as if your two mates either side (the loosehead and tighthead props) have your very being – or the physical safety of it – in their custody. This is no Guardian-readers-on-confidence-building workshop exercise, this is offering yourself up at the moment of the infamous ‘Hit’, when two packs of opposing forwards clang together in an expression of calculated violence designed to find you out should any weakness reveal itself. You will not, therefore, be weak.
The Front Row Union then may only allow the brave and the faithful entry to their bloodsweatandtears-stained ante-rooms. This does not, however, debar from entry the bright or the evil; and it did not debar Brian Moore. In fact the two were surely made for each other.
Brian Moore. Of England – sixty odd times. Adopted. Abused. Self-confessed Tolkien nerd and qualified Nail Painter. (That would be as in fingernails, during a stint as proprietor and technician(?) at a Soho emporium run with a former wife. 1 of 3.) Moore the proud and probably slightly perverse bearer of the various bête noire-equivalents knocking around Six Nations rugby (though it was Five when he played.) Delighted to be so hated by the Welsh and the Scots and the French and well… everybody. Inspired even by that knowledge, almost satisfied by it – especially the realisation that if he were, for example Scottish and otherwise unchanged, the Scots would love him for his fiercely committed spirit.
And yet the key thing revealed by the man himself during his predictably jarringly honest visit to Nurse Kirsty’s knee for Desert Island Discs was this ‘almost’.
In an extraordinary but typically articulate self-skewering Moore constantly alluded to his inability to recognise, to be at peace with his achievements. Utterly without resort to idle pleasantries – how, we imagine, he must hate them! – the former England number 2 rumbled like some worryingly law-conversant boar through the excited parabola that is his personal history. Adoption into churchgoing family/abuse from within churchgoing milieu/sporting and academic success/then oodles of hard-won glory at an international level for England RUFC. Success he still finds hard to own.
Fascinatingly(?) Brian Moore refused to emerge from the dressing room to participate in celebrations and photocalls following England’s 1991 Grand Slam victory. He simply wouldn’t do it. Issues of self-worth were so darkly present that Moore failed to shift from his bench… because he didn’t feel he deserved that victory. Psychologists – cod, like me, or otherwise – have your field day.
On the way to his metaphorical Desert Island, Brian Moore revealed pretty profound stuff like this every other sentence. Not out of arrogance you sensed – although there may be some self-obsession implied? – but because he gives a straight and generous answer to a genuine question. This is how he understands the world; there’s surely something to be said for that? He was alarmingly open about his everything; from his ‘Pitbull’ness to his other darknesses, his lost times under the influence of all manner of substances, following his release from the strictures of his athletic discipline. (Basically he went mental in his beloved Soho.)
Moore’s choice of music inevitably reflected his scope as a bright, bullish, sensitive bloke. It combines what some might consider appreciation of the finer things with punkishness. So from Mozart to Green Day. From Ian Dury to Pietro Mascagni. And one from the much-admired soulbrothers-in-peachy devilry, The Stranglers – an attractive, near melancholic, rather beautiful song called “Always the Sun”. (Listen to that …and it figures?)
But Moore would want to be judged on that which he committed to; formerly the rugby/now the journalism and commentary. He knows how much his confrontational personality, his facility to wind-up the world at large has discoloured how he is received. Despite this awareness of the extensively ventilated voodoo doll- version Moore out there in the public mind, I don’t hear him complaining, ever. Serious – often- and lugubrious as well as loquacious in his muffling, bell-chiming fog of sincerity; but too manly for self-pity or show. So judge him fairly, please.
Moore is a complex and yes a dark, difficult guy. A proper hooker – with that hunting dog relentlessness and low-burning fire. Beyond indomitable – more alive and more interesting, despite his saddening ‘baggage’. An essential part of a particularly English rugby team, a successful one, for several years; drawn absolutely to the thick of it. Now in triumphant opposition to the platitudes and the rehearsed banalities of much sports-speak, instinctively and with some style telling us how it really is.
He writes now acutely and often brilliantly for the Daily Telegraph. He commentates, often as foil to the more circumspect Mr Eddie Butler, with whom, surprisingly, he generally disagrees. In all of this there appears to me not an ounce of what my lot would call ‘side’ – meaning pretence or calculation or feyness or… dishonesty. He picks and goes without pausing to preen I think. And I wonder if he dare give himself some credit for that?