It may have only been in the playground, but Neil Reynolds can remember coming to blows with somebody about a football match for the first time

I thumped him in the stomach; he reacted with a punch to my eye which jolted my head backwards. My reply was a jab to the nose which drew blood, and he countered with a hard left to my face. A teacher then stepped in and dragged us apart with honours even, or maybe even me marginally ahead; in truth, though, had the contest lasted more than a few seconds, I would have probably been pulverised.

I had picked upon ‘Chunky’ Smith, a giant (for a fourteen year old) who was reminiscent of a Ron Yeats stopper centre-half in both style and build. He was the key defender in the Sunday team in which I played centre forward. We were good friends, despite him being a Birmingham City fan.

This incident, before morning assembly almost 36 years ago, was the first time I had come to blows over a football match. “Such disgraceful behaviour in the school playground will not be tolerated”, said Dr Heatherington, the deputy headmaster, eyeing the cane in the corner. “Why were you fighting?”

“Football, sir.”

“Football indeed! I need not remind you that rugby is the game played at this Grammar School. Never-theless, all sport should be savoured; it is good exercise and character building. Sport, even football, should be enjoyed, not fought over. Just last night there was a disgraceful exhibition on television in the World Cup, when players of both Chile and Italy fought and kicked each other. I should have thought that had you seen that match, you would never raise a hand to anyone again.”

“We did see it, sir.”

“Then why were you brawling?”

“Last night’s game, sir.”

“Last night’s game?” incredulously.

“Yes sir. He said Italy started it, and I said it was Chile.”

From WSC 133 March 1998. What was happening this month

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