Divers, drinking and the curse of old school ties

Derbies past: But who will triumph in Sunday's Steel City clash ?
Derbies past: But who will triumph in Sunday's Steel City clash ?
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I CAN still see his face now, hear his lisp and recite his tedious teacherly catchphrases by heart.

Mr Nuttall, the hard-nut games teacher.

He only stood five foot nothing in his rugby boots but he’d played a bit and could break our pathetic pubescent bodies and spirit with one of his ‘hit em hard and hit em low’ tackles.

He came to mind on Friday night as the latest England mess unfolded in Montenegro.

Soccer-hating grammar school rugby coaches left their mark on a generation of football fanatics forced to play the oval ball game because their totalitarian teachers thought football was for hooligans and rugby for gentlemen.

They were right of course, but that’s why we loved it.

Football was as cool as The Kinks, rugby as naff as Ken Dodd singing Tears For Souvenirs.

Mr Nuttall - even now I daren’t use his first name - always claimed the moral high ground for the union game and dismissed our pleas to be allowed to play ‘real’ football.

He would have taken one look at Wayne Rooney’s petulant red card on Friday night, shaken his head, tut-tut-tutted about discipline, character and attitude and given him three weeks’ detention.

No matter that the England rugby team got booted out of the World Cup with a whimper the next day and lacked a plan and leaders on the field.

All would have been accounted for and dismissed by reminders that all teams lose, it’s how you lose that matters.

None of your footballer’s feckless lashing out there, Mr Smith.

But I would liked to have seen his face after the boozing and bunjee jumping stories came out of the England World Cup camp. Loved to have been a fly on the Nuttall changing room wall when news of Manu Tuilagi’s dozy dive from the ferry, nicking by police and and subsequent fine filtered through.

Rugby’s moral high ground has rarely been lower.

The truth is that when young men get together with booze they act daft.

From biblical goatherds to medieval apprentice boys and 21st-century squaddies on leave from Helmand Province, lads teaming with testosterone and time on their hands will eventually do something stupid.

Now that rugby is a professional game with more money, bigger egos and a higher public profile, the sport’s players and drinking culture are in the spotlight as never before and they are behaving just like footballers.

I’m not sure Mr Nuttall would agree. He’ll be in his late 60s by now but I reckon one of his hard-and-lows would still win the argument.

Failing that, he’d have me running crosss-country barefoot. Again.

Perfectly poised.

United on the slide, Owls on the up.

It’s tempting to say Wednesday will be top of the table on Sunday night if they keep up the levels of their last few games.

But form books and open windows come to mind.

Since when have derby games followed current form? To quote a talking, flying lion, there is a deeper magic at work.

Does the fact that the form team doesn’t usually win mean United are now fancied?

Or does that make them favourites and ripe for an upset?

It’s too much for me.

I’m going for a lie-down and the relative safety of a 2-2 draw.