Virtutem Petamus – and Other Thoughts

11th September 2017

When I entered RoundhaySchool in north Leeds as a first-year pupil over 50 years ago, the school uniform included a cap with a metallic badge on which was inscribed virtutem petamus: “We seek virtue”. (The cap was a compulsory part of the uniform, on pain of detention, until the end of the fourth year). Part of the ritual/initiation/minor bullying (delete as appropriate) faced by a freshman was for his cap to be snatched from his head, usually by a second-year pupil, and dashed against something solid – a brick wall or the concrete playground – in order that it might be “christened”.

The modern RoundhaySchool is a comprehensive providing “all-through education from 4-18” and its badge reads “Courtesy, Cooperation, Commitment”. I can quite understand that these are virtues that any school would wish to inculcate amongst its pupils. However, I am also pleased to see that the original Latin motto survives in the crest of the Roundhegians Rugby Football Club, the home ground of which is on Chelwood Drive, a mile and a half away along Street Lane.

The Old Roundhegians club, established in 1928, moved into its present home in 1953. In common with the venues of many other rugby clubs – including Headingley and Bristol, about which I have written in Still An Ordinary Spectator – it is called the Memorial Ground in honour of the old boys of the school who lost their lives in the World Wars. The grounds are neatly maintained, comprising two pitches that are framed by a combination of mature trees and suburban housing. The club became an open one in the early 1970s.

I played at the Memorial Ground on one occasion – for the RoundhaySchool 1st XV against the Old Roundhegians 2nd XV in October 1971. We won that day, partly due to my left-footed drop goal which – I shouldn’t be surprised – might still be referred to with some awe in the local clubhouse. Health and safety regulations have put an end to this type of school/Old Boy fixture – quite rightly, given the latter’s invariable dominance of size and weight, though not necessarily of speed and skill.

This season, Roundhegians RFC are playing in Yorkshire League Division 2 of the RFU North’s structure: the 8th tier of club rugby in England (if my calculations are correct). On Saturday they were at home to Wetherby in their second league fixture of the year, the initial outing having resulted in a 15-38 defeat at Old Crossleyans.

The first 20 minutes took place in a torrential downpour, when the ‘Hegians also had to contend with playing into a stiff breeze and dealing with the marked superiority of their opponents in the set scrums. They stuck to their task, however, and, by the time the rain stopped, had established a 14-0 lead thanks to some skilful handling in the difficult conditions. The right-wing Alex Miyambo scored two tries, both impressively converted from wide out by Alex Jones.

By midway through the second half the position had changed, as Wetherby, taking advantage of their scrummaging superiority, took a 15-14 lead, one of their scores being an emphatic pushover try. The decisive phase came when the ‘Hegians managed to hold out against another short-range scrum, turn over possession and make their way downfield, where the decisive penalty goal took them to the final 17-15 scoreline.

The handful of spectators – family, friends and support staff in the main – braved the inclement weather under a colourful array of large umbrellas, either on the raised grass banking along the touchline or on the balcony of the clubhouse. At this level, rugby is arguably a game for players and coaches, rather than spectators, but there was still much to admire in the commitment and organisation of both teams. Indeed, the game’s final play was genuinely exciting, as, in search of the winning score, Wetherby worked the ball through several phases down the field from under their own posts to their opponents’ 22 before possession was lost.

And, of course, the game had its informal moments. The touch judges being supplied by the respective clubs, it was not really a surprise to hear one of them – an otherwise consistently impartial assessor of when the ball was out of play – shouting “offside, ref” during a tense period of play. Later, he gave one of his own side a high-five when the player had followed up a long clearance kick to touch. I also liked the moment when, standing on the touchline, the home side’s coach turned round in surprise to see that one of his players was standing next to him; I had previously watched the player make the long walk from the far side of the pitch and round the back of the goalposts to this near touchline, having been sin-binned for 10 minutes. The coach’s response was to offer him a sweet from the packet he was consuming.

After the match, I caught the bus to RoundhayPark and walked down from the main entrance to the café next to WaterlooLake for a cup of tea and a rather good flapjack. Another shower of rain came and went. I then walked back to the main arena and up the steps next to Hill 60. Somewhere in that imposing grass mound is the toy soldier that I lost – to my considerable distress – when I was about 6 or 7.

I have two competing impressions of the suburban landscape in this part of the city. On the one hand, it changes over time: the shop frontages are different and I try to recollect which stores were there before; the public house is demolished and replaced by a foodstore’s car park; a road junction is altered with a plethora of new markings and lights. On the other hand, there is the continuity of that which is unchanged: the rugby club with its lush pitches, the location of the bus stops, the beauty and greenness of the park.

On balance, I would say that, over the period which I find myself contemplating – 50 plus years – it is the latter characteristic that generally prevails. Notwithstanding all that is new or unfamiliar, there is an overwhelming sense of that which was there before still remaining in place. Of course, with the people inhabiting that landscape, it is the opposite that applies. We are all just passing through and our presence – whether counted in decades or years or occasional half-days – is only transient, irrespective of whether or not we seek virtue.

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