The third (and last) in the short series of articles about rugby’s f-words: Fixtures, Fags and Fuddling About. Finally, then, on the topic of “fuddling”, and of Richard Harris’ fuddling in particular.
The public house has been the heart of more than one nation’s social life for hundreds of years, so it’s hardly surprising that pubs play an integral part of the rugby game.
“Fuddling” is a word that’s slipped out of usage now but when Thomas Hughes wrote ‘Tom Brown Schooldays’, about life at Rugby school in the 1830s, it was common parlance, as used in a speech after the (rugby) match:
…Then there’s fuddling about in the public-house, and drinking bad spirits and punch, and such rot-gut stuff. That won’t make drop-kicks or chargers of you, take my word for it.
Despite this earlier warning, Chris Laidlaw, the famous All Black scrum-half, concluded a century or so later “beer and rugby are more or less synonymous“.
That comment could have been echoed by many others, such as the late Irish actor Richard Harris, a committed rugby fan who loved drinking and whose antics at Internationals with fellow actors Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton are legendary.
This clip of Richard Harris holding forth with Peter O’Toole is a good example of “fuddling about”, during the match hospitality at the Heineken Cup final at Twickenham in 2000: Munster v Northampton.
Educated by the Jesuits and a talented player for Munster Schools, in the 1950s Richard Harris played second-row for Limerick’s Garryowen FC (eponymous home of the famous up-and-under kick tactic) and was tipped to play for Ireland, before a bout of tuberculosis put a premature end to his playing career. He subsequently became a successful actor, theatrical producer, film director and writer.
He’s remembered for playing the fading rugby league player Frank Machin in the 1963 Lindsay Anderson film ‘This Sporting Life’ (winning Best Actor Award) based on David Storey’s novel. In that film there is a scene where Harris’s character responds to to being called a star, by replying “We don’t have stars in our game, that’s soccer” . Much of the action was filmed at Wakefield Trinity Rugby League ground.
As one story goes, he once disappeared on a three-week drinking session with an Irish rugby team after popping out to the shops for a bottle of milk, leaving his wife none the wiser.
He summed up his love of the alcohol thus:
I don’t drink because I have problems or I want to escape. I just love drinking and being drunk.