For anyone who loves Christmas, teaching at a school such as ours has the added benefit that Christmas runs throughout the whole of December. I have worked out that we have at least 18 Christmas trees up around the school and I am looking forward to my first Christmas dinner of the season on Tuesday. I have already been sporting my Christmas jumper and researching the best of the season’s cracker jokes. Some of my favourites include:
What does Santa suffer from if he gets stuck in a chimney?
Why did Santa's helper see the doctor?
Because he had a low "elf" esteem!
How did Mary and Joseph know that Jesus was 7lb 6oz when he was born?
They had a weigh in a manger.
I could go on but I am sensing I have already lost a high percentage of my readership!
The other element that brings me great joy at this time of year is the advent of the second oldest football competition in the world: The First House competition. Soon after First House was established, Second House was added, as was under-15 House. Today that means that in the last week of term, some 400 boys will be participating in a football competition of one sort or another.
I asked 2nd XI coach, Matthew Clark whether he enjoyed the House tournaments. His response was typically enthusiastic; “What’s not to like? I love them!” Although he was deciding which Quality Street to have next, I think he was talking about the football. “I love the passion, the colour, the crowds the atmosphere, the moments of sheer magic, the moments of unimaginable joy and of utter despair and most of all I love being involved as a referee, especially if I can engineer some controversy!” (Actually he didn’t say that last bit!)
I am with Matthew. So is Housemaster of Ridgemount and Old Salopian Will Hughes, who told me: “I still remember my House match days and I have never got over the fact that in my time here we never made it to a House match final. It still haunts me, and the reason I came back to Shrewsbury to be a Housemaster was so that I could taste success in this competition, albeit as a manager.”
Ridgemount were winners of the Trophy last year but were brought back down to earth this year, being knocked out of proceedings by Radbrook on penalties. Rookie manager and Housemaster Richard Case could barely conceal his delight. “I am delighted,” he said. When Ridgemount were knocked out of Second House as well, some thought that there would be pressure on the manager, but Mr Hughes has currently bought himself some time by guiding his under-15 House team to a 5-0 win over Ingram’s. Mr Hughes admitted to be relieved and ecstatic about his team’s performance. He went on to say how important it was to give the lads some focus at this stage of term and that he was able to urge his young squad to get to bed early, get some sleep and eat a hearty breakfast before the big game. That advice can be given at least three times in the last week of term if a team progresses in the cup; which is always good news for a Housemaster!
Some Houses are cruising along on all fronts; there will be plenty of well rested young men in Severn Hill and Oldham’s who have managed to make it to the semi-final stage in all competitions. Oldham’s housemaster and manager Marcus Johnson is pleased that some of his signings have worked out to be good buys. He did not have time for an interview, however, as he was busy composing lyrics for his supporters to chant. “I love the banter and wit of a good football crowd,” he told me!
Dan Nicholas, Old Salopian, Housemaster and manager of Severn Hill, was in buoyant mood. “I am so buoyant I could fly to the highly visible planet Jupiter” he told me.
Colonel Nicholas is regarded as having something of the Alex Ferguson about him. When he was manager of The Grove they won First House at least twice, and now he has a very good chance of success in all three competitions with his highly thought of Severn Hill teams. As modest as always, Mr Nicholas told me, “When I was in the Army Air Corps I flew over a lot of top flight games and I guess I picked up quite a few insights into how the game should be played. I am particularly keen on wingers.”
I had the honour of referring a typically robust Second House match between Rigg’s and Severn Hill. Both teams were desperate to win and played with a passion and commitment, only matched by some FA Cup giant-killing teams. Players were affected by the physical intensity of the game, suffering from cramp, fatigue and mental exhaustion; at least that is the excuse one player told me he was going to use for his essay being late!
In a cruel change of the rules this year, Head of Football Mr Biggins has introduced sudden death penalties. Can you tell me if this young man pictured below (in gold):
1. ...has scored the winning goal with his last vestige of energy?
2. ...has missed the goal completely, causing his irrate Housemaster to shoot him?
3. ...has decided to have a quick rest before he takes the final spot kick?
4. ...is having a chat with a mole?
The competitions will be completed this week, before the cricket tour to Dubai and South Africa. Already there has been heartache and pain as well as glory and elation.
The Moser’s v Oldham’s Second House quarter final match was played on Senior, which was a great treat for all the players who were genuinely elated that they were playing on such hallowed turf.
I have already enjoyed the intensity and competitiveness of this year’s fixtures. Good luck to all the teams still involved. Remember to get a good night’s sleep and hearty breakfast before each game!
A very happy Christmas to you all.
PS I wanted to ask Peter Middleton Housemaster of Rigg’s for a quote on his team, but he was away by a manger. Congratulations to him and Jenna on the production of Rosanna.