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The night the angels sang

Our rugby club is brilliant. Cracking beer, the loveliest ground in Britain in the shadow of the cathedral, a history going to the foundation of our national rugby union and striped socks in the dark blue of Oxford and the light blue of a minor Fens-based Cantabrigian also-ran. It also has a tradition that every rugby club should; at the final game of every dark and muddy December, the entire club turns out for an evening of carol singing.  It is a truth incontestable that a true man plays rugby and sings – in equal measure.  In our club,  with the accompanying assistance of a band of itinerant musicians, the harmony may best be described as embracing to the full the tradition of the gentleman amateur.  The tone is rather more lusty than Lutheran, fuelled as it is by Christmas spirit and Doombar on tap.  But it is unquestionably a lovely atmosphere.

This year, it followed the kids’ party.  The weak had fallen away.  The Under 8s had discoed until they dropped.  The under 10s were stuffed to the gunwales with turkey rolls.  The under sevens,  the splendidly cheeky midshipmen and cabin boys of the mighty triple-decker that is HMS Llandaff, had acquitted themselves finely with spilled drinks, chips by the hundredweight, a scrummaging demonstration in the best lounge, and an impromptu striptease.  They had, to put it in  the language of Shakespeare, been little buggers all afternoon. Had Santa been holding a rugby disciplinary, several of the U7s’ finest might well have been sentenced to the naughty list without the option.

All of this changed in the instant that volunteers were sought to begin Carol Number Eleven.  The trio of backs, smeared in ketchup and in fine voice through the first hour’s singing, stepped up.  Natural three-quarter backs they may be, but Max Boyce himself will sing legends of the three little boys who, arm over arm, prepared for an endeavour at which the great Bobby Windsor trio of the seventies would have quailed in their front row omnipotence.

A club of 200 players and families, from babies to veterans, went from rowdy hubbub to absolute hush as three tiny wise men sang.

‘Away in a manger, no crib for a bed…”

Their voices were clear, their pitch superb.  No more angelic boys ever graced the fountains of Rome or the cover of the Christmas Radio Times.

As soon as the final cadence established that He was indeed asleep on the hay, there was a cheer of the unique volume usually reserved for a Welsh try in the Cathedral of Cardiff Arms Park.

There was an encore, with demands for more.  And not a dry eye in the house.

“That was lovely.”

“We never knew you could sing like that.”

And best of all, from a veteran prop:

“Balls of steel to do that, boys. Future of the Club, see.”

Merry Christmas from the Mighty Under Sevens.

Personal views of a wordsmithing, sartorialist, horn-playing, state school Oxonian dad, rugby ref, recovering politico, and fan of vintage tailoring, Ralph Lauren style, and sharp writing.

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