Mike McCafferty is an odd sort of man. With his wage caps, his allowances, his dispensations and his credits he is a fastidious man when it comes to book keeping and the like. He had been taking his Daily Mail when he happened over an article about Geoff Parling moving to Gloucester,
“Good we want to decrease the surplus talent” he said to his long suffering assistant Rob Catchit
“But what about the Tigers?” Catchit pleaded “Where are they meant to find his replacement?”
“Are there no academies in Leicester? No cheap South Africans?” Scrooge, sorry, McCafferty responded.
In the evening after making Catchit stay at his desk tallying the figures on Northampton’s academy’s wage bill until 7 McCafferty finally relented and let him go home for the evening.
“So Sir are you looking forward to tomorrow?” Catchit asked cheerily. Even though he hated small talk the social convention forced McCafferty to respond to Cathcit’s inanities
“What is so special about tomorrow?”
“Why Sir it’s Leicester playing away to Treviso!” Catchit replied.
“I suppose you’ll want the day off then?” said McCafferty sulkily
“It is only once a year Sir, begging your pardon” said Catchit deferentially
“A fine excuse to pick a man’s pocket once a year if you ask me, but I suppose I’ll allow it you’ll only sulk otherwise” McCafferty relented.
As he walked home McCafferty felt a chill wind blow through his bones and a pounding in his head. Too much jabbering with that fool Catchit probably. Fancy wanting a day off for Leicester versus Treviso, it isn’t like its Christmas Day. His head was still pounding as he climbed the steps to his front door. As he fumbled for his keys he caught a glimpse of it in the corner of his eye. It was his door knocker; he could have sworn it was Jonny Wilkinson but it couldn’t have been he moved to France 4 years ago. When inside the house he couldn’t shake the pounding in his head or the ill sensation he was feeling.
Then suddenly, as the clock struck midnight, every ball in his house started being kicked simultaneously; the mini ball in the corridor, the plastic ball in the kitchen and the leather one in the garden all being kicked over and over again, not in any sequence or with any pattern just continuously and relentlessly.
Then he appeared before McCafferty again, this time so he could be in no doubt as to his reality. It was Jonny Wilkinson, but not quite as he was in England. Replacing his bandaged head and pale dreary skin was the golden glow of a Mediterranean tan, when he took his wallet out McCafferty was amazed to see it spill open and burst at the sides. Wilkinson said to McCafferty
“You must change your ways Miser, tonight you will be visited by the first of three spirits: the spirits of Tigers’ past, Tigers’ present and Tigers’ yet to come, the first will come at 1 O’clock”
And with that he was gone. The balls stopped kicking and the pounding in his head was over, was it all real or just some horrible dream?
He prepared himself for bed as tomorrow would be a another long day made harder by that Cathcit’s determination to watch that blasted game, spirits or no spirits. He lay in bed and dropped off instantly. When he woke the clock was showing 12:45 and it was pitch dark. He was so refreshed that it was hardly plausible that he had slept for as little as 45 minutes but more ridiculous still to imagine he had been asleep for a whole day or that the sun had ceased to shine and this was 12 noon. As he could hardly sleep he determined he might as well stay up until the hour to prove that last night’s actions were indeed a dream. “Bong Bong” went the clock and McCafferty said to himself with a satisfied grin “I knew that was not Jonny Wilkinson, just a rouge piece of cheese making me ill” But he had spoken before the clock had stopped chiming. As the clock ticked over to One the room lit up immediately and the curtains were drawn.
Before him was a little elf like creature with the thick luscious hair of a young man but the weathered face of who had seen many battles.
“Are you the spirit whose coming was foretold to me?” Asked McCafferty
“And who or what are you?”
“I am Austin Healey, the Ghost of Tigers’ past”
With that the spirit beckoned McCafferty forward toward the window.
“I am mortal and liable to fall”
“But with a touch of my hand you will be upheld in more than this!”
As McCafferty took Healey’s hand he was transported to Treviso, confusingly in the present given this is the ghost of Tigers’ Past but let’s gloss over that for now, and the darkness had gone to be replaced by the mist and rain of that day’s weather.
“By Heavens! This is where Catchit is coming to watch the Rugby” exclaimed McCafferty
“Yes, I am here to show you the shadows of the past that still linger on”
The match was 12 minutes old as scrum half Edoardo Gori had spotted Ben Youngs defending in the line, so chipped into the space he would normally cover. Youngs had it covered though and claimed the mark.
Before they knew what to do with themselves he was off like a shot; arcing his run from the corner flag towards the posts he was outside most of the Treviso defenders by the 5 meter line. Outside the 22 he gave the ball to Anthony Allen on the switch who took it up before spotting Matt Tait coming like a steam train tight on his left hand shoulder. Tait showed real wheels to burn off one man on the boggy playing surface then drew in two defenders before a superb back of the hand off load back to Anthony Allen. Allen quickly distributed the ball to the man waiting on the outside and Adam Thompstone raced away to secure his 6th try in 7 games.
“Why that was amazing” cried out McCafferty “100 meters in less than 25 seconds”,
“Rugby is the most thrilling game when it is played like that” agreed Healey.
“I wish I could watch moments like that in every game, what a fantastic spectacle that would be”
“If only they could, but teams these days don’t have the time to build the cohesion needed for great play as they are constantly broken up and rebuilt”
“Spirit” Ashen faced McCafferty whispered “Take from this place”
“This is the shadows of what once was; do not blame me for what it shows”
“I said spirit remove me from this place NOW!” exclaimed McCafferty
He turned to face Healey, who had an impish grin on his face and in his rage struggled with him. Healey put up no resistance as McCafferty tore off his hair piece and he evaporated in McCafferty’s hands. With his hand barely relaxed McCafferty fell in to a deep sleep.
When he woke with a heavy snore the clock once again read 12.45. After the fright the previous visitor had given him McCafferty was sure to open all the curtains so as not to be surprised again. He waited, nervously, for the clock to tick to One. But this time there was neither a shaft of light nor a sudden appearance. He waited. Five minutes ticked by, then ten, then fifteen. After being surprised by something last time, this time he was surprised by nothing. He got up to check the clock was working when he could hear it. It was a man calling his name and instructing him to come down stairs.
“Come in!” Exclaimed the ghost “Come in and know me better man!”
McCafferty entered and was amazed at the sight that greeted him. This ghost was no dowdy little elf, he was a giant dressed in a green velvet robe trimmed with red and white fur. His chest was exposed so loosely did the garment fit. And the room was filled with a feast fit for a king, Melton’s finest Pork Pies, whole rolls of Stilton Cheese and piles of Walker’s crisps as high as your head.
“Look upon me” The Ghost instructed “Have you ever seen the likes of me?”
“Never” replied the awed McCafferty as met the Ghost’s gaze
“I am Tom Croft, the Ghost of Tigers’ Present”
“Spirit take me where you will, last night I went by compulsion but learnt a lesson which is working now” submitted McCafferty
“Touch my robe!”
McCafferty did as he was told and held firm. As he did the feast around them dissolved and they found themselves back in Toulon on a balmy mid-winter morning. Jonny Wilkinson, the real one not the ghost now, was sunning himself on the bench as Toulon were ravaging Sale. As the final score rolled over to 62-0 McCafferty asked the spirit a question
“See spirit this is why I need to keep my wage caps, my dispensations and my credits these thrashings do no good to any competition, we should seek to level the playing field”
“I am tall and have an advantage in the lineout; do you seek to have a height cap?” Retorted the Phantom
“No” confirmed McCafferty
“I am strong and have an advantage in the ruck; do you seek a strength cap?” Continued the Spirit
“I am quick and have an advantage outwide; do you seek a pace cap?”
“Then why because I am rich do you seek a wage cap? Is not competition off the field as important and worthy as competition on it? Do you seek to deny me steak because you can only afford stew?”
“Come now I have something else to show you” the spirit instructed.
McCafferty held on to his robe once more and they were transported back to Treviso and to Rob Catchit standing on the back row of the stand, imploring the Tigers onwards but growing ever more frustrated as their own errors limited them. In stark contrast to Toulon who could cut a streak through the Sale line at will Tigers were struggling to finish any move as a lack of cutting edge always gave Treviso the opportunity to snaffle at the breakdown or a penalty to relieve the pressure. Tiny Geoff Parling was playing manfully as he strove to secure the win and was securing the Tigers line.
McCafferty turned to the Spirit and said “Spirit, tell me if Tiny Geoff Parling will stay?”
“I see a vacant shirt” replied the Spirit “in the changing room corner, carefully preserved, if this shadows remain unaltered the player will leave”
“No, no!” Said McCafferty “Oh kind Spirit please say he will stay!”
“If these shadows remain unaltered then none other of my race” returned the Ghost “shall see him in Green, Red and White. If he is to leave he might as well get on with it and decrease the surplus talent”
McCafferty turned grey as his own words were turned back upon him.
Hanging his head he replied “I didn’t mean players like Parling really, only foreign journeyman types not current England internationals”
“It is not for you to decide what is and what is not surplus; will you decide who will stay and who will go? It may be in the sight of others that you are surplus, you are unfit to lead and decide things for all the clubs.”
As the end of the night approached Croft grew old and weary.
“Spirit, what is the matter with you?” inquired McCafftery “there is a claw, or a perhaps a growth, underneath your robe”
Lifting up his robe Croft revealed two children, ghastly things, cowed and hungry, miserable, wretched.
“Look at them, Man, they are yours” the Ghost intoned
McCafferty stared back at them appalled.
“They cling to me appealing from their fathers. The boy is jealousy and the girl is want. Beware them both but most of all beware the boy, for on his forehead I see the word written which is Doom. Deny it!” the Ghost thundered “slander all those who proclaim it. Admit it for what it is and end the hypocrisy!”
“Have they no refuge or resource, these clubs?” cried McCafferty
“Are there no Academies” replied the Spirit turning McCafferty’s words back on him again “no cheap South African imports?”
The Bell struck One.
McCafferty looked about for the Ghost but saw it not. As the last stroke caused him to vibrate he remembered the prediction of Jonny Wilkinson and lifted up his eyes to behold a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming across the ground like a mist.
“I am in the Spirit of Tigers’ yet to come?” said McCafferty.
The Spirit answered not, just pointed his bony finger onwards.
“Ghost of the future” McCafferty exclaimed “are you to show me what is not yet written, but will happen in time” McCafferty pursued “unless things change”
The spirit made no movement, save for a small crease in the hood. McCafferty took this for a nod.
“Lead on mighty Spirit” cried McCaffety.
The spirit led McCafferty into a small room he knew well, it was the boardroom of PRL, and in it were five of the chairmen he knew all too well.
“Did you see the match last night?”
“Yes, shame about the result but they do have a much bigger budget than us lot now”
“Agreed, there isn’t a lot we can do about it now”
“Rugby’s just more popular there, the local businesses support it so much better”
“Well it’s a shame he lost his job but he was just holding everybody back, inevitable really I suppose”
McCafferty was bemused, “Spirit, were they talking of the Toulon Sale game?” That was in the present and this is meant to be the Ghost of Tigers’ yet to come. The Spirit remained silent. McCafferty waited for his own image to appear, perhaps the lessons he had already learnt would be in evidence, but before he could find out the Spirit had moved him on to a second scene.
It was back in Catchit’s house. “Well they’re a good side Rob” sighed Mrs. Catchit trying to console poor Rob “you can’t expect to just rock over to the continent and win”
“I know, I know, but to not even get the bonus point? Have we really come to this? And did he really deserve to lose his job?”
“Spirit what game are they talking about?” McCafferty wondered.
The Spirit remained unmoving and unspeaking. Before the Catchit’s could say anymore McCafferty and the Spirit were back outside McCafferty’s old room. But something was amiss, this was his room alright but the desk was in a different place and the pictures on the wall different, McCafferty was befuddled.
“Spirit why show me this? What does this mean?”
The Spirit pointed its bony finger to a newspaper on the table. It was opened to a report of the Leicester match but half the score was covered up. It read Leicester 14 before it was covered in other loose sheets of paper.
“Before I draw myself towards that paper Spirit tell me this, are these the things that Will be or the things that May be only?”
The Spirit remained silent.
McCafferty stumbled forward, trembling as he went; following the finger he went up the desk and read the rest of the headline:
“Leicester 14 Treviso 35, McCafferty sacked after PRL revolt”
“Am I the man who they were were talking about, and this the game?”
The finger pointed from the newspaper and back to him again.
“No, Spirit! Oh no!”
The Spirit was still pointing.
“Spirit” he cried clutching at its dark robe “Hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I would have but for this intercourse. Why show me this if I am beyond all hope of redemption?”
“Kindly Spirit, assure me I can change these shadows if only I change my ways? “
The Spirit’s hand trembled
“I shall keep Rugby in my heart and celebrate it every day, I shall keep the spirits Tigers’ Past, Present and Yet to come in my hear all at once. I will not shut out the lesson they teach nor ever forget them. Oh tell me I way wipe away the writing on this newspaper?”
In his agony he grabbed at the Spirit’s hand, but the Spirit repulsed him. He watched the Spirit’s robe shrank down back into his bed post.
YES! His bedpost, the real one. And his curtains were still there too, and best of all the time was his own, to make amends in!
He rushed to window and threw it open. Looking down a cool misty day he spotted a boy out in his Saturday best Tiger’s shirt.
“Hallo there, you boy” he hollered
“What day is this?” he inquired
“Today sir? Why today is when Tigers play Treviso away!” the boy relied
“I haven’t missed it! The spirits they came all at once I suppose they can do what they like after all” McCafferty said to himself.
“You know the Rugby Agent’s shop round the corner? “ He shouted down to the boy
“I should think I do” the boy said
“What a scamp” said Scrouge “do you know if they’ve sold their prize number 7? The good one, Richie McCaw, not the other one, Dan Braid?”
“Why no Sir, he’s hanging in the window now” returned the boy
“Well go and buy him and bring him here so I may give them direction where to send it on. I’ll give you a shilling if you bring him here and half-a-crown if you do it within 5 minutes!” McCafferty exclaimed.
The boy was off like a hare out a trap.
McCafferty readied himself for the day as best he could, he could hardly shave with all the nervous excitement making his hands shake, then set out. He was barely out the door when he bumped into Simon Cohen
“Good morning, Sir!” McCafferty exclaimed “do you remember how we were talking about the Salary Cap?”
“Why yes Mr. McCafferty of course I do” said Cohen looking glum
“Well I’m of a different mind now” said McCafferty “and I think you’ll be rather pleased, next season I’m going to set the cap at ....” and here McCafferty whispered in Cohen’s ear “and not a penny less”
“Why Sir, that would be marvellous!” Cried Cohen as if his breath had been taken away.
“Yes and I will never let it get so out of control again” assured McCafferty.
McCafferty was better than his word. From that day on he was the most generous man that ever lived. He carried all three Spirits in his heart for ever more and filled his life with laughter and happiness.