On Saturday I was in Hartlepool, a windswept port on the north east coast, playing in a veterans’ rugby match.
Veterans’ rugby is like normal rugby except in Super Slo-Mo. In order to qualify you have to be over 35, although most of our team is in their forties and one is 59. Our motto is “You’re A Long Time Retired”.
My mother, who lives nearby, came along to watch. She has always watched – although having taken me to my first game of mini-rugby at the age of six, I doubt she ever thought she’d still be standing shivering on the touchline 40 years later.
Having always advised me to “stay at the back” for fear of being knocked flying by an opposition flanker, her primary concern these days is that a defibrillator is on hand in case of cardiac arrest.
The game was hard fought, but I survived. Afterwards the team retreated to the clubhouse to drink copious amounts of beer and watch the England v France international on the telly in the bar. When that was over, we got back on the bus and headed home, singing songs and passing the port bottle.
I mention this because at around the same time, in his bathroom in New York City, the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was preparing to inject himself with what turned out to be a lethal dose of heroin.
Seymour Hoffman was 46, the same age as me, which is a sobering thought. And while he clearly had his demons his death saddens me not simply because he was a fine actor, but because he would have made a damn fine prop forward.
All men need an outlet, especially those in their mid-forties. Seymour Hoffman’s was heroin, but I wish I’d somehow been able to persuade him to pull on a pair of rugby boots instead. He might have been accused of being a silly old bugger by his wife, and he might not have been able to walk properly for a few days afterwards, but I guarantee the camaraderie in the bar would have taken his mind off things at least for a few hours on Saturday – and if his mother had been watching she could have compared notes with mine.
Sadly it was not to be, and as the tributes continue to pour in for Philip Seymour Hoffman we are left to wonder what might have been both on the big screen and on the rugby field.