Canavan’s column - August 8, 2013

Netball team Sauermann, despite having to cope with The Gazette's Steve Canavan in their team, celebrate victory in the Fylde Netball League's mixed tournament
Netball team Sauermann, despite having to cope with The Gazette's Steve Canavan in their team, celebrate victory in the Fylde Netball League's mixed tournament
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Sunday was netball day. That’s not a sentence I’ve written before.

Being a man it’s one of those activities I don’t get an opportunity to do, along with other all-female sports like rounders and washing-up.

I was invited to take part in a tournament at Stanley Park organised by the Fylde Netball League. It was a mixed competition, with three lads and four women on each team.

As the event was for charity – and, more to the point, aware that accepting the invite would allow me to spend a full day in the company of hundreds of ladies wearing short skirts and vest tops (when you’ve a life as dull as mine you have to take what excitement you can) – I agreed to take part.

Let me say this. If you think the offside rule is complicated, or that LBW’s a tricky concept, try netball.

In the first game I played I couldn’t so much as touch the ball without getting shouted at by an angry-looking woman at the side of the pitch. Initially I thought she was a deranged loner unconnected with events, but apparently she was something called the umpire.

“Footwork”, she’d scream as someone threw a pass in my direction and I ran towards the opponents goal - ball in hand (you’re not allowed to move once you get the ball apparently – how was I to know?)

Turns out you can’t do a football-style sliding tackle either, and a sly elbow to the face is most certainly frowned upon (on which note, apologies to the girl in the second game – I hope you didn’t have to stay overnight in hospital and the doctors managed to save at least some of your teeth).

I played for a team called Sauermann, roped in by a girl I play badminton with. ‘Take part in this netball tournament,’ she said. ‘It’s just a bit of fun, you’ll find it dead easy’.

She was lying. I have to tip my hat to anyone who plays netball because it’s blinking hard work.

Being a sport for girls I had always assumed there wouldn’t be much running around and we’d stop every couple of minutes for a pot of tea and a cupcake. How wrong can a fella be? After the first game, during which I single-handedly proved even 48 hour extreme-ice anti-perspirant really doesn’t work, I was so exhausted I ate all my rations for the day in one go (three chicken wings, two slices of quiche and a sausage roll – can you tell we’d had a buffet the day before and the leftovers needed eating up?)

We played seven 14-minute games over the course of the day and, according to the initial on my little bib, I played C. I don’t know what C means but I seemed to spend the day running wildly around the middle of the court, putting my hands in the air and grasping thin air, while the opposition team passed the ball around me.

By some minor miracle, team Sauermann made it to the final and ended up Plate Winners. I had nothing to do with the success, indeed almost costing us victory when, in the closing stages of the final, I got mixed up and started attacking the wrong way, playing a beautiful pass to a woman called GS. I could barely move the day after, muscles in my legs I didn’t even know existed throbbing with pain.

However, I have a medal and can now officially call myself a Netball Champion. It’s bought out the feminine side in me. Next week I might even try hoovering.

I have just booked to stay in a youth hostel in Yorkshire.

We’re going to watch a folk festival. Well, I say ‘we’re’ when what I really mean is ‘I’m’ but I don’t want to appear an anti-social loner.

Truth is none of my friends want to go to a folk festival. They think folk music means elderly chaps in Aran jumpers sticking their finger in their ear and singing a mournful ballad about a girl who drowned at sea.

I tell them they are completely wrong. Sometimes it’s a boy who drowns at sea.

Anyway, the hostel. I’m nervous because of the experience I had last time I stayed in one.

It was in Canada about five years ago when a couple of friends and I headed for a road trip in the Rocky Mountains (I’d intended to write a novel about it, something like Jack Kerouac’s On The Road except a little less wild and without the drug-taking; well unless you count Anadin - I got a terrible migraine one day after eating an undercooked chicken wing).

One night we stopped at a hostel. There were eight sets of bunk beds in the room, 16 blokes. It was full.

We headed for a few drinks and returned about midnight. Everyone was already in bed so there were a few tuts as we undressed and slid into our beds, in my case on the top bunk.

About 3.30am the lager inside my system decided it urgently needed to come out. I resisted but after an hour realised that if I didn’t go to the toilet I wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep, so I crept as silently as possible from my bunk and headed for the loo.

Bladder emptied, I re-entered the bedroom. It was at that moment, in the pitch black, with beds everywhere, I realised with not an insignificant amount of panic and horror that I didn’t have a clue which bunk I’d alighted from.

I fumbled around for several moments, like a sort of amateur coal-miner, and then, convinced I’d located my bed, scrambled up and in – only to find myself face-to-face with a middle aged Chinese chap who began screaming at me.

All hell broke loose. Someone switched on the lights and 15 men – all rather angry, as you would be if you were roused from a pleasant slumber in the middle of the night – emerged from beneath duvets and began hurling insults and pushing each other. In short, 3,000 miles from home and by virtue of needing a night-time wee, I had single-handedly managed to spark a mass brawl.

It calmed down eventually – not least because we all suddenly realised we were dressed only in our boxer shorts – but suffice to say I wasn’t too popular the next morning.

It’s why I’m approaching the forthcoming hostel stay in Yorkshire with trepidation. Note to self: don’t jump in bed with a Chinese bloke.