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Cauliflower Ears by Bill Nagelkerke – Chapter 16

It is the final chapter of Bill Nagelkerke’s cool story today.  Please leave a comment and let us know what you thought of the story.  We’d like to thank Bill for very kindly allowing us to publish Cauliflower Ears on the Christchurch Kids Blog.  You’re a legend Bill!

Chapter 16: Three cheers

It was over. The Greens had won the Junior Home World Cup. Our first Grand Final. Our first trophy. We danced. We hugged each other. Then we lined up to receive the Cup.

We shook hands with Junior Home World Cup organisers. Chip held up the cup for everyone to admire and everyone, including some of the Reds, cheered. And we cheered them as well and shook their hands, even Spike and Taggart’s.

‘No hard feelings?’ I said to Spike.

‘Get real,’ said Spike. ‘If it hadn’t been for you . . . ’

‘It’s not fair’ said Taggart, ‘letting girls play rugby. They completely stuff up the game.’

I took no any notice of what Taggart said. Neither did anyone else. So what that I’m a girl? I can play as well as anyone and today I proved that, even though it nearly turned out to be a disaster of a swan song.

There was a celebration afterwards at Mr Marlow’s place. Everyone came: the Green Team; parents; supporters; even Grubber’s dad although he soon dropped into a chair and feel asleep.

I felt hugely happy, and hugely sad, both at the same time.

‘How’d you know we were going to win?’ Sprigs asked Mr Marlow, looking at all the food laid out on the table.

‘I didn’t,’ said Mr Marlow. ‘We’d have had a party regardless. You made it to the Grand Final after all.’

‘But what if we hadn’t made it to the final?’ Sprigs said.

‘We’d still have had a party,’ Mr Marlow said, ‘because the Greens are such a great team.’

He looked at me. ‘And we’d have had a party because Wings is leaving us and we have to give her a fitting send off.’

I started to feel all sniffy.

‘Speech! Speech!’ the Greens yelled.

‘I can’t,’ I said.

‘Yes you can,’ said Dad. ‘You always have plenty to say at home.’

There was silence as everyone waited for me to finish blowing my nose. I took longer than I needed to because I was trying to think of something to say. Trying didn’t work.

The words didn’t fall into my head. So I stopped trying to force them out and I just said what I was feeling.

‘I’m really going to miss you guys. Miss you heaps. All the practice sessions, and all the games. Not being here to defend the Cup next year. But Mr Marlow is right about us. We are a great team and it’s because we’ve got such great players.’

‘And because we had my lucky laces,’ said Sprigs. ‘Don’t forget them.’

‘And because we’ve got Sprigs’ lucky laces.’ I remembered the broken piece was still in my sock so I pulled it out and waved it around my head.

‘Sprigs’ grubby laces,’ said Sprigs’ mum and everyone laughed.

‘It wouldn’t have mattered if we hadn’t won today because we would have given it our best shot and that’s all that matters,’ I said.

‘Liar,’ said Grubber loudly.

‘But true as well,’ said Mr Marlow. ‘Some other team will be lucky to be getting you as a player Wings.’

‘Three cheers for Wings,’ said Chips.

‘No, for all the Greens,’ I said.

So we all shouted our slogan: ‘Three cheers for the Cauliflower Ears!’

And then we got stuck into the feed.

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Cauliflower Ears by Bill Nagelkerke – Chapter 15

Chapter 15: Try

What’s happened?

The whistle’s happened, that’s what. The ref has blown his whistle and it’s all over, the game’s finished. We’ve lost. I’ve lost.

Grubber and Chip and Danny and all the others have crowded around me. Mr Marlow is suddenly there, too, helping me to my feet.

‘I’m sorry guys,’ I said, ‘I just couldn’t make it.’

I didn’t even try blaming the tackle, or suggesting it was another one of the Red’s fouls. No, it was all down to me.

‘It was all down to you,’ Mr Marlow said.

I hung my head in shame.

‘The chips were down and you did it,’ said Chip, using his favourite joke.

Finally I looked up. I knew I’d have to face them sometime.

Everyone was smiling. There were no frowns or scowls. Grubber was hopping up and down like he needed to go to the toilet, but this time it was a dance of joy.

‘Did what?’ I asked.

‘You got the ball over the line without letting go of it, even when you were brought down,’ says another voice. It’s Dad, and Mum’s there too. ‘You got a try right smack between the posts.’

Grubber’s dad has come onto the field as well, and right now he doesn’t look like a man who’s been at work for the past nine hours, and has spent most of the morning chewing his fingernails worrying about Grubber ending up in Accident and Emergency.

Sprigs has hobbled over with his mum because his ankle’s sore and bruised from that tackle.

‘Knew that lace would do the trick,’ he said.

‘You mean I did it?’ I said, still not believing it.

‘Course you did,’ said Chips. ‘You got five points for the Greens. And you don’t even have to convert the try. We’ve won!’

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Cauliflower Ears by Bill Nagelkerke – Chapter 14

Chapter 14: Last try

The Reds got another try. The score shot from twelve-seven to seventeen-seven. Luckily for us they missed the conversion. The margin was bad enough as it was, we couldn’t afford for it to go any higher.

Then we managed to get a second try: Grubber managed to get another one. I saw him sneak a look over to where his dad was standing and I’m pretty sure I saw his dad clapping and cheering along with the other Green supporters.

Seventeen – twelve.

But the try was a corner and when Chips gave me the nod I didn’t think anyone would expect me to convert the ball from that hard angle. So no one, not even I, was surprised when I didn’t even though I’d been hoping like mad that I’d be able to make up for my earlier disaster.

There were only fifteen minutes left to play. The Reds, who we thought had been rough and tough enough, got even rougher and tougher. We were run down each time we made a break with the ball. They tackled from the side, from behind, from out in front. Grubber’s dad would be having kittens just watching. And we stayed a man down. Poor Sprigs wasn’t able to return to the field. All we could do was hunker down in defence and try our hardest to stop the Reds sprinting over the try line.

Then, unbelievably, the ref awarded us a second penalty. Taggart, back from the sin bin, was called offside.

This time Chip took the kick himself. I’d had my two chances. This time the ball went where it was supposed to, between the posts.

‘That was a really easy shot,’ Sprigs whispered to me, hoping to make me feel better. It did, but not much.

Seventeen – fifteen.

Only five minutes left to go and it didn’t look as if we’d have another chance to score before the whistle blew. Then it really hit me. If it hadn’t been for me missing the earlier penalty, we’d have been ahead.

I couldn’t help it. My mind drifted. Maybe they’re all glad I’m leaving, I started to tell myself. Maybe they’ve just been waiting for the day when I played my last game with the Greens. Maybe because I’m . . .

‘Wings,’ yells Chips. ‘Wake up!’

What’s happening?

I suddenly snap awake. The Greens have possession!

The ball’s being unloaded as we sprint down the field, the Reds on our tails.

Chip passes to Danny.

Danny passes to Grubber.

Grubber passes to me.

It’s a perfect break, a class formation. We sweep across the field like a bird’s wing.

‘Go for it Wings!’ Grubber yells.

And I do. I’m the winger. I have wings so I can fly. I can reach the try line. I can beat the odds, make up for my earlier failures.

But can I? Really?

No, I can’t. There are too many players marking me.

But I have to try. Give it better than my best. One hundred percent plus, and then some.

So I swerve and swing, duck and dive, skim out of their way.

Where’s everyone else?

I’ve ended up in mid-field, too fast for the other Greens to be in support.

Now the goalposts are right in front of me, so close, but Taggart is looming, Spike’s on my heels. I’ll never make it to put the ball down.

‘Drop kick!’ I hear a yell.

It’s Sprigs’ voice coming from the bench, screaming at me what to do.

But I can’t kick. I’ve proved that twice already in this game. I’m a useless, no-hoper kicker.

And I’m too close too the bar.

And then I fall flat on my face as I’m tackled from behind.

And I can’t bear to look up to see what I’ve done.

 

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Cauliflower Ears by Bill Nagelkerke – Chapter 13

Chapter 13: Swan song?

I put the kicking tee into place and set up the ball. I looked from the ball to the goal posts and back to the ball. It seemed an easy shot. At least for Sprigs it might have been an easy shot. But for me it was another story altogether.

Boy, was I nervous. I was so nervous, I was sweating. I heard Mr Marlow’s voice in my head. ‘Attitude’s everything. If you think you can do it, you can. Steady. Focus. Imagine the ball flying high. Imagine putting the ball right where you want it to be.’

I tried my best to follow Mr Marlow’s advice but my kicking foot felt stiff and tight in my boot.

Even if I got this one, I realised, we’d still be behind by two points.

I started my run.

I stopped.

Deep breath.

I started again.

I stopped.

Another deep breath.

While the Greens stood silent and anxious around me, the Reds whistled and booed and laughed until the ref had to blow his whistle. ‘Keep quiet,’ he said.

Spike spat on the ground.

I couldn’t do it.

I had to do it.

One last run up.

Kick, and the ball flies.

It goes high. The Greens almost stop breathing and so do I. And the ball goes just wide of the post!

So close. But being so close means nothing. I missed it. I missed what would have been an easy shot for old Sprigs. I can’t believe it, but I have to. I missed.

On the sideline the Red Brigade cheers. The Greenies, on the other hand, look as if they’re going to cry into their scarves.

Suddenly I get the very bad, very deep-sinking feeling that I’ve lost the Greens the Grand Final, and that maybe Spike was half right. The Greens aren’t the losers, I am.

What a swan song. What a way to go out!

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Cauliflower Ears by Bill Nagelkerke – Chapter 12

Chapter 12: Loser

We, the Greens, looked at each other. We’d almost forgotten the foul tackle. Who was going to take the penalty? Sprigs was our star goal kicker but he’d been carted off the field.

‘You give it a go Wings,’ said Chip.

‘Me!’ I cried. ‘Why me?’

‘We all know that none of us are a patch on Sprigs,’ said Chip, ‘but at least you’re fast and accurate, and good with your feet. That’s what Mr Marlow always says.’

‘That’s when I’m running! I’m a winger.’

‘Well, don’t start sounding like a whinger,’ said Chip impatiently. ‘Greens can be anything they want to be, that’s a key part of our game plan, remember?’

I remembered. I also remembered Dad praising me this morning for always giving my best. One hundred precent plus,’ he’d said.

‘Just give it your best shot,’ said Chip, as if he’d read my mind.

Everyone looked at me. Hopeful. Expectant. They didn’t want me to let them down.

‘All right,’ I said. ‘I’ll try.’

‘Good one,’ said Chip, and they all punched me on the arm for luck. Ouch!

There was another commotion from the sideline.

‘What now?’ said the ref.

A hand waving, holding something that looked like a piece of string. It was Sprigs.

‘What’s that boy want?’ said the ref.

‘Just get on with the game,’ said Spike.

‘Go check it out,’ the ref told Chip.

Chip ran over to the bench and came back a few seconds later with a piece of one of Sprigs’ shoelaces in his hands.

‘He had it stuffed inside his sock,’ said Chip, shaking his head.

‘It must be Sprig’s lucky lace, the one that broke,’ said Grubber.

‘What am I supposed to do with it?’ I asked.

‘Stuff it into your sock,’ said Chips. ‘Sprigs wants you to have it, for luck he said.’

‘Luck,’ I thought to myself. ‘I’ll need more than that. I’ll need a miracle.’ But I took the grubby lace and put it inside my sock.

‘Thanks,’ I called out to Sprigs.

‘What a bunch of losers,’ I heard Spike mutter.

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Cauliflower Ears by Bill Nagelkerke – Chapter 11

Chapter 11: Play on

It took Grubber’s dad only a few seconds to reach us, but it seemed like minutes, hours even.

‘I saw what happened,’ he said.

‘It’s been dealt with,’ said the ref. ‘Sprigs is going to be OK.’

Grubber’s dad shook his head. ‘That was just luck,’ he said. ‘It could have been much worse. I don’t want my boy to get hurt.’

‘Dad . . .’ said Grubber.

‘I’ve seen too many rugby injuries in my line of work,’ said Grubber’s dad. He looked at Grubber. ‘Why don’t you call it quits?’

It was hard to tell if Grubber was looking sick with shame, or sick with fear that his dad would actually force him out of the match. On the other side of the field the Reds were watching, wondering what was going on. They edged in closer to find out.

Mr Marlow arrived on the scene.

‘You’re holding up the game,’ said the ref to Grubber’s dad.

‘I hope you’ll let Grubber stay on,’ said Mr Marlow, calm as always. ‘We’re already a man down now.’

‘And how many more will get carted off before the game finishes?’ asked Grubber’s dad. ‘With rough players like them.’ He looked over at the Reds, who were only a few metres away from us now.

Before Mr Marlow could reply, Grubber spoke up.

‘I’m not going,’ he said. ‘I love rugby and I’m going to finish this game.’

‘Please Mr Foley,’ I added. ‘We can’t do without Grubber. Look at the way he got that first try for us. This game is way too important for us.’

Grubber’s dad looked at me, at Mr Marlow, at the ref, at the rest of the Green team.

‘It was a good try,’ he said, reluctantly. ‘I have to admit that. OK, I won’t interfere. Just take care, and play fair.’

He said that last bit loudly enough for the Reds to hear, before he walked back to the sideline. We all breathed great sighs of relief.

‘Penalty shot,’ said the ref.

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Cauliflower Ears by Bill Nagelkerke – Chapter 10

Chapter 10: Injury

‘It was a fair throw!’ I said, wondering what had happened.

The ref nodded. ‘Agreed,’ he said. ‘But a foul tackle.’

At first I didn’t know what he meant, so I looked to where he was pointing. Poor Sprigs lay on the ground, one leg twisted under him.

Taggart stood beside him, grinning, but sly and dangerous looking as well.

‘Legal tackle,’ he said.

The ref shook his head. ‘The ball had left Sprigs’ hands,’ he said.

‘Hadn’t,’ said Taggart.

‘Had too,’ hissed Sprigs from below.

‘You OK?’ I asked him.

‘Just twisted my ankle I reckon,’ said Sprigs.

The medics helped Sprigs off the field.

‘I’ll be OK,’ Sprigs said. ‘Good thing it’s not you being carted off,’ he told Grubber. ‘Your old man would’ve had a fit.’

Grubber looked anxiously towards the sidelines. ‘What’re we going to do now? We’re a man down.’

Sprigs glared at Taggart. ‘I’ll be back,’ he said.

‘Not likely,’ said Taggart.

Taggart was still grinning, but not for long.

‘Sin bin,’ the ref said to him.

‘Wha . . .’

‘Don’t argue. I’ll talk to you later.’

‘Not fair,’ said Taggart.

But, even so, he couldn’t stop smirking. He knew what he’d done. He’d taken out our best kicker.

‘Oh no,’ said Grubber suddenly.

‘What?’ I asked.

‘Look,’ said Grubber.

I looked. We all did. Striding towards us was Grubber’s dad.

‘He’s going to tell me to get off the field,’ said Grubber. ‘I just know he is.’

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