NaPoWriMo 2018 – #26 Captain of the No-Hopers


A break from Vietnam, a memory triggered by my friend Paul Flatt’s blog post here

Captain of the No-Hopers

I was captain of the no-hopers the fat boys, the smokers, the skin-and-boners, the couldn’t give a toss-ers, clutching our shoulders shivering in shorts on the farthest, freezingest pitch far, far out of sight, out of the way, out of our minds with boredom. Refereed by the most short-sighted teacher, least sporty teacher who always said “Hopkins, you’re captain” and with some other conscripted captain we’d pick our teams from the assembled no-hopers as boys stood, blowing on their blue hands, standing behind each other, thinking that somehow, they could become invisible on this pancake flat, frosted pitch. And it wasn’t even a proper rugby pitch, it was a soccer pitch and in the unlikely event of anyone actually scoring a try we’d attempt a conversion between imaginary uprights and usually end up with the ball going under the crossbar or trickling towards the corner flag.  I liked to run to keep warm, could run a long time but without speed or guile. If I got the ball, I’d clutch it to my chest, and head for the wing plotting a path down the touchline but was inevitably intercepted, resulting in my turning back towards the other wing, and so developed a lengthy, pendulum like passage of play back and forth across the pitch but usually ending where I began, where I would be tackled by a no-hoper who was bored watching me bouncing back and forth. Mostly, there were boys clumped together for warmth, not even on the same team, only moving if a ball dropped in the middle of them, exposing whoever was smoking deep inside the huddle.  And the scrums, dear god the scrums, a random mass of bodies, farts, sweat, swearing, cigarette smoke, bad breath and furtive punches to the balls of someone who might be on your own team, but never pass up an opportunity for payback.   And meanwhile, in another league, the chosen, the talented, the hopers were making mazy runs, daring, diving tackles, perfectly formed scrums on a proper pitch, under the admiring eye of the sports master, close to the changing rooms, finishing first, using up all the hot water leaving only cold showers for us no-hopers to wash down our hapless bodies.


When you’re hopeless

you’re sure to find

like-minded company




Copyright Mike Hopkins 2018


About NaPoWriMo

(Some / most of these could be rightly described as “chopped up text”. But that’s how first drafts often look.)


Poem a Day for April – Day 16 – Whacko!

I’ve committed to writing a poem a day for the month of April as part of National Poetry Writing Month.  This is day 16.

16th April

I went to Gunnersbury Catholic Grammar School for Boys, in London, for 6 or so years. A survey of the prevalence of corporal punishment in English schools, found that Gunnersbury had the dubious distinction of coming in at number 5 in the top 50!

A Good Catholic Education

Every step away from home

every stop on the train to school

was one of rising fear

of the coming day


of growing doubt that I could

meet their expectations

intensifying exasperation

with my inability to ‘get it right’


of increasing perplexity

about the impending punishment

ever dwindling belief

in what they said I must believe


diminishing faith

in the goodness of their God

increasing realisation of the gulf

between what they were

and what they said they were


every step away from school

every stop on the train home

forged a steely determination

never to be like them.


copyright Mike Hopkins 2012