The day Lions skipper Paul O’Connell took my trousers down
Posted on 20 June 2009 | 11:06am
I thought that might grab some attention as Mr O’C prepares to lead out the Lions in South Africa, and I promise I will come on to the debagging incident in a moment.
But first a brief message from Jane Appleton, she of the ‘let’s raise 50k in memory of AC’s friend Henry Hodge’ who died from leukaemia this week, shortly after I launched a plan to get 50 donations of 50k to celebrate Leukaemia Research’s fiftieth anniversary.
Jane, in a posting on yesterday’s blog, reminds us that it is Father’s Day tomorrow, that Henry’s children will be feeling the loss all the more, and she asks that all my regulars give just a few pounds at www.justgiving.com/alastaircampbell. Please.
So to Mr O’Connell and the British and Irish Lions.
I must admit to a strong ‘wish I was there’ feeling this morning, there being Durban, scene of the First Test against South Africa. Even though we lost all three Tests when I travelled as the Lions’ media and communications advisor to New Zealand four years ago, and the rugby press tried at times to emulate the Westminster press in their desire to give me a kicking, it was a fantastic experience. Fair to say I made few if any friends among the media, but lots among the players, coaches and management, many of whom I still keep in touch with.
Indeed, two of my favourite people (from any walk of life) are in key positions today, O’Connell as second row forward and captain, the unbelievably nice Stephen Jones at half back. Three more of my favourite people are on the bench, Ronan O’Gara and Donncha O’Callaghan from Ireland, Martyn Williams from Wales.
Martyn, Stephen Jones and Shane WIlliams were star guests at a Labour fundraiser I helped organise, when the prize of a training day with Wales came only behind a day with Man United, and a place on the Burnley bench – I got that one – in the auction.
As for Donncha, if you have heard me doing after dinner speeches, he is a regular feature, particularly the story of when he followed me into the gents’ with a TV camera, filmed me having a pee, demanding to know whether I washed my hands after the event, filming me doing so, then asked me if Tony Blair washed his hands after he had a pee. When I said he did, back came the reply ‘No he does not – because that was your job!’
When Donncha was made captain for the final warm-up match, he texted me to say he was pulling rank now, and ordering me out to South Africa … ‘it is boring without you,’ he said ‘the press are all writing about rugby for God’s sake … and who do we blame this time if it all goes wrong? The chef?’ I hope he, Ronan and Martyn get on for a spell today.
And so … the debagging? We had just unveiled the full squad to the world’s media in our Auckland hotel. Organising 44 grown men, with an awful lot of energy in them, to sit in the right place and do and say the right thing, was no mean feat, but we just about did it. It went according to plan. Head coach Clive Woodward and his top table panel fielded all the questions well. It was a good event.
So out we trooped … and as we did so suddenly I was aware of large hands fumbling around my backside and waistline. Then I was aware of loud laughter, and large men scattering in different directions, before seconds later being aware that my Lions tracksuit bottoms were down by my ankles.
How lucky am I that of the dozens of cameramen hanging around, none were quick enough to capture the moment before I managed to pull them back up?
I joined in the laughter, because you cannot take yourself too seriously with a bunch of rugby players. But then moments later, I realised there was an altogether more worrying problem. My blackberry had gone AWOL.
Now this was not long after the 2005 election for which I had returned to help TB for six months prior to joining the Lions. But we were still in touch, and there were some pretty sensitive messages and documents on there. But of course nobody would admit to having it.
I don’t mind admitting … I was in a panic. Eventually I had to plead with the security guys to put the fear of God into the players that if they did not hand it over pretty quickly, the chances are they would not be facing the All Blacks, but men in black from the security services charging into their bedrooms at night to retrieve my blackberry.
Eventually, the truth emerged. O’Connell had debagged. Hooker Steve Thompson had made off with the blackberry. To date, there is no evidence they have used any of the information that was on the blackberry. As Matt Dawson assured me at the time, they probably didn’t know how to work it. But I have learned this … if ever you’re wearing a tracksuit, tie the lace at the top of the trousers, very tightly indeed.
Meanwhile, good luck to them today. I can vividly remember the tension and excitement on the day of the first Test match. I would put it up there in my top ten anticipatory moments. What it must be like for a player I can only imagine, but I really hope they win. I’ll wearing my lucky tracksuit bottoms, the ones with the ripped pocket where the blackberry used to be.