Parliament

Jonah

I flicked a pass between two defenders and my teammate scored.

Literally punching the air, I woke up. It was only a dream.

Having not played football for a month, I was missing the rush of scoring or winning (it’s not a regular occurence even when I do play).

But as the after-glow from an imagined win subsided, I turned to face my phone and the reality of another day.

“Lomu has died aged 40. At least we had the chance to see him”

A message from my dad. I started crying.

It was barely half seven on a Wednesday morning and I had hardly stirred from my unconscious and victorious slumber when the whatsapp message hit me in a way Jonah would’ve been proud.

I kept crying.

In 1995 my family moved to West Auckland on the whim of my mum and instead of facing the concrete tower blocks of a Southampton secondary school, I was confronted by open playing fields.

Instead of real football, they chased after something more egg-shaped.

I was a super-pale, Anglo-accented kid with glasses so the last place I should be was on the rugby pitch and as expected, I took to it like a leaden blimp.

Don’t get me wrong, I tackled maybe one or two of the smaller kids, but each player’s dexterity and knowledge of the game, even at that young age, was incredible.

This is where I first realised the reality; rugby is to New Zealand as football is to England.

If I’m completely honest, I would’ve struggled to give you the names of any England rugby players of the time (still amateur amazingly).

Will Carling was the bottom-chinned captain.

There was Peter Winterbottom, who I remember because his name had bottom in it.

And the Underwood brothers whose mum seemed to be as famous as they were.

Unfortunately English class stereotypes prevailed and I didn’t really get rugby.

That was until I saw a giant in black rampage over one, two and then three opponents in white and before slamming the ball down in one of the most iconic moment that the sport had had ever seen.

He wasn’t a man, he was a monster who could devour men and teams in a single fend or a step off the left foot.

A freak, a monstrosity, a six foot five and nineteen stone monolith who could run 100 metres in just over ten seconds.

But as me and my brothers stood outside little more than a picket fence after a game at Counties Manukau in South Auckland, Jonah stood and signed every single piece of memorabilia placed in front of him.

For us it was a cheap rugby ball bought from the local Warehouse and grass-stained where we had thrown in around.

I was barely a teenager, my brothers were even smaller. In front of us, All Black and Canterbury legend Andrew Mehrtens was playing second fiddle to the huge softly-spoken man with “11” shaved into his eyebrow.

I swear Lomu was four times my height and double as wide but he talked to me like me like I was his best friend and signed our ball before moving politely on to the next fans.

I asked my mum to cook taro so I could be like Jonah but it wasn’t enough (taro also tastes absolutely horrendous).

No one was like him. Nobody ever will be.

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