Last Updated on March 10, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1088
It is several minutes before the end of the first half of the match. The players are out on the field. Harry is between tasks and ready for the return of the players when half-time begins. Thornton and Mackendrick have come down from Thornton’s office upstairs, with alcohol-fortified tea. They both drink heavily during the game. Harry does not drink.
Harry has been criticizing the current team as weak. He almost brags that he has never watched them play (though he does listen to the game intently on the loudspeakers, when no one else is around, so he does have loyalty to the team). He thinks that rugby teams of the past were much tougher than modern teams, and he generally extols how much better things were in the old days.
Mackendrick disagrees strongly:
Mackendrick: Washed i’ bloody buckets, then…et dripping instead o’ bloody meat…urinated by an hedge…God Christ, bloody houses were nobbut size o’ this—seven kiddies, no bloody bath: no bed…fa’ther out o’ work as much as not…
Harry: There’s many as living like that right now!
Mackendrick: Aye. And there’s a damn sight more as not.
Thornton: I never knew you had strong feelings, Mac.
Mackendrick: About one or two bloody things I have.
So, the men are arguing about class politics, social conditions, and economics in England in 1971. Harry thinks times were generally better for everyone in the past; Mackendrick thinks that modern times are much better.
Later in the same conversation, Thornton, who is now pretty drunk, confides in Harry and Mackendrick:
Thornton: Nay, I’m on nobody’s bloody side, old lad…I had a dream the other night… I was telling Cliff afore the match… I came up here to watch a match…looked over at the tunnel…know what I saw run out? (Laughs.) Bloody robots. (Laughs again.) And up in the bloody box were a couple of fellers, just like Danny, flicking bloody switches…twisting knobs. (Laughs.) I laugh now. I wok up in a bloody sweat, I tell you.
Roar from the crowd, applause.
Noises off: boots, shouting.
Thornton: Ay up. Ay up. (Springs up.)
Harry: You’ll wake up one day…I’ve telled you…You’ll wek up one day…You’ll find it’s bloody well too late.
Thornton’s nightmare is a future that is automated: his rugby players are all robots being controlled by someone from a booth, and the whole thing is being played for the crowds mechanically rather than by live humans. When he says he is “on nobody’s bloody side,” he is referring to the earlier conversation between Harry and Mackendrick. Thornton will sit on the fence when it comes to debates about economics and politics, and he tells Harry more than once that he doesn’t agree with Harry’s strong opinions about poor people and social problems in England.
As the team approaches from the field, Thornton springs up and readies himself to meet the players. But Harry, angered by the conversation, warns Thornton that the writing is on the wall. “You’ll find it’s bloody well too late,” is a warning—though whether Harry is talking about a revolution in England or an invasion from Russia is unclear. What is clear is that Harry sees bad times coming, one way or the other, and they are going to fall on everyone, including Sir Frederick Thornton.
The team rushes in, makes a big mess in the locker room, gets ready for the second half of the game, and rushes out again. Harry is left with more of a mess to clean up. As Harry works, the medic and masseuse for the team, Luke, packs up his equipment and gets ready to re-join the players on the field.
As the two men share the locker room for a few minutes, Luke is curious and has questions for Harry. He asks if it is true that Harry never bets on the team or on horses. Harry tells him he does not.
Luke: What do you do in your spare time, then?
Harry: I don’t have any spare time.
Luke: What do you do when you’re not up here, then?
Harry: I’m alus up here.
Luke: Sleep up here, then, do you?
Luke raises head, listens: packs his bag.
Harry: I sleep at home.
Luke: Where’s home?
Harry: Home’s in our house. That’s where home is.
Luke: A damn good place to have it, lad.
Harry: Bloody keep it theer, an’ all.
Luke is making conversation and seems interested in finding out more about Harry; Harry is not interested in making conversation and likes to keep his personal life separate from his life with the rugby team. Though he admits he spends a lot of time working, he also mentions “our house,” which suggests he has a partner and possibly a family. But he wants to “bloody keep it theer.” Luke presses on, asking if it’s true that Harry has never watched a match. Harry tells him that it is true. Luke is annoyed.
Luke: They ought to set thee on a pair o’ bloody rails.
(Goes over to the door.)
Harry: Most jobs you get: they’re bloody nowt…(Luke pauses at the door.) Don’t know what they work for…
Harry: Not any more. Not like it was…
Luke: Well, thy works for the bloody club.
Harry: I work for Sir Frederick, lad: for nob’dy else. (Luke looks across at him.) I mun run the bloody bath. (He goes.)
Luke is outraged by Harry’s apparent lack of loyalty to the team, thinking someone ought to kick him out, to set him on a pair of rails and get him out of town. Harry doesn’t care about the team (or so he tells Luke, though he actually follows the games when no one else is watching him), and he definitely doesn’t care about Luke’s angry opinion about him. He refers once more to how things once were—for Harry, things were always better in the past. But Harry reveals his strongest loyalty—he is loyal to his friend, Sir Frederick. He feels that he works for Thornton and for nobody else, and that is good enough for him. He heads off to run the bath, and Luke heads back to the rugby game. It does not appear the men are destined to be friends.