When I was six, I dressed up as Jonah Lomu for a fancy dress. I say I was six because that is the age I always attribute to such events – How old was I when I first milked a cow? I was six and I used to stand on a bucket. How old was I when I first drove a tractor? Six, but I was nine when I crashed into the slatted shed, etc, etc – but in this case accurate as it was during or slightly after the 95 World Cup. I donned my most tasteful blackface (Wait, did he just say blackface? Yes, I did. It was small-town, 90s Ireland and racial sensitivity hadn’t been invented yet) using shoe polish that I found in the mystical “fourth drawer” – every house in 90s Ireland had one of those. I was resplendent in my all-black jersey (old t shirt) complete with football boots. We even managed to salvage an old American Football (it is beyond me why we had one of those at the time) and I looked the part. There was no way I could lose this fancy dress.
So anyway, I lost the fancy dress. After much parading around in a circle at Moylough football pitch and the announcer getting my name wrong – Johnny Lomo – I was still massively confident of taking home the gold to Ballinastack. I lost out to three stupid girls in their 30s – they were probably 10 but felt far too fucking old to be competing against the likes of me. What were they dressed as, Joe? Were they at least deserving of the honour?
They were dressed just like me, three all-black rugby players complete with pasty white faces, long ponytails and a distinct lack of a ball of any kind under their arm. And they beat me! The worst part is, because this happened in Moylough, I probably know these girls and have been harbouring resentment against them for years now without either party knowing it. Maybe this particular fancy dress was rigged. Maybe it was too early in Lomu’s career for people to know that he was about to change the face of rugby. Or maybe, just maybe, the people of Moylough weren’t ready for a six year old child in blackface.
Much like myself on that fateful day, Lomu was ahead of his time. He was rugby’s first global superstar. The people of Moylough may not have known who he was on that day but as they say on The Wall in Game of Thrones where they dress all in black too, “We shall never see his like again.” RIP Johnny Lomo