Today I wish to offer a small salute to Ugo Monye who has just announced that he would be retiring from rugby at the end of the season after thirteen years as a one-club Harlequins man.
Let’s get the stats out of the way first. He has his 32nd birthday coming up on 13th April. Having made his club debut as a wing threequarter in 2002, thus far he’s amassed 237 appearances for Quins (scoring 87 tries for 435 points), 14 caps for England (2 tries for 10 points) and 2 for the British and Irish Lions (1 try for 5 points) on the 2009 tour of South Africa. According to the club website, this season he stands 6 feet 2 and weighs 14 stone 3 pounds (or, as rugby likes it, 91kg).
Inevitably, however, statistics tell you but a fraction of the man, any man.
In this case, in a Quins context, I personally feel a particular empathy for Ugo because I have watched and enjoyed his entire career – from callow youth, to full-blown international class pocket battleship, and more latterly to iconic folk hero making occasional cameo appearances – from the stands.
He began life as a stick-thin kid with spikey hair and blistering pace – one who could skin his opposite number any one of three ways he could chose in a millisecond – and first gained national prominence with the England Sevens squad.
He wasn’t just an attacking rapier either – his defence was always strong – and, as his career developed, so did his physique.
At his zenith – between 2007 and 2012 – he was a consummate international wing threequarter, though perhaps his occasional ball-control lapses require that ultimately he must be judged to be a fraction below true world class. Two instances, both in 2009, stand out – he had a calamitous afternoon when, for some reason that escapes me, England picked him to play full back against Argentina in an autumn international and then he butchered finishing off a try in a British Lions test match in South Africa and lost his place in the next one to Ireland’s Luke Fitzgerald.
When it comes to it, at the end of the day what matters is the respect and affection that a player prompts amongst the supporters. Under this heading, for Quins, Ugo Monye scores as high as anyone I can think of in the English Premiership since it began.
We Quins supporters love Ugo and he reciprocates. You can tell he’s a genuine team man, through and through, and he’ll always take time to talk to the fans.
Even as his career has been winding down these past two seasons – he’s spent as much time being injured and making television pundit appearances as he has on the pitch – he’s the biggest hero we have.
It’s been a staple now for a decade that whenever he intervenes in a game, e.g. to make some impressive hit; or to plough straight into two or three would-be tacklers; or to field a ball with twenty yards or more in which to build up a head of steam, or just to jog ten yards to dot down a try in the corner, a huge cry of “UUUUUUGGGGGGGGOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH!” swells from all corners of the Stoop.
It’s a strange irony that sometimes when this happens a minority of uncommitted or opposition spectators on hand can tend to get a bit sniffy, thinking somehow the Quins fans are making a racist monkey noise. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Ugo is a fan’s player – and always will be, retired or not.
To finish, if my readers have the time, they should try linking to this video available on YouTube, for a small taste of what I’m referring to – MONYE TRIBUTE