I grew up as a football fan.
As a child, I would go to bed praying that Ian Rush would be struck by a mystery illness and his legs would fall off. My prayers (quite wisely) were never answered and he merrily went on scoring every weekend while my team struggled at the middle of the table. (If it was a good season)
Fast forward and now I couldn’t name the players on ‘my team’ and I don’t even watch the national side.
It’s just not as much fun, maybe it’s the money, maybe it’s the fact the players single-handedly kept the News of The World in headlines for decades, maybe it’s the way it’s billed as a life or death scenario when a manager loses a single game. It’s just not magical anymore.
What has become magical for me is the game of rugby.
I was in Cardiff on Friday night to watch an unbelievable England
performance against Wales, here’s why I’ve swapped games…
Gary Neville claimed not to sing the English anthem at Internationals because he was busy being ‘focused’. As much as this irked me I think I prefer players not to sing if they a. Don’t know the words. b. Can’t muster enthusiasm for our queen & country. c. Just do that miming thing that makes them look like they’ve been the victim of 1970s movie dubbing. The English rugby team know the words, bellowing with passion & the crowd stands up and sings with them.
You may think that it’s inappropriate to talk about drinking as being part of the sporting experience. It’s likely that you’re thinking like a football fan. I couldn’t believe it when at my first rugby match, I was allowed to not only purchase 4 pints at the same time but then take them back to my seat. I kept looking around to see if the stewards were going to confiscate my haul of Guinness. This was before realising the stewards were the only ones not drinking in the stadium, so if they did take it from me it would be for their own personal consumption instead of a risk to public safety. No coins were thrown, no-one was ejected and then the big shock….
Once I had purchased my Guinness and settled into my seat, I turned to the people on my right to find they were Scottish. It was England v Scotland, was I in the wrong end? “There isn’t an end”, my now husband explained, “we all sit together”. My eyes widened? “What about the fighting?”. This question was dismissed with a withering look. Welcome to rugby.
That evening we were the last England fans left with a gang of Scots singing karaoke. Then we went to the pub
together to watch Wales v Ireland and ridicule each other’s sporting records.
When a footballer writhes around on the floor, dives, grasps his ankle as if in the most excruciating pain and then gets up and dazzles with a mazy run/goal/pass, a little bit of me dies.
In rugby, if you stay down after a tackle the crowd holds its collective breath. It’s simple in rugby, you’re either injured or not. There is no pretence.
I had to get to the actual game itself at some point. Here is where it’s difficult to argue if rugby wins out over football. I still think football is beautiful, it’s just it matters more to me now about how a game is played. Rugby is played with crunching passion,
respect for the referee, discipline, and love for your team & country. Now that’s the beautiful game.