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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Rugby sorts the beaus from the Barbarians

This article was written by Dylan Jones and was published in last weekend’s Live magazine. I felt I should share it with you

With thugs and cheats as ‘role models', it's no wonder football fans can't compete with rugby's more refined supporters

We had only been at Twickenham for about 45 minutes but my friend Ian and I had already devoured four fairly serious pasties and four decidedly full pints of lager between us. We were slightly early for England v South Africa and thought we'd make the most of our protracted lunch. We had toyed with the idea of wolfing down a couple of large VATs and some gourmet sausages, but figured we could bulk up with those at half-time.
Having not been to a rugby match for a couple of years, I'd forgotten what a thoroughly gentrified sport it is. Not in a corporate entertaining way (where you simply drink your entire bodyweight in champagne while watching something, anything, on a large TV in a tent), but in a car park way.
Here there was a seemingly endless parade of vans selling everything from steak-and-stilton pies and organic lamb cutlets to chilled Guinness and drinkable claret. Plus -and frankly this is most men's idea of Guy Heaven - you had extremely pretty 18-year-old girls wandering around with backpacks full of ice-cold beer. How good was that?
There was booze everywhere. It didn't matter how much people drank because there wasn't going to be a fight - people at a rugby match know that it's only a game, after all.
Inside the stadium there were 80,000 men and women embracing the event, not scream¬ing at each other in venal gladiatorial ecstasy. People said, 'Excuse me,' as they squeezed past to the bar, only to be met by a volley of, ‘You're more than welcome' responses. And when we heard Iggy Pop's Lust For Life blast¬ing over the public address system after a conversion, it felt like a celebration rather than a call to arms.

You tell me why the St George's Cross seems a lot less incendiary when it's waved at a rugby match.
Should any of us be surprised? If football has become all about what you can get away with, rugby is, thankfully, still all about abid¬ing by the rules. If the referee rules against a football player, the entire team is contractu¬ally obliged to crowd around the official, shouting and swearing and intimidating him until he changes his mind or someone gets sent off. In rugby, the player simply does as he's told (there is rarely a sense of injustice), and his team accepts the decision, and if it doesn't, it is penalised by ten yards. (I think it's called sport.)
How can you expect the assembled throng to behave with any decorum when the gladi¬ators on the pitch show no respect to anyone or anything except their ludicrous weekly wages? (And make no mistake, footballers don't respect the people who pay them, only the money itself.)
Football has all the money, TV coverage and patronage of the media classes, yet it is becom¬ing uglier by the day. Sometimes used to point out the difference between rugby union and rugby league, it used to be said that football was a game played by gentlemen and watched by thugs, and that rugby was a game played by thugs and watched by gentlemen, butI haven't seen a gentleman on a football pitch for a longtime, and even then he was probably only there to sing the national anthem.

But it's simply a class thing, you while football is enjoyed by oiks, rugby is celebrated by toffs. But that's not the case at all. Never has been. The Pontyberem rugby team, who I saw lose at home to Brynamman in the division five (West) of the Welsh National League the last time I went to Wales, are not supported by the landed gentry, or even estate agents, come to that. And the mums and dads and kids in logo-bearing sportswear
didn't go on the rampage through town when their team lost that day. They simply went to the pub and drowned their sorrows with eight or nine pints before having a big old singsong.
And unlike the homo erecti at Stamford Bridge, Upton Park or Anfield, the crowd in Twickenham did not look like they have been sent from Thugs R Us, with shaven heads, tattoos, abusive T-shirts and a litany of profanity on call should it be necessary (apparently, it's always necessary).

No. at Twickenham I didn't hear tne ‘C’ word all afternoon. In fact, I'd forgotten how polite rugby supporters could be, even when there were 80,000 of them in a stadium, almost all of them cheering on the home team.
In some respects, going to a rugby match is like visiting the Isle Of Wight, because every thing sort of feels and looks like you hope it did 50 years ago. Apart from the organic pasties and the ice-cold lager, of course which Ian and I were knocking back like they were going out of fashion (temporarily forgetting that where rugby is concerned nothing ever goes out of fashion). And the drunker we got, the happier we became .
After the game, as we slowly strolled towards the stairs, I accidentally walked into a tipsy twentysomething Springbok supporter. 'Excuse me,' I said, rhetorically
'After you,' he said. 'After all, you won’
Which is exactly what happened to me the last time I saw an England game at Wembley. And if you believe that you’ll believe anything.

Anyone fancy a steak-and-stilton pie? I know I do.

Dylan Jones editor of GQ


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