Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I like rugby

In total contrariety to a lot of Welsh football fans, I also like rugby. As a general reaction to rugby's political aggression in Wales, and its perceived dominance of our sportpages and airways, some of the most committed football supporters actively despise the game.

I have been in pubs where otherwise patriotic men have been urging the Welsh national rugby team to defeat. It is a particularly unedifying and spiteful action in my eyes, but many have good reason for this antipathy.

The Welsh male is born into a macho, bravura culture, particular in the industrial areas of South Wales. In the early twentieth century, rugby was one of the few areas of life where Welsh men could take some minor form of revenge against their English paymasters, and the sport took a hold on the public conscience which it has never relinquished. Whereas the sport in the rest of the UK was the playground of the well-bred, Welsh rugby was a socialist free for all. It was the game of the people, and despite all its official failings, there are systems in place to make sure that rugby maintains its spurious claim as the country's national sport.

If you go to the wrong school in Wales, you will never see a football, let alone play an organised match. Many schools operate a rugby-only policy, and foster a resentment in football afficianados that will remain for life. Even in schools where football is offered, it is seen as the poor relation to rugby. I well remember in my own school, which counts Toshack and Ledley as alumni, that only the rugby results were read out in assembly, and the rugby stars were feted by the headmaster.

Moving on to adult life, the young football fan will be shocked to find the Western Mail devoting pages and pages to Nantyglo v Brynamman, while the Welsh Premier league is ignored and the Welsh football team is paid lip service.

It has long been a sore point that BBC Wales appoints its heads of sport from the legions of retired Welsh international rugby players. Tactically, the BBC knows that it needs to keep the WRU on side, as the rugby contracts are crucial to its strategy. Ironically, one of Welsh football's biggest supporters in recent years has been Arthur Emyr, who introduced the FAW Premier Cup and increased the football output of the BBC, some say to his personal cost. Arthur is still seen regularly at Ninian Park.

Notwithstanding all of this political and social turmoil, I like rugby. I like watching the players sacrifice themselves physically in the cause of victory. And before Neil Back, Matt Dawson and that arsehole Louis Deacon, I used to like their attitude. And perhaps, most importantly, opposition rugby fans positively welcome their visitors. I have heard all the arguments in this respect, about the number of arrests on international day, but when it comes down to it, I have never had a crowd of rugby fans waiting to attack me at the end of the game.

Unfortunately, I don't have a club team. I grew up in Gilfach Goch, one of the thousands of small Welsh mining villages where rugby dominates the sporting landscape. Football has failed in Gilfach Goch due to the smothering success of the rugby team. The rugby club is a focal point of the village, and as a result, it has achieved success and status way beyond its population. In North Wales, it is the other way round. Young rugby players need to travel to one of the major towns to find a club. So I look out for Gilfach's results, but I haven't watched them play in years.

The devastating regionalisation of Welsh rugby has taken away the Celtic Warriors, my only connection with top flight competition. I now watch and support all the Welsh regions on television, but it is an empty support since the WRU wiped out top class rugby in the valleys for commercial reasons. And since they blocked promotion for North Wales sides, they have effectively sectioned off the top tier of the amateur game, now reserved for South Wales only. How can this be a National sport ?

So I now concentrate fully on the Welsh national side. You can say what you like, but an international is a great day out. And I watch every Wales home game. When the Autumn internationals were announced I bought a couple of season tickets and made arrangements to travel down to Cardiff four weekends in a row.

Which is why I was disappointed to see that Cardiff City have arranged two fixtures in direct competition with the rugby. We are playing Burnley and QPR at the very time that Wales will play The Pacific Isles and Canada.

Some football fans will be delighted that the club is taking on the rugby establishment, but some of us have a difficult decision to make. It can only be to City's detriment that a few thousand floaters will be watching the rugby at home, or at the Millennium Stadium. If the kickoffs were staggered, then I for one, would choose to go to both matches. As it stands, I have my season ticket, and I will be at the rugby.

The loyalists argument will be that Cardiff comes above everything else. I sympathise wholeheartedly with that stance. But in these days of high attendances, the casual visitor is just as crucial to fill the ground as the committed diehard. If you want a new stadium these are the people who will fill it. But the club has decided against accommodating the rugby, and many potential attendees will be avoiding Ninian Park for those two fixtures at least.


Anonymous said...

Wales play Canada on a friday night 17th November

Matt said...

Wales play canada on Friday 17th nov in the evening!!

Anonymous said...




Eric the Red said...

Yes, I know. Cardiff City play QPR at home on the same Friday evening.

Gary said...

I thought you might have seen the light ater moving to God's-own rugby free republics of north Wales, Eric.

Cymru am Byth said...

I despise the game. Will be happy to support Australia, New Zealand and the Easter Islands or whoever when they play the egg chasers. Sick to death of all the crap we have to suffer when the Welsh thugby team play. We are a pathetic little nation to even consider this 'sport' as our national game. I mean apart from the Commonwealth countries and one or two others hardly any self respecting nation takes it seriously.