Sunday 30 May 2010

Rugby and football - Two sports, two different worlds!

I was down in Twickenham yesterday. I went to watch the rugby, it was the Guinness Premiership final between Leicester Tigers and Saracens. It was an entertaining game with Leicester snatching victory at the death 33 - 27.

Although I consider myself a rugby fan, it was only the second live game I've been to. My first game was to watch England v Australia about 18 months ago. As a football fan who's been going to matches for 20 years, watching rugby is a completely different sporting and cultural experience. It seems the two sports will always be polls apart.

There's this huge cultural divide between football and rugby in this country. One which won't be bridged anytime soon. In my own personal experience there's been many occasions where football fans have looked at me almost with contempt as if to say 'What!...You're into rugby?'

You tend to find many people are either for one or the other, with a lot of football fans I know actively hating rugby. I seem to be in that small minority who appreciate both sports but for different reasons.

It's no surprise in this country, you still get that sense of lingering class prejudice that influences the types of sports people like.

One of my friends from work, a self styled 'working class hero' suggested I was abandoning my working class/football roots by going to the game!

For me, the main difference between the two sports is this. Football is the people's game, it always has been and always will be. Rugby on the other hand is the sport of Middle England.

Football is about letting out all your frustrations, showing your tribal instincts for club or region. Rugby is all about self discipline, control and decency. I never heard any bad language on Saturday, everyone's so polite and agreeable which is strange when you consider how aggressive and at times violent rugby is on the pitch.

Sitting on the train from Waterloo down to Twickenham. I looked around the carriage and quickly noticed what I call 'rugby looking people'. It's hard to describe this look, but as a football fan you'll instinctively know who they are because you never see these types at football matches.

About 10 minutes before the train was about to leave, a couple of boozed up lads got on the train. One was wearing an 80s casual style beenie hat with an England St George's cross on it. They were your classic looking football lads.

These lot couldn't be going to the rugby could they?

Seeing as they all had quite strong Cockney accents, I thought perhaps they'd taken the wrong train and got lost on their way to Wembley to watch Millwall v Swindon in the League One Play off final.

But no I was wrong, it turns out they were going to the rugby after all. I sighed to myself as the one cockney lad sat opposite me and next to a classic looking 'rugby type'. I thought this is going to be a very long train journey to Twickenham.

It was actually quite amusing as I watched the football/rugby culture clash unfold right in front of me. I did start laughing to myself when the Cockney lad began chatting to the rugby chap and said without any shame:

'I don't even f*cking understand rugby..Who's playing?'

He later revealed he was a West Ham fan from Essex! How typical!

Before the game I spent a few hours drinking in a various pubs, similar to football. The difference is that at football you tend to drink in town centres, or you end up in a pub in some grimey inner city ghetto! I'm thinking Tottenham or West Ham away here!

At Twickenham I was drinking on the banks of the river Thames! That tells you all you need to know!

We got to the ground about 10 minutes before kick off. I'd decided that as a Midlander I should support Leicester, but I found myself appreciatively clapping whenever Sarecens scored a try or penalty. The whole rugby politeness thing was rubbing off on me.

Even though the game was between Leicester and Saracens, you still had loads of people wearing various rugby shirts for other teams. Some wore England tops, whilst I spotted other club tops for teams like Northampton, Wasps, and Harlequins.

This would be like going to an FA Cup final between Chelsea and Man Utd, but finding that various people in the crowd were wearing Spurs, Villa or Liverpool tops. You know that would never ever happen at football.

I enjoyed the match, although I have to concentrate a lot watching live rugby. You don't have the tv commentary to tell you what's going on, particularly during the scrums and rucks.

It looked like Saracens were heading for victory when they scored a penalty to make the score 27-26 with only 4 minutes to go. But straight from the kick off Leicester went and scored a try that won the game.

Saracens would have been kicking themselves by letting victory slip away, but I don't get the impression that the average Saracens fan was too gutted in the way that most football fans would be.

That's perhaps one of rugby's strengths and weaknesses in comparison to football, in that you don't have that level of intensity in supporting and watching your team.

Football is at times like being on crack cocaine, intense highs and depressing lows and varying points. Something we can look forward to with England in the World Cup next month.

Sometimes I've hated being a football fan. Like many fans, I've been sick of the endless disappointments and frustrations. Watching rugby you'll never really have the same low points as a fan of football.

Occasional I don't mind this lack of emotional intensity with rugby, but then I can't imagine rugby ever giving me the same emotional high as football. Not that I get many highs as a Birmingham City fan!

This isn't a 'which is better? football or rugby post'. I just like the contrast between the two. Football will always be 'the game' for me, but rugby is a good alternative now and again. I'm always learning something new and enjoy the novelty of it all.

If you're one of those football fans that hates rugby, you have to except that rugby is completely different to football and has it's own qualities. If you except that, you might just start liking it a bit.

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