Breaking the Other Code

Premiership Rugby Football, Big Game 6
Harlequins FC v Exeter Chiefs RC
Saturday, 28th December 2013, 4pm
Twickenham
Entrance £28 (£11 concession), Programme £5
Distance 7 miles, Attendance 74827
I’ve seen this before, this BIG GAME hullabaloo; the choreographed whoops and cheers and enforced hoopla. In this the activity is irrelevant; when a club side of any size plays in a national stadium, the same level of interest and issues are created.

131228 Big Game 6 (11)b

Harlequins are – by rugby standards – a big club, I think (well many about me seem to have a penchant for them). The kit might look like a WI patchwork quilt however, they’ve a long history, an ever growing trophy cabinet and, whilst other “London” clubs are running for the Home Counties, Harlequins do keep a tidy home, located neatly in a very middleclass enclave, in the South West of this great city.
Being slightly more familiar with them (I feel I can say this now we’ve met, in the flesh), “Quins” are – if popular myths are to be believed – what every [insert adjective] parent hopes for their offspring’s sporting interest. The thing is I couldn’t give two hoots about popular myths, nor the sweeping generalisations regarding the two great footballing codes. Whilst I’ve been watching rugby for over two years, I’ve been going to football for decades; one code is “mine”; the other just remains mystifying.
Every Sunday morning, throughout the dark months, I’m battered by the elements as my son intermittently enjoys the endeavours of playing this his chosen sport. Somewhat proudly I can report that the U12s boys have improved beyond all recognition this season whilst I on the other hand, have seemingly only honed new techniques to avoid getting sucked into “rugger” conversations. Two bloody long years and still I’m clueless but… anyone want tea or coffee?
Anyhow, back to the hoopla. Out of an increasingly busy train, round the station barricade maze and, across the roundabout on a quick stroll down Whitton Road, towards the big concrete and metal thing in the distance. As stadiums go, from the outside, Twickenham’s only major adjective is BIG. It’s so big that the only thing in proportion with it is the imposing statue on the near corner. Usually number one son enquires of the possibility of living nearer to stadia (which I correctly point out mum wouldn’t really like) but even he could see the disadvantages of being a Twickenham local on match day. Some residents may have set up grills in the front gardens to make the best of the situation and earn a few shekels but, everyone else might as well have gone away for the weekend.
131228 Big Game 6 (13)bArriving at the stadium, under said massive statue, we observed a somewhat unique musical interlude as we waited for the rest of our party to arrive. “Why he playing a banjo like Lemmy?” enquired mini-me. My mouth opened momentarily but nothing came out. Unable to find a suitable answer, I shrugged and vainly distracted him, pointing out how contented the band appeared to have found outfits with more colours than Quins shirts. After discussing the merits and contribution of each instrument to the overall sound (rock tunes with a trad. jazz leaning), we strolled off, via the programme seller to the turnstiles, passing the museum and a myriad of squaw-less “chiefs” fans in full regalia en route.
Though there seemed little chance either of us would be donning costumes today, our sides were set; whereas I once studied in Devon’s fair city, my son had been to The Stoop and seen Quins before. Affording us both a view of Quins, a swift bag search was followed by an escalator ride to the middle tier, where our seats – ticking all the boxes – were within easy walk of both the bar and the West Cornwall Pasty place. Out in the stadium, the Military Wives Choir were tripping through a few ditties before we were “treated” to the people I’ve spent months avoiding, the XFactor finalists. The most complimentary thing I could report for this juncture was a sincere desire that the Military Wives be returned for an encore. Instead the musical warm-up reached its crescendo as some impersonator offered us “his” interpretation of Manfred Mann singing Bob Dylan.
131228 Big Game 6 (36)bMusical interlude over, the announcer YELLED FROM THE PA, pyrotechnics scorched the air as fireworks flew from the roof and, the teams ran out to an indistinguishable fanfare. Even I (I think), from the league table, could tell this match up was tight; going into the game Exeter were fourth and Quins sixth. Before the flag waving had ceased, the ball had been hoofed downfield. (Whatever is recorded next should not be taken as gospel, remember I know bugger all about rugby’s rules).
131228 Big Game 6 (38)Indian chants broke out to our left as Exeter enjoyed some good early possession but within 3 minutes, they’d lost the ball and, Quins swift movement set up Nick Evans for a try down the right. Stupidly ignoring the fact we all had a perfect view in this stadium, the BIG SCREEN screamed us that try was SUCCESSFUL as Evans converted (a term I’m still confused about). The PA then continued unabashed as it/he implored us to stay in our seats at halftime as we could win something-or-other in the interval. A word of advice to the organisers: if you want to keep fans interested in your sponsor-lead tombola, make sure the prize is as mouth-watering as the pasties.
Prompting a spate of inflatable hatchet waving, Gareth Steenson’s penalty put the visitors temporarily back in the game. “7-3” the announcer blandly informed all before shamelessly yelling “COME ON YOU QUINS!” into our ears. Obviously also put off by his shouting either, Quins’ Evans missed a couple of kicks as the game evened out. “YEE-AS” came a west country drawl from behind us as the second went wide, before continuing with a lilt I haven’t heard since ’89… “COME ON EX-ET-UR!” The Chiefs didn’t hear him.
131228 Big Game 6 (41)Instead good handling by Quins saw a perfect pass from Matt Hooper to Charlie Walker, who deftly sidestepped a tackle and sped over for the second try. Some humming and hahhing ensued before the try was awarded, Evans struck the post and, big chief Jack Nowell was sin-binned (no idea what for). A man up before the break, Quins increased their lead on the counter attack; Mike Brown scored beneath the post making Evans breath-easier as he only had to convert from close range. The home fans whooped with delight to LOUD MUSIC whilst, my son and I sprinted off for the most expensive pasty EVER.
The second half’s scoring was reduced to 3 points a-piece. The game wasn’t worse; the teams just cancelled each other out. Exeter kicked off, Nowell returned late from the sin bin (had he been there throughout the break?), 131228 Big Game 6 (54)Steenson scored, the ball moved to and fro and, back and forth, subs came and went and, trainers seemed remarkably more frequent than the mustard strides I’d seen outside. In amongst the on-pitch action, cheering the boys somewhat a Mexican wave rode clockwise round the stands, pockets of footballesque chants broke out and, the dads with me tried to explain the rules surrounding kicking the ball off the pitch (something about 22s, the kicker’s position, bounces and a trailing wind).
Avoiding the inevitable station crush, we all nipped off early; dodging the throngs and burger stalls we soon found ourselves back on the train home, deep in conversation about the day out, the boys to my right, the dads to my left.
Unremarkably – if you know of my love of live sport and music – I was truly glad I watched the other code live for this, my first time. I’ve still no clue about the rules, nor any idea why Twickenham Station is tagged the “Home of England Rugby” and not the “Home of English Rugby” but I’m thankful for the sporting experience. It wasn’t as personal as watching our sons on a Sunday mornings and didn’t drag me in emotionally but, the speed of the game was magnificent at times; in the swift passing and movement off the ball, Harlequins were deadly in the first period but as I said, such BIG GAMES incur the same level of interest and issues.
131228 Big Game 6 (32)bTwickenham is – like the new Wembley Stadium – very impressive (if you like big concrete structures). Strangely I find them quite impersonal. The view is excellent but the distance from the toil is vast. I want to be up close enough to hear the abuse flying between the dugouts, to see the hats readjusted after rucks; I just want the sport. The hoopla you can shove where the sun don’t shine (and I mean you Wembley too). Don’t tell me when to SHOUT and cheer, don’t make me wave a flag unless its mine, don’t fill the stadium with so much smoke I can’t see kick off, don’t flash advertising at eye level during the match its distracting and, don’t EVER try to sell me a bloody half’n’half scarf; sport is partisan, let me enjoy it. I’ve now doubt it would have been far better as a sporting spectacle (for me and everyone else) at The Stoop but this is the media’s age. They want all that hullabaloo to satisfy both the advertisers and their customers.
Leaving the stadium I felt just as I have after leaving Ice Hockey, racing or a night at the dogs. The experience was good, I’m glad I seen it now, but when it comes to longevity it just wasn’t mine. There is no problem with rugby, though there were more stoppages than I had imagined. It’s not better or worse than “my” football. The fans are no better behaved despite what the blinkered ones might insist and the idiots that berate the opposite code are little more than tragically puerile.

131228 Big Game 6 (45)b

“Our” sport, like our politics is heavily influence by our upbringing. Thanks to a sport-mad Granddad I fell in love with football at a young age; rugby just wasn’t in the family. Like any of us, I have no doubt it could have been any sport and/or any team and, I’d have been totally sucked in however, in our family football (and I mean Watford) did and still does rule. That said I will be happily back in the elements, cheering on Esher U12s because that is my son’s choice and I will support him and his team mates all the way. It fairly unlikely I’ll understand what they are doing but – to use football parlance – they are by far the greatest (rugby) team the world has ever seen.
This entry was posted in 2013-2014, Premiership Rugby and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Breaking the Other Code

  1. hopticklist says:

    Interesting! As a League fan, I’m intending to dip my toe for the first time towards RU in Jan, I will report back!

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