I’ve heard many people describe our boozer as a sports bar or, more specifically, football pub. I disagree, but I can see where they’re coming from. We’re big on football, this is undeniable. We’re big on football because I’m a huge football fan and I believe that my passion for the game if not spills over to the punters, at least attracts like-minded people to the pub. We show other sports too, but it’s rare that we’re busy for anything other than football. The exception to this is England rugby matches. Only England, not other nations and certainly not club rugby.
So the story goes, in 1823 – around 4,300 years after football was first played by those clever Egyptians – a little rich smartarse at Rugby school called William Webb Ellis – who was probably crap at football – decided to pick up the ball and run with it. Now I don’t know about your school, but if someone did that at my school then they would’ve got back from their lunch break looking very different from how they entered it. I’m guessing young William was chased by the rest of the team, tackled to the ground and the ball wrested from his grasp whilst being punched, kicked and stamped on.
Rugby was born.
Now I may be being a little harsh on our second in line for the crown of National Sport here but it’s borne of frustration. I quite like watching rugby and cheer on with the bellies when England are playing. I know the rules (I played it at school when I couldn’t avoid it); I understand when people say “we need to recycle the ball better in the second phase” – alright, I actually don’t know what that means, but a friend of mine taught me it by way of making me sound knowledgeable. It works because very few people around you know what it means either.
My frustration comes from the football-baiters – those incessantly comparing the two sports. Fans, refereeing and sportsmanship are the favourite drums banged to the beat of this elitist smuggery: “pah! Bloody fairies rolling around like they’ve been shot. Try a real man’s game.”
Sexism and homophobia apart, it’s the simplistic nature of this type of argument that bugs me. I’ve got into many heated discussions over it and it’s the same thing every time:
“look at how they respect the officials.”
“you don’t see trouble at rugby matches”
And of course that old classic: “rugby is a game for hooligans played by gentlemen; football a game for gentlemen played by hooligans” – if i ever meet in heaven the person who first said that I will poke them in the eye.
It’s a shame that these people have put me off a sport that I used to enjoy watching, but it’s a fact that they have.
The main differences between rugby and football are simple. It’s a class thing and it’s a passion thing.
A game at Twickenham is a sea of barber jackets; everyone, quite inexplicably, drinks Guinness and very few people let the result ruin their evening. Relations are almost always good natured and trouble is rare.
Football is different. The barbers are replaced by Stone Island; flat caps by Burberrys and Guinness by cans of Stella.
This may sound like a change for the worse, but it’s the tribalism and working class atmosphere that appeals to many; myself included.
I love the edge to match days and, unlike most rugby games, the result nearly always matters. As a Spurs, Torquay and England fan, I reckon I have between five and ten nights a year utterly ruined by my favourite sport. So much so, in fact, that I often question whether it’s worth it. Even if I decided it wasn’t, it wouldn’t matter – I’m in. I’m stuck with my gloriously useless teams and I must endure them at their worst and, all too rarely, their best.
This passion is replicated in almost every nation on earth. Football is the only true global sport and there’s a reason for that – It’s the beautiful game. I doubt rugby could ever be described thus, and if it were, it would only be seen as such by a handful of mainly Commonwealth countries.
To those whose feathers I have ruffled with this, I apologise, but if you had to have this conversation on an almost daily basis then you would understand my ire.
I’ll leave you with a wonderful quote from an American visitor’s observations (mainly from visiting English pubs) on all things English: “In England football is a religion. Religion is a sport.”
He didn’t even mention rugby.