This is one of those blogs that are hard to write, not, for a change, because I need to do research, but becasue it lays my feelings bare for all to see, and I usually end up getting abused on Twitter over it..... however, that, on this occasion, would help to clarify the points I make!!! So read on, and when you're about to Tweet me your disagreements, just remember, you're proving me right!
Seems these days, rugby fans are a-changing.
Law changes = Fans take to social media to moan.
Bad run of form = Fans take to social media to moan.
On the bad end of a decision = Fans take to social media to moan.
Over the last few weeks, I have seen some horrible posts about players making errors, 'not trying' (which is always, frankly, nonsense), team tactics being wrong,even after victories! There's been posts about referee's being biased (oft by fans of both participants of a game, which surely, actually means, the ref is calling the game evenly), posts about sacking coaches, or even celebrating a coach being sacked...
On top of anything else, we have contractual controversies (Solomana and Goosens), players being tapped up outside allowed time parameters such as Kvesic to Exeter being not only rumoured, but also openly discussed on television, for about 3 months prior to the January deadline for domestic contract discussions, although, this is just one example, you can look at the rumours and reports in many rugby publications and you can clearly see the rules of the game are being bent.
We have ongoing issues regarding salary caps and certain clubs that seem to get away with murder, we have dirty little tricks like the Star Wars theme being played during a kick incident in the top14, not to mention the widespread booing of kicks creeping back into the sport, and we've had reports of fans fighting from certain Premiership clubs
The atmosphere at international games is being questioned from all quarters, which is especially galling when dyed in the wool fans are being priced out of tickets and been replaced by 'Lads day out' groups. And don't get me started on Mexican Waves.......
So rugby is all about respect right? The fans are the best in any sport, right?
The respect is gone, folks, plain and simple. It's become too easy on social media to blast a player, a club, a ref, a coach without any ramifications. The constant criticism is ruining many established fans enjoyment of the sport, people genuinely seem to watch just so they can have a dig at someone afterwards, sadly, this includes major media outlets and is often led by some of the ex-player pundits who seem to now make a career out of trolling. This is WRONG. All in caps because it's an important word.
I've had people tell me they've asked people to curb language at a game, only to be insulted themselves. What happened to the self policing thats been evident in rugby since the amateur days?
Whereas all new fans should be welcome open armed and encouraged to swell our numbers, they also need educating in the etiquette that has always be apparent in our fan base. If they use foul language, or intimidating behaviour, they need to be told, they'll always be outnumbered, so if more than one person tells them off, join in. They'll get the message!
Take a lead from Thormond Park, shush everyone prior to a kick. The Thormond silence is one of the best,most spine tingling experiences you'll ever experience at a sport, and guess what....it WORKS!
Defend your players and coaches on social media. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but if someone highlights a mistake, remind them of the good things as well, blind them with facts and remind them that the players and coaches are humans (allegedly, the referee's are as well) and thus, prone to errors on occasion
The time has come to take our sport back. Let's not go down the football route. Let's back our coaches rather than calling for the sack after marginal defeats. Console players after a mistake rather than blasting them for it. Just SUPPORT the clubs, win or lose, and try your damnedest to bring other fans across with you. Bring the respect back. Remember, these guys and girls are BETTER THAN YOU at rugby, even when they are out of form and having their worst games. All the bluster in the world wouldn't mean you do a better job than they do, and unless you can back up your abuse with evidence that you'd play a flawless match if given the chance, just step back from the keyboard! (ditto for coaching and refereeing...... either take it up and prove that you know best, or....shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh)
Some of my best experiences have been with opposition fans during defeats. The Miracle game in Munster, where it took us about 30 minutes to leave the stands after receiving consoling hugging and kissing from half of Shannon on the way out the stands, or Leeds (as they were then) where they beat Gloucester at Kingsholm, stood with some of their fans in the shed and seeing their enjoyment of the game, and being able to congratulate and share and enhance their experiences was almost worth the defeat....almost! Two examples that are based on respect. If the respect goes, we may end up on a slippery slope to crowd segregation, and no real rugby fan wants that!!
It's hard to write something like this without being preachy, and to a point I am being just that, however, we need to accept that though the game is changing, we don't need to. We're loud, boisterous and proud, we support like no other fans, that's what sets us apart from other sports and thats the tradition we need to keep.