I had to write this blog. Just had to!
Last weekend, i was asked to attend the Gloucester vs Munster Heineken Cup match by Trevors better half Sarah to surprise him and celebrate the old boys 40th birthday.
I almost didn't go. Time and money were short post christmas, but i decided, as the kids say, YOLO, and booked myself and the good lady wife into a hotel and ordered some tickets to the shed. Its a decision that i shall never forget.
Now i have attended Gloucester v Munster once at home and twice away previously, and i absolutely LOVE the Munster fans. My Dad and I said after the infamous miracle match (Munster needed a 27 point win to go through the group stages of the Heineken cup and promptly beat Gloucester by the exact margin needed.... its a famous game, especially in Limerick!) that we would one day go to Thormond Park as Munster fans. The sole reason was the passion, banter and above all else, friendliness of their fans. After the Miracle game it took us forever to leave the ground as everyone wanted a handshake, a hug or a kind word as we left.
Now the second time we visited was a far less sober affair which involved being invited into 'the singing room' of a pub and getting home at 3 in the morning after a lock in. Both occasions i've visited Thormond Park have left me with both this admiration for the Munstermen and Munsterwomen, admittedly more off the pitch than on it, and some amazing memories.
The only real memories of the home game was that it was bitterly cold, we had massive hailstones and Chris Paterson ruined my day...... the rumour is he put on Toblerone boxes instead of boots cos he couldn't kick straight to save his life that day! Even that day, the fans were superb, there were 6 Munster fans across 3 seats in front of us and only 3 ticket stubs when the stewards challenged them.
I've also been one of the travelling red army for the Heineken Cup semi vs Saracens in my home town of Coventry. Myself, my dad and my mate were supposed to be going, but my friend (who worked at the arena) was let down by his ticket source and we were at the ground before we found out we had no match tickets. We did as any rugby fan would do.....went to the nearest bar to watch it on TV, which happened to be the casino under the stadium. Talking to some Munster fans in there, one of them pulled 4 tickets from his pocket and told us one of his friends and his family were unable to attend so the tickets were going spare and GAVE the tickets to us, and i mean gave. No money, no beer, nothing. I was genuinely gobsmacked. It was just another reason why i love Munsters fans!
Now back to the inspiration for this blog....
We drove to Gloucester from Dudley and all we saw was Munster shirts walking around town. 8 hours before kick off! We got to the hotel and again, it was full of the Irish fans. The red army was very much taking over!
After meeting the birthday boy, and several of the Twitterati in the pub pre match, we headed to the Shed at about 4, 2 hours before kickoff, but it was really about an hour after that when i realised how special the atmosphere was going to be, it really was packed tight in the Shed, and i honestly think there was a 50/50 split between home and away fans.
Poor Will Greenwood tried to interview James Simpson Daniel in front of the shed just before the 2nd photo was taken, just as Gloucester did their traditional lap of the pitch and all of a sudden, it was LOUD. Earsplittingly loud! Combined Gloucester and Munster shouts, the Fields of Athenry and even We are the Gloucester boys made an appearance.
This noise literally lasted the entire game! It was the loudest i think i've ever heard the shed and to be honest, i was more enticed by the amazing atmosphere than i was by what was going on on the pitch. When Charlie Sharples hit back with an amazing try for Gloucester it literally sounded like the shed would take off with the noise. Offset to this was the entire stadium falling into total silence for kicks, something Gloucester are often slated for not doing, but it was beautifully eerie.
Now the second half, i will admit, i can't really remember and i can't blame the atmosphere for that, but more my wonderful wifes regular trips to the bar (combined with several hip flasks that kept appearing) that have blotted my memories.
Towards the end of the game, i had accepted that Gloucester were not coming back, despite arguably being the dominant side, and decided i was just going to cheer for both sides. Now, under my obligatory #RugbyUnited Zoti sports hoodie, i will admit to wearing my Munster shirt. With 10 minutes to go,the hoodie came off and my Gloucester hat (that was a christmas present!!!) was replaced with a Munster hat by one of the red army and yes, i never got it back (3 times thats happened with Munster fans!!!!). Combining that with the fact that i love the Fields of Athenry and was very loudly and drunkenly singing along, i was being congratulated by Gloucester fans leaving the stadium and in fact, all the way through Gloucester this happened! The cameraderie and passion was amazing.
During the walk through Glos, we tagged along with 4 Munster lads, having an amazing laugh. We left them on the way to another pub but only after my wife tried to instigate an impromptu 6 man scrummage in the town centre and one of them informing me that my wife was terrifying.
My wife has since agreed with me that we will be going to a Munster game as Munster fans either this season or next. With the Heineken Cup and RABO currently under threat, this may not be as easy as we first thought, so we'll probably end up over to Thormond Park, which believe me, is no bad thing!
I don't like to use terms such as 'my second team' or anything like that as they can appear derogatory, but after HC trips to Paris and Edinburgh amongst other places, i can honestly say that the Munster fans are still some of my favourites.Its not a slight to the other teams, its just that the Munster fans are so like the Glos fans it makes it a totally one off atmosphere. Over the last 10 years or so, it amazes me that 1 teams supporters can have left so many impressions and memories with me. I will try my hardest to NEVER miss a Gloucester v Munster game ever again. (by the way..... i've never seen Munster lose a game live....)