Perusing Facebook this morning, a link came up to an article by Alan Dymock over at Rugby World magazine, about Rugby Fans and their seemingly obsessive fixation with comparing it to football. At first, I was a little indignant, but reading the article, and some memories of my experiences last weekend at the Premiership final found me actually agreeing. Before I make my points, I'll throw in the link to Alan's article.
Right, for one, at the Premiership final, I had a great time with the Bloggers Bench lot, and happily chatted to some fans from all kinds of different teams around Twickenham throughout the day, there were, however, a fair few people around the high street, who, even at just after 10am when I arrived, who would fall under my definition of 'Daytrippers' that I've mentioned in previous blogs, people who are along for the reputation of rugby rather than being fans. I heard a guy in an ancient old Bath shirt asking what cup it was they were playing for, and literally, dozens of guys pissed as farts before lunchtime. The same kind of fans that blight test cricket. There were several people commented on my 'Daytrippers' blog about these kind of frequent flyers to Twickenham for the big days out and their behaviour. This is the unacceptable face of the modern rugby fan. The 'drink til you're a massive twat'ters.
The same day as the Premiership final, Arsenal beat Aston Villa 4 - 0 in the FA Cup final. All my London travel planning had been to get back to my hotel in Euston before the Villa fan's made it there from Wembley (as it's the main London - Birmingham rail route), unfortunately, my meandering route home meant I failed miserably, and I was smack bang in the middle of the main train route to Birmingham which also housed an underground station with a main route to Arsenal. The carnage caused by the football fans was...... nothing. What I saw was families, groups of lads drinking in the coffee shops outside Euston, banter between the fans, it was the archetypal scene of what you expect to find at a rugby game. As I left Twickenham, after nipping to the high street to take some cash out, coming back to the bridge, there were 4 riot vans, all lights blazing, arresting some of the aforementioned rugby drunks. Total rugby arrests witnessed - 5, total football arrests witnessed - 0.
As for the players, just over the past few months, there have been a disturbing amount of stories of the pro players behaviour. The Scottish lads involved in assault charges after a drunken brawl, Manu Tuilagi's assault charges, now we have Cipriani's alleged drink driving!
Even on the field, there are seemingly more and more citings for punches, headbutts, kicks to the back, whereas I don't believe this is an increase of violence in rugby, more to the point of there being more camera's and more televised games, these punishments are now coming as big business to the football fixated press who have been waiting years for reasons to knock rugby fans holier than thou attitude down a peg or two.
Diving is also now coming more and more commonplace in rugby. Matawalu was guilty on at least 2 occasions in the Glasgow vs Ulster PRO 12 semi final. Huget and Habana have both got involved in simulation, even Richard Hibbard had a go at it early in the season. It seems amazing to me that these guys, who can run through brick walls with the ball in their hands seemingly fall in the breeze if they are alongside a defender, shoulder to shoulder, chasing a kick.
I'm as bad as anyone for insulting football/wendyball/roundball, but the fact is, professional rugby is developing some habits that are very much shared with football. Especially on the field. But now it's our job as fans to ensure that anything we can control doesn't end up going the way of football. It'll be a sad sad day when rugby fans need to be segregated. Or if any of the banter starts to regularly affect the attitude and feelings of rugby fans in general. There have been many accounts of abuse from all around Premiership rugby this season. I've heard of verbal abuse, drinks being thrown over opposition fans, even fans in the tunnel abusing players, It isn't how we want the perception of rugby to be, so next time you witness something, have a word, tell them it's not how we do it at rugby, educate the new fans (and there will be plenty of them after the World Cup!) if you don't do this, then you can't blame football, or football fans.