In the words of Mr Nigel Owens, "this is not soccer"
However, I don't get to many games due to the day job and week by week, following matchday's on Twitter/Facebook, I see more and more football style tribalism creeping across social media.
It's easy to portion the blame to the new fans the sport is attracting, in fact, I did just that yesterday, but some of it comes from seasoned, lifelong rugby fans.
If these long term fans don't 'lead by example' then the new fans will never learn the 'rugby' ethos.
Or maybe the rugby ethos is a thing of the past. Maybe the game has moved on, and it's left some of us fans behind.
There is no group of fans that are innocent of some of the ill feeling that goes on on a matchday. Yesterday, I saw complaints from Tigers fans about being insulted and abused at Allianz Park, fans from several clubs, and some media types about the Harlequins fans booing a kick that followed a conversion, I saw fans of all 4 Premiership clubs yesterday claim the referee was 'cheating' them out of the game, there was some of the Sarries and Quins fans accusing the atmosphere's at Welford Rd and Kingsholm as reasons to justify their fans reactions. For the record, it seems to be an accepted fact that Kingsholm boo's kickers. I've heard a couple of examples of it, but it's hardly a regular occurence, especially not in the shed. There are some chants regularly heard in play (Eey-ore and You don't know what you're doing) that split opinion between banter and abuse, but generally, the kicker is given their kick.
Back to the topic in hand...... that was just reactions from 2 matches yesterday. It's not by any means been limited to one day, it's been becoming more prominent all season.
I've only ever been to 1 match where I found the atmosphere to be off. It was Gloucester vs Wasps in the first ever championship playoff final. Wasps destroyed Gloucester that day, which was bad enough in itself, but myself and my friend were the only Gloucester fans seated amongst a large Wasps contingent, and what went on that day was WAY beyond normal rugby banter, as we were jostled, threatened, sworn at and insulted for most of the first half. We switched seats at half time, and sat in a far more pleasant mixed section of fans. I've never claimed the idiots there that day were representative of Wasps, nor rugby fans in general. I put it down to newcomers with cheap tickets, a stomach full of beer and a chance to be associated with glory.
One bad experience in 20 odd years of attending rugby at dozens of different stadia and with even more varied groups of fans. I can live with that. I've met many Wasps fans since then and never had an issue.
My opinion is that the problem is largely due to a boom in new fans. As i said earlier, it's not entirely down to this, but it doesn't help. Many clubs offer discounted tickets, and beer is served during the games, and this has led to a lot of fans coming over from the massively overpriced football clubs as a 'lads day out'. Especially when you get club games being held in venues like the Ricoh Arena and Wembley Stadium where tickets go for peanuts. It's the same thing that happened with International Cricket. It's now an excuse for an all dayer than a trip to actually watch sport. (see my Daytrippers blog from last November for my thoughts on a visit to Twickenham for an international with an evening kick off....It's a very similar conclusion) You also have a few clubs in the Premiership that have doubled or trebled their fanbase over a relatively short space of time. That's a great thing for the sport, as long as the older fanbase are still upholding the unwritten 'moral code' of the rugby fan. This, judging by some things that are written, is sadly not always the case.
Let's take the world cup. The everyday fan has been largely priced out. What is going to happen is you'll get groups of guys who'll spend big bucks on a jolly boys outing, where the main reason for the trip is to get pissed and act like an alpha male, whilst safely surrounded by rugby fans who aren't as likely to punch them as football fans would be, the rugby is very much a secondary reason. I think most rugby fans have seen these kinds of people at club matches and internationals.....and they're bloody annoying. Especially if they're in fancy dress!! ;)
The clubs have a responsibility to remind the fans that booing the kicker is wrong, I only speak for Gloucester but I imagine they're not the only ones, but they have the 2 big screens displaying 'respect the kicker' type messages, but the fans need to self police too. Ever been to Thormond Park? I dare you to go there and even whisper during a kick.....not from threats of violence, but due to the entire crowd SHHHHHHHHHHHHHing and then falling into total quiet before either sides kicker has a pop at goal. It is fantastic, and eerie to see a crowd fall into stony silence as one.....The Shed will SHHH if people try and boo a kicker, unfortunately, as with any club, some idiots will still boo. But we should still try to shut them up!!
I've had a lot of fun as a home and an away supporter over the years, one of the great things about Union, is the seats aren't segregated, there's very little (my specs aren't rose-tinted enough to say no....) violence, certainly no mass brawls as there was at the old unsegregated football stadia, and has been, on occasion, seen at rugby league venues (the Hull derby from a few years back springs to mind) and I would hate to see segregation being enforced at union should this tribalism continue to grow unabated.
As it stands, I'm happy that I can go to rugby, often with my wife, get a beer with my friends, chat to and have a laugh with fans from all over the country, in fact, from all around Europe, the banter may get near the knuckle sometimes, but I've never seen or heard it majorly crossing the line, as soon as I do, I'll think twice about going. I don't think I'd be alone either.