I’ve never been a huge rugby fan, I played it a few times at school, but it was all football when I was growing up. Like many kids today, sport is only about football and the Premier League – we are blinkered to all other forms unless guided by a parent or older sibling. As a West Ham fan I am used to disappointment and the notion that no matter how well my team does, failure is only a kick away. I love West Ham and, for all its flaws in the modern day, I love football. But several years ago, I made a conscious decision to stop moping around when West Ham (inevitably) lost on a Saturday afternoon and ruined my weekend or when there was no football on to get excited about. I started to think that I wanted to be as passionate about some other sports as I am with West Ham and football.
Now, to true rugby fans, I’m probably hated or at least disliked. I don’t follow a club (other than my sister’s partner’s team – Gravesend RFC) in the professional leagues and I barely know any of the players. But following that incredible world cup win back in 2003 (possibly the most exciting moment of sport I have ever witnessed) I follow the rugby union internationals. Whether they are the Six Nations, Autumn Series or World Cup, I try and watch every England game. After nearly 10 years – I think I almost understand the rules!
Saturday I was fortunate enough to attend Twickenham for England’s first autumn series game against Fiji with my family (including my sister’s partner and his dad – both Fijians…). It was a mismatched game and England won convincingly 54-12, but this is beside the point. The atmosphere at Twickenham was electric, from the moment we got out of the car, a short walk from the stadium, you could feel the atmosphere and excitement. The fans – plenty of young groups in fancy dress, plenty of families, plenty normal folks enjoying a few beers and a few Made in Chelsea wannabes. The introduction of BOTH teams was met with huge cheers and applause. The fantastic Fijian national anthem was sung beautifully – highlighting what a great song it is, the players, singing with unwavering pride in their nationality. The English national anthem, God Save the Queen, I have never liked – the lyrics do not represent anything to do with the people that inhabit this country and the tune itself is downbeat and dreary. Yet, when sung by 80,000 fans at Twickenham (myself included) – I found, for the first time, that it was quite emotional and I felt very proud to have that as my national anthem. It really was an incredible moment.
I am a big fan of the war dances used by the south Pacific teams before rugby matches, and the Fijian I Bole (pronounced ‘imbolay’) is one of the best. I’m probably biased because of my family connections, but the I Bole is much better than the New Zealand Haka, and much more aggressive. My only criticism is that in the stadium, you can’t hear it – it would have been fantastic to have directional microphones at pitch side locations to pick up the chants and war cry’s, played over the PA – similar to what is used in the NFL to pick up the sound of pads and helmets clashing during tackles.
The fans reacted fantastically to some big tackles and celebrated every try and penalty with rapturous applause and dancing. Overall, it was a great experience and I will certainly look to going to another game at Twickenham sooner rather than later.
This is an experience that you wouldn’t get at Wembley stadium watching England play football. I have been several times to World Cup and European Cup qualifiers and been pretty bored and uninspired with the fans and general atmosphere. I am sure that during a major tournament, the atmosphere is intense and on par with Twickenham. But when you compare the importance of qualifying in football (being very important) and the autumn series in rugby (not very important) – the atmosphere should reflect that surely? Football has a hell of a lot to learn and I do hope someone or some organisation can drag it off its pathetic, diving knees and into the 21st century.
However, following that great Saturday, I stayed in Sunday and managed to watch 2 fantastic games. West Ham grinded out a really difficult win against Newcastle at St James Park – the game was by no means a spectacle and at times the football was gritty and ugly – but it proved to be a fantastic 3 points for the Hammers and I was knotted with tension after the game.
Following that I sat down to watch what I knew could be a very tight game in the NFL between the New Orleans Saints (my team!) and division rivals (and only unbeaten team this season) – the Atlanta Falcons. The game was pretty mad and hard-hitting. It was a spectacle of two great offenses going up against two not so great defences. The game went down to the wire and the Saints (I fully expected us to lose) made an incredible goal line stand with only 2mins left on the clock.
Basically, I am in love with more sports now than I can spin a scarf at! And it’s a great feeling to have such passion for multiple teams in several sports. When funding is better I will certainly look to go to New Orleans and see a game and make more visits to Twickenham and Upton Park.