Sunday, 15 March 2009

The Good and Bad of Rugby Supporting

Part of the pleasure of attending a sporting event - rather than just watching it on television - is the atmosphere generated by the crowd. Unfortunately, as I discovered yesterday at the Scotland v Ireland Six Nations match, one does not get atmosphere at Murrayfield - at least, nothing to compare to any football ground in the country. I bemoaned this, but my companion put me right. "There's an Irish boy to the left of you - why would you want to boo his team?" I looked around me and, apart from the occasional lone cry of "come on Scotland!" the vast crowd sat silently. Where was the fun in this?

Yet the lack of passion demonstrated by rugby fans is, paradoxically, one of the sport's strengths. Because rugby supporters are well behaved, there is no segregation of fans. Unlike at football, alcohol is served at the ground, yet there is minimal police presence outside the ground. The good behaviour and lack of an intimidating atmosphere means there are far more women supporters at Murrayfield than at the likes of Hampden, and parents can take their children knowing they won't be exposed to screaming, abuse, or terracing wit. Perhaps because rugby players are often big fellows who bang into each other on the pitch, and carry the scars of it, they understand the consequences of aggro and violence; and where football thrives on tribalism and division, rugby fans share a common bond of respect.

Murrayfield, actual volume:

But although I enjoy the company of rugby fans - and I prefer playing touch rugby to football - if I've paid a great deal of money to attend a sporting event, I expect to be able to shout myself hoarse in the company of thousands of other like-minded 90-minute extremists. I don't think I will return to mild-mannered Murrayfield for a while.

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