diamond geezer

 Friday, March 18, 2005

A lot of balls

The world is split into two distinct camps - those who like rugby and those who don't. I spent yesterday at a meeting in the company of both worlds. Over a lunchtime tray of bland corporate sandwiches the conversation suddenly turned to this weekend's Six Nations tournament. Half of those present discussed the imminent international confrontations with passion and fervour. They knew which teams were doing well and which players were on form. They discussed scrummage tactics and fly half potential. They bemoaned England's post-World-Cup decline and they knew precisely how long it had been since Wales' last Grand Slam success. In short, they actually cared about who would win what on Saturday. The rest of us merely shut up and listened, unable to contribute, secretly hoping that the conversation might revert to something more inclusive.

I've always hated rugby. To be honest I probably didn't realise it existed before I was 11, because my enlightened primary school played (proper) football instead. OK, so I may have been rubbish at playing that too, but at least my life wasn't in danger every time I had a PE lesson. My secondary school, alas, believed that rugger was the one true sport. I spent every winter for five years freezing to death in a stripy jersey while boys who'd already hit puberty wrestled with each other in muddy puddles. I tried hard to keep out of the way, in case the ball might accidentally be thrown in my direction and a horde of lumbering animals launch themselves on top of me. I cowered every time I was selected for the scrum in case some crucial body part of mine be squashed or wrenched off in the grunting mêlée. And I scored a try only once, when my sadistic PE teacher noticed me standing beside the touch line and threw me the ball, no doubt expecting me to fumble it and then be crushed in a pile of adolescent limbs. He was disappointed, but only on this one single miserable occasion.

And yet some people live and breathe rugby. They follow Harlequins or Saracens with a fervent zeal, like other people might follow Arsenal or Chelsea. They wouldn't dream of actually playing in a match but they love to spectate, shout and sing rude songs, usually while wearing oversized replica jerseys. They read sports pages I never even skim, trying to keep track as their favourite players fall foul of serious ligament injury. They'll even travel business class to international matches at Murrayfield or Lansdowne Road, presumably as an excuse to get away from the wife for a few glorious pissed-up weekends every year. All this for a game which they no doubt would describe as elegant, but which to me looks like two teams of lardarses beating the hell out of each other egged on by an adoring middle class fanbase.

And then there's rugby league. To a namby pamby southerner like me this game is a complete irrelevance, barely afforded media space. It's a scarily regional phenomenon, of minimal interest to anyone living more than 20 miles away from the M62. I think there are less people in a team, and they play throughout the summer, and they have stupid team names dangerously similar to American baseball, but I'm not certain. I encountered league frenzy when I lived in Hull for a year, which felt somewhat like being surrounded by disciples of an alternative religion. But then I'm a complete rugby atheist anyway, as you'll have gathered. My apologies if you care who wins in the Six Nations tomorrow, but this says nothing to me about my life. You may try, but I am not converted.

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