Someone said to me in the pub the other day that the ongoing experience of being a committed one-club/team sports supporter is rather like a case of heroin or similar Class A drug addiction.
Secondly, it’s damned hard to put behind you even if you’ve made the seminal decision to reform your lifestyle.
Plus, if you ever do manage to give it up – e.g. by joining a ‘former one-club sports fan help group’ or perhaps becoming addicted to something else (beer?) instead – you spend the rest of your life not so much cured but in a state of recovering addiction from which you might at any moment – simply by one little game attendance or involuntary ‘hit’ of enthusiasm gained by seeing your former team gain a sliver of success – slip back into the abyss.
As a recovering former Quins fan – especially after three pints of Doombar – although I could see exactly where my fellow drinker over by the corner window beside the Frog & Bucket saloon bar fireplace was coming from, I was able to contribute an upside and salve to the conversation that qualified the gloomy scenario being outlined.
I mentioned that this far into my post-Harlequins existence – some fifteen months officially, albeit that mentally (as they say of Elvis) “I had probably left the building” roughly midway through the 2015/2016 season – and whilst still suffering from the syndrome that I’m told some recidivist criminals are prey to when being released from prison after a long stretch (a feeling of somehow still being behind bars and/or not quite being able to believe that they aren’t), the truth was that simultaneously I was also bathing in a warm, enveloping, welcoming, overwhelming sense of sheer, unadulterated, relief.
The truth is that I’m beginning to see rugby union as any non-committed sports fan sees it – just another sport.
Gone are the good old amateur days of being a game for all shapes and sizes – when, as Mickey Skinner would have it, each team was composed of two tribes (the piano-shifters in the forwards and the ‘girls’ in the backs).
As a result rugby (still played upon pitches the same size as in days of yore) has become a stereotypical slug-fest of endlessly recycled possession and the occasional training-ground-learned new tactic that within a month or two has been cancelled out by reactive opposition counter-measures.
In short, rugby has become increasingly boring. It hurts me to say it, but these days the sport’s entertainment quotient is largely to be seen in the sevens version of the game – rugby’s equivalent of cricket’s T20.
Anyway, at this stage of the summer – with the warm-up pre-season matches rapidly approaching – the Premiership’s hype machine is gradually cranking into gear.
The Rugby Paper – the fans’ unofficial weekly bible – is now rammed with contrived ‘puffs’ emanating from each club’s training camp whereby both hardened vets and inexperienced young pups are uniformly testifying how well pre-season training is going and how the playing squad is more together, more convinced than ever that not only will a ‘top four’ finish in the league be a nailed-on certainty, but also that at least seven or eight of them are at last going to fulfil the promises that their talent and application deserves by breaking through at international level in time to gain selection for their respective nations at next years’ Rugby World Cup.
Quins, of course, are no exception.
This year, with the recent arrival of Paul Gustard as head coach and in consequence a bit of a clear-out of the John Kingston coaching team, the anticipation is as hyped-up as ever. Whether any of the brave noises coming out of the camp are anything more than hot air remains to be seen.
It’s semi-ironic to see the ripples from the clear-out still spreading across the lake. With Charlie Matthews having gone to Wasps and having a semi-swipe at the Quins debacle of last season as he details his ‘exciting’ prospects at his new club – and fellow lock Sam Twomey doing likewise from his new berth at London Irish now back the Championship – I’m taking the various noises coming from with the Quins camp with a large pinch of proverbial salt.
The only snippet of hot gossip I’ve heard this summer (from an unimpeachable source) concerns the toxic state of the playing squad’s relationship with the Kingston regime as last season’s campaign systematically felt apart after Christmas and then descended into near-farce at the final knockings.
Joe Marler’s pithy public comment about the allegedly ineffectual performance of the coaching staff resulted with him having a ‘clear the air’ (dressing down) meeting with Quins’ senior management complete with representatives and/or lawyers present on both sides.
At least I’ve been consistent. Nothing against the man as a person, but I commented at the time that John Kingston’s appointment as head coach was an epic mistake by Quins – compounded with bells on by the folly of giving him a 24 months extension midway through last season – and frankly few long-time Quins fans were surprised by how things panned out.
Don’t get me wrong, I sympathise with those Quins supporters (I was one once) who bravely hold to ‘supporting the club through thick and thin’, come what may.
But when you witness the club you love systematically dismantling both tradition and the core values that have stood rugby in reasonable stead for the past century and a half wherever they find them, all you’re left with is a feeble little, barely commercially viable, entity – completely devoid of vision and direction – pushing out by the yard PR-marketing-speak learned from a textbook and just hoping for the best.
Ah … the joys of another Premiership season await!