Saturday 5th May 2018: Aviva Premiership, Round 22: Harlequins v Exeter Chiefs at the Stoop: Result – Harlequins 17 Exeter Chiefs 41: League points – Harlequins 0 Exeter Chiefs 5 (four for victory, plus 1 four-try bonus point); League positions – Harlequins 10th out of 12 on 36 points, Exeter Chiefs 1st on 85 points (8 points of nearest rival going into the play-offs for the 2017/2018 title).
You know how it is – after a crazy period of early signs of a great spring/summer alternating with relentless rain and arctic conditions until you didn’t know whether you’re coming or going, you reach the early May Bank Holiday weekend once again.
And then suddenly it’s not-a-cloud-in-the-sky-scorchingly hot, bringing back your hazy memories of summer holidays spent staying with your maternal grandparents in Middleton-on-Sea, digging sandcastles on the beach in woollen swimming trunks, crabbing, being taken to Hotham Park in Bognor Regis, day trips to Butlins and going for donkey rides on the sand – just generally the days when life was a safe, secure, grand but comfortable adventure, i.e. before Life kicked it and it all went downhill.
Yesterday a bunch of us gathered in the bear garden of the Sussex Arms off Twickenham Green – where all the shaded tables were ‘reserved’ – to swelter and fall prey to heat stroke in the blazing sun over a few beers before spoiling a perfect day by going to watch some rugby.
Which brings me to the above Quins’ last match – home or otherwise – of the season.
As across the A316, about quarter of a mile away as the crow flies, on the 103rd anniversary of his death by sniper, earth from England’s 1914 captain Ronnie Poulton Palmer’s grave in Belgium was ceremoniously added to the pitch at the ‘Big Stoop’ (Twickenham Stadium) before the annual Army v Navy match kicked off, those of us who reached the Stoop proper collectively commemorated the demise of the club’s 2017/2018 campaign before gratefully going our separate ways for the summer break.
As a spectating experience it was marred – as ‘being there for real’ always is [file this comment under ‘the benefits of watching sports on television’ (over attending in the flesh) in the great Rust debate on the issue] – by the experience of having one’s view of the action disrupted approximately every five to seven minutes by an endless stream of fellow customers of both sexes disappearing on expeditions to either visit the toilet facilities and/or buy more beer – only to return again ten or so minutes later in order to resume their seats, thereby hitting serious traffic congestion as they counter-flowed with those now engaged upon a similar trip on their way out.
When people go to a sporting event why aren’t they required to sit in their goddamned seats until the half-time interval – or indeed the end of the match, if that is the end of the stanza concerned?
At which human entertainment experiences other than sport do people routinely apparently attend in order not to watch the action at all, but instead spend their time going back and forth to the bar or latrines?
Having had my watching thus spoiled … well, you know how it is … whenever you form a negative opinion of a set-up, after that every little thing you notice tends to confirm it.
At the back of the South Stand there is a tunnel beneath via which the crowd progresses back and forth on their way in and out (or around) the ground. Some bright spark in the Quins PR/Marketing department had clearly hit upon the on-the-face-of-it innovative wheeze of putting up a long display on the wall of said tunnel featuring images and playing details of great Quins of the past.
As I hinted above, an initiative that was (I grant them) was laudable in embryo, but here one crippled in the execution.
Why? Because as the throng of punters ambled by in both directions the tunnel was so dark that, apart from, okay, being able to register that there was some sort of display there, it was physically impossible to read any of the details on the wall. They might as well have not bothered to spend the money. [Having said that – and to be fair – as the match ended and we were filing towards the exits – I noticed some lights were now on, illuminating the display adequately. But why hadn’t these been switched on from the word go?].
Arguably, Quins is a premier English rugby club brand with aspirations to become a global one. At least, it tells everyone it is.
But how does it actually present itself? Certainly not as a premier brand. How would I sum up its merchandising products, especially the clothing ones?
Straight from naff-ville – a la Sports Direct or JJB Sports “pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap” mode.
Think of shell-suits, a cruddy cartoon-like Harlequins logo, and generally – in terms of quality of both types of product and indeed realisation- ‘total tat’, as dear old jeweller Gerald Ratner once memorably described his own company’s offerings. [Actually, if memory serves, he said “Total crap”, didn’t he?]. But anyway – my point is – that’s exactly the ball park that Quins’ items were in. Not the sort of thing that anyone I know would buy.
Yesterday’s entertainment was briefly interesting as for the first time in three months the home team began the game as if they meant it.
I don’t bet myself but I suspect that Exeter Chiefs were overwhelming favourites to win, as they duly did. They’re a well-oiled machine that grinds the opposition down and one of the reasons they do this – quite apart from the quality and team spirit of their players – is that they have that key ingredient: patience. No ‘white line fever’ in these boys from the West Country, they’re just relentless.
I’m backing the Chiefs to win the Premiership for the second successive time this season. On yesterday’s evidence they have the wherewithal to do it – and deserve to do so.