Sports fans come in all shapes, sizes, mental states and degrees of fanaticism. Maybe it’s my time of life, but I’m now wavering between giving up my season tickets at the end of this season in favour of just watching such Quins games as are available on television … and just taking a deep breath and continuing to fork out for them, only because to do any less would raise all sorts of unpalatable issues relating to whether or not my support for the club is wavering.
Take Friday night, for example.
Having relations who live close to Northampton, it is my practice to accept their annual invitation to join them on a trip to Franklin’s Gardens for the Saints v Quins away Premiership match, in return for which I then issue an invitation to them to join me at the Stoop for our ‘home’ version of the same battle.
Both this season and last, the relevant ‘away’ fixture has been scheduled for Friday night at 7.45pm thanks to broadcaster demand. This inevitably requires a departure up the M1 at some point after lunch (edging into the massed and chaotic Friday exodus from the capital), grabbing a swift bite to eat, travelling to the ground and then – after the match – having an overnight stay in the depths of the countryside.
Last Friday everything went broadly as per said schedule. Exiting London was something of a nightmare traffic-wise as a result of which I then began to fret about hitting our self-imposed deadline for progress.
The next thing of note is the UK climate. As any southern softy will tell you, it is a fact of life that anywhere north off the M25/M1 junction is appreciably colder. The wind in Northampton was bitingly frosty and – even though I was sporting two extra layers and gloves – during the second half of Friday’s game it began to creep into my bone marrow.
I always enjoy experiencing the atmosphere at Franklin’s Gardens. Northampton does boast a soccer club but – as with the South-West – the East Midlands is a rugby union stronghold and since time immemorial the town has lived and breathed the oval ball game. Any neutral who wants to experience ultimate sporting rivalry in the raw should attend a Premiership derby clash between Saints and Leicester Tigers.
On Friday night Quins eventually succumbed 13-17 and took a losing bonus point with them on the coach back to civilisation. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that, had you offered us that result before the game, we’d have accepted it gratefully and saved on the petrol.
Being one-eyed for the moment (!), we gave a decent account of ourselves. I think desperation came into it. If we had failed to turn up, or had arrived half-heartedly, we could easily have shipped 30 points to our league-leading hosts.
As it happens we might have notched two tries in the first 40 minutes but for our consistently poor finishing.
Throughout the game Saints were about 20% under par but were strong enough in defence that – even at that reduced level of intensity – they deserved the victory.
It was only an excellent last-gasp try in overtime by our under-performing star summer acquisition Marland Yarde – who just ten minutes before had needed prolonged attention from the medics following a trademark ‘guided missile’ tackle from Saints lock Courtney Lawes – that gave us 7 of our 13 points.
At our post-match drink in the Heroes Bar before leaving the ground, the consensus in our group was that the match had been somewhat disappointing, but not as disappointing as the equivalent snore-fest we had been subjected to last year.
I was left contemplating the fact that – had circumstances been different – I could have been snug under a rug on my sofa and watched the game live on BT Sport, thereby avoiding a two and a quarter hour road trip and all that went with it …