Sunday 31st January: Aviva Premiership Round 10: Kingston Park: Newcastle Falcons 26 Harlequins 19.
Deep within the make-up of every sports fan – every true, club-supporting, sports fan – is a ‘glass half empty’, hangdog, fatalistic, resigned and fearful core.
Take the situation where you are or were a supporter of rugby’s Harlequins or football’s Chelsea, for example.
Even at the respective moments when each won their last Premierships (2011/2012 for Quins, 2014/2015 for Chelsea) and you were celebrating to the rafters as if there was no tomorrow … inside you would not quite be able to ‘let yourself go’ because in only another 12 weeks or so there was going to be the start of another bloody season in which the odds of repeating (emulating) that success – whatever the statistics might say – were catastrophically long. Think those of an European Space Agency robot vehicle chancing upon Elvis Presley and David Bowie taking selfies of each other behind a rock on Mars.
To be a true fan – one who is going to support his or her team through thick and thin, particularly disastrous and ever-lengthening thin, whether that involves the singular humiliation of relegation or just general free-fall – is to be constantly on the edge of suffering, fully expecting that things are going to get worse before they get better.
I cannot bring myself to discuss the detail of yesterday afternoon’s proceedings ‘up North-East’, partly because I didn’t witness them. If my readers want to enlighten themselves (and I don’t) I suggest they go the sports pages of their chosen sporting website of newspaper.
The only live televised Premiership rugby on offer yesterday was Worcester Warriors v Exeter Chiefs on BT Sport (kick off 3.00pm), so I sat in front of that on the screen in the corner of my drawing room with the sound turned down. Meanwhile – on my computer, with the volume turned very nearly to max – over the back of my head I was listening to BBC Radio Newcastle’s live commentary on the Quins game.
This was a strange but compelling experience. I wouldn’t go so far as to call to mind Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge character, but the main commentator was – to a Southerner like me – a stereotypical Geordie and his companion a Scottish ex-player or journalist, neither of whom I can name despite trying to research them on Google.
Their joint patter was a mix of rugby knowledge and Vicar of Dibley-style local quaintness that, if you wished, you could take as unintentionally amusing. It was akin to chancing upon the output of an amateur hospital radio station.
At half-time, for example, there were several at least 20 to 30 second ‘on air’ silences [that’s an eternity in radio terms] during which our host, plainly believing that he was off-air, lobbed out occasional random short sentences upon inconsequential topics to his producer or engineer, e.g. of the kind “No … I’ll stay here and ‘fill in’ for that bit … [pause] … did you hear that? I said ‘I’ll fill in for that bit’ … [pause] … let’s hope there’s a bit more rugby in the second half …” and so on.
From about seven weeks in, as you won’t need reminding if you’ve been following this column, last season was an unremittingly dire experience for followers of Quins. In contrast, this has been a pleasingly positive one – by the end of last month (January) we had reached third place in the Premiership and also qualified in pole position for the knock-out stage of the European Challenge Cup. Quins fans would have torn your hand off if you’d offered us that before the season began.
We were beginning to dare to hope.
Then, inevitably, comes the cold shower and dose of reality.
In January, three days after Conor O’Shea announced he was leaving at the end of the season, we travelled away to Montpellier in a ‘dead rubber’ final pool stage game in the ECC and lost 42-9.
Having beaten the previously-unbeaten League leaders Saracens at the Stoop on 9th January, yesterday – in our very next Premiership match – we travelled to Newcastle and lost to the side propping up the League table and odds-on favourites for relegation.
That’s Quins for you. On any given day, we can either beat the very best … or else lose to the bottom of the pile … and in advance nobody has any idea which it is going to be.
It’s the reason that we are not genuine Premiership title contenders at the moment.
Qualifiers for that tag are those clubs which barely need to break sweat as they routinely overturn the lowly teams and can save their 110% performance efforts for the big games against their fellow contenders.
Whereas, whenever Quins run out onto the rugby pitch nobody (not even the team) have any idea as to what is about to happen. Yesterday was a case of ‘normal service resumed’, methinks.