As a former columnist I have remained both a member of the Rust ‘family’ and a regular reader since I voluntarily quit after failing to renew my season tickets and unofficially quitting as a Harlequins fan nearly two years ago now.
At the time I subsequently continued posting to the website for a period because – in keeping with our commendable editorial policy that contributors are free to comment upon whatever they wish – I felt it might possibly be of interest to some for me to record my reactions to off-loading a quarter of a century’s worth of sporting devotion as they unfolded.
Rusters with either thriving short-term memories going back at least 24 months, or indeed a degree of dementia that renders long-ago memories vivid (but those of anything in the last 24 months hazy at best) may recall that, over a course of three months or more, my feelings could be summarised as – after an initial ‘cold turkey’ period of acute withdrawal symptoms in which guilt, misgivings, regret, loss and shame were to the constant fore – an overwhelming sense of relief, freedom … together with an absolute resolution that nothing would ever make me go back.
I’m not an addictive type of person but in my mind’s eye I could liken what I experienced to what I imagine must be the lot of someone who ‘comes off’ hard drugs or alcohol, i.e. a damned hard struggle and not a little pain and suffering, followed (eventually) by ‘bright, sunny uplands and clear skies’ combined with an inner acknowledgement of the risk that one day, if one was not careful, one might slip back very easily indeed into the vice-like grip of that to which one was once addicted.
Today, I am still in that place – albeit now to a degree beset by other unwelcome and worrying thoughts that have crept up on me.
I don’t know how it is for those who follow other teams in other sports, but now I have survived my Harlequins period, I now view rugby union itself with a more critical eye.
To put no finer point upon it – apart from the annual Six Nations tournament and any international in which England is taking part – I have very little interest in it anymore.
I mean seriously, I don’t.
In my Quins days, when weekends came around, I’d routinely comb the sporting television schedules seeking out top Premiership clashes or indeed those of clubs who were ‘rivals of the moment’ for Quins in terms of their comparative positions in the league table.
Now, in my post-Quins state, to be honest I find the entire sport of rugby union somewhat boring – with its endless recycling phases, dominant defensive systems and constant re-setting of scrums which collapse about 50% of the time before the ball even gets put in by the scrum-half with that responsibility – and no longer of enough interest to me that I even bother seeking out live coverage of its matches on the television.
What I think I’m registering for the record is that I’ve finally ‘seen the light’, rather as if I was formerly a member of the Scientology cult but have somehow been rescued or found my way out.
Rugby in the 21st Century – well, the classic (fifteen-a-side) version of it – is simply not that spectator-friendly or entertaining anymore.
Plus, via referee-directives, it continues to turn a blind eye to the laws of the game, e.g. the fact that a scrum half is supposed to put the ball into the scrum ‘straight’: by current convention, any old-how-will-do, including aiming it directly at the feet of your own second row forwards.
All the above is a statement of background to my experience of watching the match between Sale Sharks and Harlequins live on BT Sport last Friday evening (5th April), a broadcast that I came upon entirely by chance just minutes before the kick-off.
I suppose you might say it was a ‘test’ of my (post-Quins-supporting) state of mind.
Here follows my match report:
“This was a match lacking in quality and bedevilled with instances of poor and dropped passes, knock-ons and small but disruptive technical errors by both teams.
Quins – desperately hanging on to the Premiership fourth-place-in-the-league potential play-off spot after most recently suffering two successive defeats following a run of five wins – began and continued for half an hour in encouraging firecracker mode, throwing the ball about with abandon and not only scoring tries through Mike Brown and Jack Clifford but butchering at least two more close to the hosts’ line.
Subsequently, on the stroke of half-time, they gave away a 7-point try/conversion through a schoolboy-error interception pass thrown by fly half Demetri Catrakilis and gratefully accepted by Byron MacGuigan who then hared down the pitch to score from 70 metres out.
At half-time Sale Sharks were ahead 19-14.
[At that point, dear reader, your author decided that ‘the writing was on the wall’ – in the sense that, having started brightly, Quins had now ‘shot their bolt’ and the second half was most likely going to be a repeat of the indifferent-standard first, resulting in a Sale Sharks victory. And so went to bed.]”
He awoke the following (Saturday 6th April) morning to discover that his prediction had been 100% correct.
The final score was 28-17 to Sale Sharks.