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Rugby: sports fans and current issues

On Monday this week Harlequins’ director of rugby John Kingston parted company ‘by mutual agreement’ with the club following Quins’ abject performance against London Irish last weekend.

See here for the story as covered by Robert Kitson upon the website of – THE GUARDIAN

Upon hearing the news I called fellow Rust rugby contributor Derek Williams to pull his leg about his strident piece featured in this organ on Sunday having been the catalyst for this development. He had laughed heartily at the suggestion but thanked me for the thought. As we went on to discuss rugby union matters more generally it struck me that our different viewpoints were illustrative of the breadth of sporting devotions.

Never having played rugby myself but having come to it first through family interest and then marriage to a fanatic, I have never supported a particular club or team and for good or ill that has given me a love of the game without particular allegiances – well, none that I have to declare publicly. If I put that down to anything, it is having so many other duties, interests and responsibilities in my existence.

Derek empathised with this, adding that similar was true for him. Rugby was but a small part of his life in the round and yet he followed it entirely through the prism of his Quins support.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t enjoy watching rugby – he often goes to live matches at non-elite clubs near where he lives and always follows the Six Nations on television – but he’s just not really interested in anyone’s fortunes but Quins’. He told me that by his own choice he never watches Premiership rugby except where Quins are involved and that his knowledge of what is happening in rugby generally, and of the players and gossip from other clubs, is small to non-existent.

In a wider context, it seems to me that Derek’s attitudes are mirrored in football but at a steeper level not least because rugby turned professional only 23 years ago.

Whenever I catch Radio Five’s 606 phone-in programme on a Saturday evening, the majority of fans who ring in to air their views are interested only in success on the field and most of them are unhappy.

Whilst say Charlton Athletic fans would kill for their club to be as successful as say Arsenal for just even an eighteen month period every fifty years, Arsenal fans have been campaigning in one form or another for nearly a decade to get Arsene Wenger to be sacked for his failings in (is it?) securing a regular top four Premier League finish … some (any) silverware of substance … or even to match the owners of Manchester City who have attracted some of the very best players in the world to their colours.

This City have done, of course, simply because they can – being as they are several times richer than Croesus and therefore a hundred times richer than Wenger’s lords and masters.

Yet none of that seems to matter to devotees of any given football club. If a rival club is higher up the table, or attracting more impressive players, or playing more entertaining football, then why aren’t their club too – and indeed, why isn’t their club doing all three of those at the same time?

On Monday Derek agreed with my thesis up to a point.

Quins have long possessed a glamorous but somewhat lightweight reputation for entertaining rugby – being capable of beating the highest in the land one week and then losing to the lowest the next.

For a brief, heady, period they hit a purple patch and won the Premiership six years ago. For their fans, that success ‘went in the bank’ – and they then expected nothing less than permanent world (well okay national) domination.

Now arguably they’re back where they belong, or possibly a tad worse than that, and it’s not good enough. They’ve lost sight of the fact that other clubs have bigger budgets, better coaches and better players.

But then that’s the nature of fan-dom.

It’s rooted in the collective mistaken belief that teams in every sport begin on a level-playing field when in fact nothing is further from the truth. The reason that Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea are at the summit of club soccer – and Saracens, Wasps and Exeter Chiefs are currently at the summit of rugby’s Premiership – is because they’ve got more money than everyone else and the whole structure is skewed in their favour. [Here I’m leaving the scale of money and other similar considerations in the two sports to one side in order to make my point].

Here’s the subject of my post today, chosen against a background in which one of rugby’s most pressing issues is that of concussion and its implications.

The recent high-visibility cases of George North and Dylan Hartley – to name but two – may have been in the headlines recently but rugby is currently wrestling with this problem ‘of the moment’ via its increasingly stringent head injury protocols and calls for new changes to be made to the laws on tackling above the shoulder.

They’ve got a way to go yet.

See here for an article by Harry Cockburn and Alex Matthews-King that appears today upon the website of – THE INDEPENDENT


About Sandra McDonnell

As an Englishwoman married to a Scot, Sandra experiences some tension at home during Six Nations tournaments. Her enthusiasm for rugby was acquired through early visits to Fylde club matches with her father and her proud boast is that she has missed only two England home games at Twickenham since 1995. Sandra has three grown-up children, none of whom follow rugby. More Posts