Aviva Premiership Round 15: Saturday 5th March – A.J. Bell Stadium – Sale Sharks 29 Harlequins 23.
There are times in this life where one really does have to be thankful for small mercies and yesterday afternoon may just have been one of them.
With BT Sport, having annexed the Aviva Premiership television rights this season, deciding to show three live matches per week [a specially-chosen Friday night 7.45pm kick-off, plus one afternoon fixture on each of Saturday and Sunday], one has to look on the bright side, largely because that is all that is left these days.
To wit, if you think about it, there is at least a fifty percent chance every weekend that Quins’ outing of the moment will not be exposed to the nation’s rugby television-watching public – or, to be more precise – to the haunted collective gaze of their fans.
There are two types of people in this world: those who, for whatever reason (logical, illogical, emotional, instinctive, quirkiness, a need to ‘adopt’ a proven winner, perhaps as a means of overcoming a crippling personal lack of self-esteem – or its direct opposite, a desire to identify with a perceived representative of the downtrodden masses – or even just sheer accident of birth) support a particular sports team …
And those who don’t.
For those of us in the ‘supporter’ camp, life is not so much – as Forest Gump would have it – “… like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get …”
When you’re a supporter, you know exactly what you’re going to get.
A giant roller-coaster ride, that’s what. And not just any old roller coaster ride in which the highs and the lows kind of even themselves out like the backbone of the Loch Ness monster. It’s the most exhilarating and yet debilitating and depressing ride you could imagine – and that no theme park owner in his right mind would ever build.
At the beginning of each season, you and your kind – together with all the other teams’ fans – take a cable-car lift to the top of a very tall mountain. When your turn comes, each car allotted to fans of a different team, you all strap yourselves in, buzzing with hope and excitement and, with a small jolt, set off at a small pace to leave the sanctuary of the wooden shed …
First – and you know this is coming, even as you set off half-full of beer and bonhomie towards the entire world, singing your songs, buzzing with nervous anticipation – you go over a series of small humps (usually about two of them) until you experience your first lost game of the season.
But miraculously it doesn’t crash or stop so that you can get off. Instead, somehow, it stays on the rails.
Your restraining belt tightens a notch, reinforcing both that you cannot get off and that there is probably plenty more to come.
Progress resumes along the track, slowly but surely to the next minor hump. If your team loses that game, you’re headed straight for the next 500-foot drop. But if by some happenchance it sneaks a victory … somehow your car scoots back to the level you started from, 500 foot above … and the slow momentum continues forward inexorably.
You get the global picture.
Let me summarise the Quins position for you as simply and graphically as possible.
Since the Premiership resumed on 31st January – after its break for the European cup competitions – confined to our roller-coaster team car and strapped into our seats, we have been compelled to approach seven humps (or games) …
… and plummeted a grand total of 3,000 feet at the aforementioned rate of 500 feet a pop.
Since the previous 500 foot drop, in other words all last week, I’d been dreading yesterday in the same manner that a professional married man with an hitherto impeccable reputation might dread a first appearance in court on a charge of offending public decency after being apprehended having drunken intimate relations on a sidewalk beside Waterloo Station with a senior female QC who apparently, because of some legal quirk, cannot herself be named.
As time passed, I tried to interest myself in each daily round of trivial domestic duties and obligations, but all the while the knowledge that the day of reckoning was coming closer and closer was burning a hole in the back of my head.
By yesterday morning I was steeling myself to face the music. At 2.20pm there was nothing for it. I had to go to BBC Sports’ website and tune in to BBC Manchester’s online radio commentary upon the match.
For just a glorious ten minutes or so it seemed as if I was to be spared – there was something wrong with the live commentary service – or indeed perhaps with the website.
Despite being tuned in appropriately, there was no sound coming through!
At first the pain was lifted by a sense of joy at escaping the ordeal, but it did not last. Suddenly, with a burst of top volume, the commentary suddenly arrived … and we were only 0-3 down, to a penalty kicked by Sale’s Joe Ford, older brother of England fly half George.
Things went okay for a bit – we were getting praised through gritted teeth by our Mancunian describers – but then in the second half, after a shoulder injury to Marland Yarde, the Sharks came on strong and, as usual Quins fell away.
For those Quins fans seeking cold comfort there was a last minute ‘dying of the embers’ effort from the boys that secured us a losing bonus point for ending within 7 points of the winners, but the important fact – the only fact – was that this was yet another ‘L’ on the record.
Worse than that with the list of injuries to key players – fly halves Nick Evans (broken leg) and Tim Swiel (ankle) both out for the season, Karl Dickson (hand operation) and now Marland Yarde (just confirmed dislocated shoulder) to finger just four – we’re really struggling with our Six Nations internationals away.
From third in the table to eighth in about three weeks is horrendous.
I’m left wondering whether I shouldn’t grab a last-minute cut-price flight to somewhere like Budapest, Lisbon or Benidorm for a break and some sun and a bit of R & R next weekend …