Little in this life is more calculated to forcibly remind a human being of the swiftness at which time slips away than sitting down, fondly recalling something memorable from one’s past and simply working out just how long ago it occurred.
In days of yore (at the dawn of the professional era in the mid-1990s) when I first began attending Quins matches and committed to season tickets, it was as exciting and fulfilling if I’d joined a proud century-old military regiment with a long list of battle honours.
Despite having reached an age when I couldn’t possibly be persuaded to play rugby again for fear of ruinous injury, I was still active enough in my state of mid-life crisis to feel inside – given say three months of training – I could still have turned out for new my team. There was no doubt I felt keen empathy with the day-to-day trials and tribulations of the lads in the first team playing squad. As a fan in the stands I could play my integral part in the club’s ups and downs of outrageous fortune by being part of the ‘sixteenth man’ on the pitch. A runs of consecutive wins could put a vibrant spring in my life. A close loss, or two of them in a row, could do the reverse.
All that stood between the one and the other was a week of my own little life, filled with a sense of mounting anticipation between one game and the next.
I’m not religious but I felt I could tap into what it was like to be a believer – as a fan of a specific team, I had a certain enhancement in my life to which ordinary followers of rugby, let alone people who had no interest in the game, could only aspire.
My point is that all this was two decades ago. Two decades!
As life progresses, so does one’s perspective.
Two decades ago a home match meant a whole day devoted to the cause, beginning with reading the newspaper previews and predictions, getting the domestic chores done, deciding which Quins outfits to wear, travelling to a designated pub nearby, a bite to eat and several drinks amidst like-minded individuals, the joys of entering the ground, the bumping into old friends and acquaintances, nodding at fellow fans you didn’t know who were even madder than you were, standing pitch-side to watch the playing squad warm up, getting to your seat and chatting with those regulars around you, getting hoarse during the match (saluting good play, complaining about the refereeing, getting frustrated about basic mistakes), the sense of joy or loss at the final whistle, the draining of humanity from the stands into the bars, the camaraderie of post-match bonhomie, the live band playing in the East Stand bar … and finally getting home and flopping in front of the television at about 8.00pm.
Contrast that with the last two seasons, now in my sixties.
The biggest issue, that of owning (or in reality renting) two season tickets, has meant a constant fortnightly campaign to find someone to go to the next home game with me – sometimes successful, sometimes not. Increasingly, because life has moved us all on in slightly different directions, my ‘old guard’ veterans from the days of yore have dispersed and been replaced by successors five to ten years younger and therefore at different stages of their family lives (if they have any) to me.
It’s not quite how it used to be where I sit in my stand. I’m beginning to worry that I don’t belong anymore.
Also, most Aviva Premiership matches are now covered ‘live’ either on BT Sport, on BBC Radio, or via online streaming.
Thus – if I wasn’t any longer a season ticket holder with my precious money invested, giving me a commitment (not to say requirement) to attend in person simply to justify the expense to myself – these days it would be just as easy (and much less hassle) to get my weekly ‘fix’ of Quins-supporting just sitting at home.
That’s a pertinent angle on the continuing ‘attend or watch on TV’ debate on the website of the Rust for you.
Especially when in prospect the thought of the sheer slog of devoting ten hours of a weekend day to your sporting hobby has maybe only a tenth of the anticipatory excitement that it used to have. I mean, as compared to when nipping down to the ground with about 45 minutes to kick-off … watching the match … and then high-tailing it straight back home afterwards to resume normal life on my sofa seems infinitely more attractive in prospect.
And that’s before considering how Quins have been playing recently.
The truth, if you talk to any Quins fan – whether a club stalwart who first played for the club forty years ago and has been part of it ever since, or just a non-playing season ticket holder of twenty years’ standing or less like me – is that since suddenly winning the Premiership Final almost out of the blue in 2012 (way earlier than in anybody’s wildest expectations) on the pitch the club has gone backwards.
Or – being completely fair to both players and coaches – the incremental strides we have made season-by-season have been smaller than those of other Premiership clubs, inevitably giving the impression that we have gone backwards.
In short, watching Quins over the last two seasons has been an ordeal. Simply and only because we haven’t been playing like Quins should. To all intents and purposes we have lost our sense of adventure, élan, joie de vivre, the ‘chuck the ball about and attack from anywhere’ attacking style for which we are famous and brought us success. Either that, or maybe others have caught us up and can now do it better.
Whichever it is, Quins have (for the most part) being playing like ‘just another run-of-the-mill mid-table team’ – not like the great stage artistes, painters, opera singers or ballet dancers of the rugby ball that we were – and still should be.
Over the past six weeks I’ve been doing some serious thinking about whether to renew my season tickets. Sadly, for me, the balance of rational consideration slipped towards not renewing about eighteen months ago. When your life is no longer built around your weekly in-season rugby-spectating rituals – you just want to see the match and are increasing reluctant to endure the crowds, public transport and all the other expensive and/or time-consuming aspects that attend it – the attractions of life on a sofa grow on you.
Especially with the cost of top season tickets these days.
Nevertheless, I did renew my season tickets this week. One last time (once again!), on this occasion my excuse being that it is the club’s 150th anniversary season and there are a series of special events set up to celebrate it, some of which would be a pity to miss.
I now feel that I can now bow out with dignity at the end of the 2106-2017 season.
I know that because, in light-headed reaction to the sense of elation I felt at having completed the transaction, I then immediately bought a glass Quins pint tankard, a Quins-coloured wallet, a Quins-coloured felt semi-wallet, a medium-sized Quins badge ruby ball, a Quins neck muffler and a pair of Quins-quartered underpants from the Quins merchandising shop at the Stoop.
The last item of the above came in what I can only describe as a baked-bean tin arrangement (you had to pull the can’s ring to ‘open the tin’ to get to the underpants). It was only natural that, immediately upon returning to home, I should disappear to the privacy of my bedroom to try them on.