26 February 2011

Hooligans and Gentlemen

Football is a gentlemen's game, played by hooligans;                                                              Rugby is a hooligans game played by gentlemen.
                                                                                                                                                                     I began following the fortunes of English Rugby while I was a graduate student here in the 1990s. Lucky for me, that was a Golden Age of English Rubgy. England's national side at that time was a “dream team” in every sense of the word. 

Under the leadership of dashing team captain, Will Carling, these boys were the stuff of legend and fantasy on and off the pitch. 

Rob Andrew, Jeremy Guscott, Rory Underwood, Tony Underwood brought crowds to their feet, and could make old men weep at the sight of their staggering speed and agility. But, a bonus for female fans, they were as incredibly good-looking as they were amazingly talented. 

These Darling English Boys in their dazzling white uniforms made me almost tearful, whenever I saw them singing the National anthem at the start of each match. Their voices and chests lifted with national pride. They seemed so wholesome, noble, and well…English. The sort of boys you’d want to take home to meet your mother.

And, speaking of mothers, who can forget the sight of Mrs. Underwood, Tony and Rory’s mum, at every Twickenham match cheering her sons on, with great pride. She would go absolutely mad when one of them was carrying the ball. And heaven help anyone sitting near her if one of them made through, and scored a try! Bless her! But, who can blame her? We were all right there, cheering with her.

And yet, in some matches, there was an air of the under-dog about the English side. Often, when they were playing against some rough, ill-mannered, brutish team like the New Zealand All Blacks, Australia, or South Africa, I would worry for days about the outcome. Of course, the English press and media would give England no hope of winning. There was an ever-present air that England would expect England to lose.

And, of course, sometimes they did lose. Badly. But, I always felt no matter how badly they played, they always played bravely. For an overly-romantic girl like me, watching England in those days became like seeing a strange dramatisation of a Jane Austen novel come to life on the pitch: The Mr. Darcys vs. The Mr. Wickhams!

Back then, the Six Nations championship was just Five Nations. The “big match” then, as now, was England versus France.

Although none of my “dream boys” will be on the pitch – I think Jeremy Guscott is a commentator these days – England will still have my heart. I shall be urging them on to victory this afternoon, as I did all those years ago.

You know, I think that is the thing about rugby, and what makes it so endearing: heart. Unlike in football, especially the American variety, one is truly able to see the real physical struggle between the combatants that is present in rugby.

Now, I’m not ‘slagging off’ “footy” because I do enjoy watching English football, too. It's just swings and roundabouts, hooligans and gentlemen.


Expat mum said...

Oooh, I love a convert.
Great rubgy story here - way, way back in the late 80's, my friend and I turned on an England match because she'd been at Durham with Carling and I think this was his first time on the England squad. The camera is panning down the line of players and all of a sudden I see my friend's husband, Paul Ackford!
I knew he played rugby at a fairly high level but I only ever saw him on a Sunday afternoon when he'd come home from a Met Police game. My friend (a bigger rugby fam than me) couldn't believe I didn't know how good a player he was!

Vilisi@islandmusings said...

Do you watch sevens rugby? :)