Sporting Nationalism – Alive and Kicking
I woke up this morning, (1 February) to clear blue skies and sunshine after a January of grey skies and almost constant rain with a feeling that all is well in the world because today is the start of the Six Nations.
Last week I took the opportunity to apologise in advance to all of my Scots, Irish and Welsh family and friends for what during the next six weeks will be my ultra-English nationalism where my son accuses me for 80 minutes during the games of being a one-eyed blind sporting nutcase.
Today is also enhanced by looking forward to going to watch the Saints take on Saracens in the Anglo Welsh Cup.
(To all my fellow Pompey supporters – calm down – I mean Northampton Saints rugby, not those up the road)
I’m sure there’ll be over 12,000 at Franklin Gardens, remarkable when you think that over twenty of the Saints players are away on International duty which gives the other squad players an opportunity to play in front of a big crowd.
I have deliberately not used the phrase, second and third tier squad players because when I was coaching it was always something that I felt demeaned them and more importantly their talent.
If a player is in the squad they are clearly considered to have the talent and ability to play at the highest level for the club and should be treated, as the Saints seem to do, as being as important as the ‘internationals’.
I’m also not one of those who complain over the fact that having paid for a season ticket I find time after time that international players are not available for selection.
It would be amusing to see what the reaction of the Premier League Football clubs and supporters would be if they had to carry on playing league and cup games during internationals?
The cries of anguish would be deafening but I suppose that’s the difference not only between the games but also the supporters.
Anyway back to the Six Nations.
England start with arguably the toughest fixture away to France so the inevitable Henry V speech will be brought out of hibernation (OK Henry V was of Welsh descent) and with a win tonight the expectations will go through the roof.
England are expected to easily beat Italy which they will no doubt make a meal of as usual.
England are also expected to beat Scotland, which is always a dangerous attitude to take given the history of them losing in two Grand Slam decider games in the past.
The Irish of course following their sustained European Cup successes are a tough call and have great players who on their day can beat anyone.
Which brings me to the game that has always and inevitably will arouse the most passion!
Ever since the 70’s when Wales dominated the then Five Nations and it looked as if they would go on producing who even today are regarded as some of the greatest players ever the England v Wales fixture has been something special.
For those of us who made the ritual sacrificial journey every other Easter to tour South Wales it was a nightmare with every club you played against having the very simple attitude that this was a full-blown international.
They were the most intense, and I have to admit also the most physical, (that’s my way of politely saying dirty) games I’ve ever played in with no quarter asked or given.
I have to admit that in the majority of cases we were on the wrong end of both the physical and results which made the journey back across the Severn Bridge not so much a sporting event but more a modern-day withdrawal to the comparative safety of England.
I say comparative safety because of course hundreds of thousands of them followed us to play for English clubs.
Every year since I can predict that at this time of year I start to get phone calls and emails from my Welsh friends, never from the Scots or Irish laying the foundations for the triumphalism that pours in a torrent in my direction if they win.
Of course it is two-way traffic and phoning them at three in the morning if England win, is whilst I fully admit very, very childish for someone approaching 65 years of age is also bloody satisfying.
What is great, and perhaps it is because it is sport, is that once the annual ritual of mutual dislike and triumphalism is over things return to normal and as the British Lions shows we suddenly all become just rugby nuts who want to beat those upstarts in the Southern Hemisphere.
So today is the start of the Six Nations.
If England beat Wales and go on to win the Six Nations another blog will be forthcoming.
If we lose then I may have to make like Lord Lucan for a few weeks.
After all it’s only A GAME isn’t it?