Sporting Nationalism – Six Nations

I woke up this morning, (3 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.

For those reading this who don’t know what the Six Nations is – where have you been or do you live – it is the Northern Hemisphere Rugby Union competition involving England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France and Italy.

I should also say that 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 of being a one-eyed blind sporting nutcase for the 80 minutes of the games.

It is an accusation that I can’t really refute – but that’s sport.

What people outside of these island may find strange is that our Premier Clubs during the six weeks of the Six Nations are still required to play their league and cup fixtures using squad players in place of the those on international duties.

Our Premiership football – soccer to those in the USA – have games cancelled during international games – even friendlies – which raise the question of why do they have such big squads if they don’t feel they are good enough to play when internationals are away?

But that’s another question for another day.

I suppose it is all about the managers and supporters and no doubt the cries of anguish in football if they were required to play would be deafening and 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 easiest fixture away to Italy – which I expect they will make a meal of as in the past – before facing Wales at Twickenham next weekend which unquestionably will arouse the most passion and not only on the field.

Ever since the 1970’s when Wales dominated the then Five Nations – and it looked as if they would go on producing players 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 as players 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 – thatโ€™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 thousands of them followed us to play for English clubs.

Every year since at this time of year I start to get phone calls and emails from my Welsh family and friends – never from the Scots or Irish – laying the foundations for the triumphalism that pours in my direction in torrents 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 69 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 show we suddenly all become just rugby nuts who want to beat those upstarts in the Southern Hemisphere.

If England beat Wales and go on to win the Six Nations another blog may well be forthcoming.

If we lose then I may have to make like Lord Lucan for a few weeks.

After Wales it is Scotland away who in the past England would be expected to beat except Scotland are playing probably some of the best and certainly one of the best styles of rugby I can ever remember them playing.

Oh and it is in Scotland where the nation only supports two teams – Scotland and anyone playing against England – which makes it an intimidating place to play.

Next up for the English will be a trip across the English Channel to play France.

Brexit doesn’t apply to the Six Nations though with Boris Johnstone as our Foreign Secretary there is always scope for him to cock it all up.

Anyway France – who for the uninitiated sent a Norman called William the Bastard across the Channel in 1066 to defeat the English at the Battle of Hastings which incidentally was the last time we were invaded – 

France who ever since we have either been the staunchest of allies or alternatively at war with so there will be renditions of the most famous of Henry V speeches resurrecting Agincourt. 

(You’ll need to read Shakespeare if you want to know the full text)

I always find it quite amusing that we get so passionate about winning against the Welsh to the point that both sets of supporters – at least for 80 minutes – border on nationalistic racism and yet the English quote and revere Henry V when we play France.

Why you might well ask.

Well Henry V was of Welsh descent.

And finally the Irish will descend in their thousands on London for the last game of this year’s Championship bringing with them what only the Irish can bring – a total commitment to enjoy themselves whatever the result.

As for the game 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 and if it’s the decider of who wins the Championship then who knows.

So today is the start of the Six Nations and the start of weeks of excessive sporting nationalism in these islands.

But it’s only a game isn’t it?

Or is it?