I used to be pally with an avid Celtic supporter. We agreed that he would take me to an Old Firm game and, in return, I would treat him to a Murrayfield international. It was an eye opener, on both occasions.
At the footy I nervously stood up exactly one second after everyone else, pretended to chant the same as everyone else, complete with out-of-sync gestures, and then sat down exactly one second after the rest of the stand. Other than that I can’t say much except that, after the game, one old codger inquired who had won as though the result was incidental. Maybe it was?
When the action moved to Murrayfield we were in the south-east corner of the ground, surrounded by pretty much equal numbers of English and Scots supporters. At the first threat of an English try my buddy was out his seat and hurling four letter expletives at the referee, the English players and, er, their mothers.
I dragged him back into his seat and tried to explain the niceties of rugby etiquette but not before he had silenced our entire section of the crowd, who could not have been more shocked had he arrived from Mars. It’s a cultural thing.
That was almost 20 years ago and rugby has changed dramatically in the interim, not always for the better. So what to make of several Scots abusing England coach Eddie Jones?
I wouldn’t normally go out on a limb in defence of Jones. The prickly little Australian dishes it out pretty well and so he should take the odd barb hurled in his direction. But Jones usually softens any below-the-belt blow with a mischievous grin and a cheeky sense of humour, as though he is fully aware that it is only a game.
In short, he doesn’t take himself too seriously and, given the number of coaches who are determined to say absolutely nothing interesting let alone controversial, he is a gem for all journalists. Nor does he hurl abuse at anyone… other than his own players.
There is a huge gulf dividing banter and abuse and several Scottish clowns abused Jones as a “baldy c**t” after the England coach opted to travel by rail from Edinburgh to Manchester the day after the Calcutta Cup match to catch up with Sir Alex Ferguson and watch United. He had even stopped to have a selfie taken with the morons.
The subsequent headlines shot around the world and shamed all Scots, at home and abroad.
I would like to think that Jones’ abusers don’t play the game themselves, very few who do would consider the England coach a valid target. And Jones is right to criticise others who contribute to the febrile atmosphere. He specified Gavin Hastings, who said that Scottish fans wanted to “rub his face in the dirt” and Scotland prop Simon Berghan who let slip that “everyone hates England”. Their comments add fuel to the fire and the latter could be classed as racist. Substitute “India” for “England” and see how you get on.
England are one of the countries that everyone wants to beat because they have a huge pool of players and the riches of Solomon to fund them, but the days of England being automatically dubbed “arrogant” are long gone – or should be. Individuals may do themselves few favours but the England squad as a whole strike me as no better or worse than any other. Incidentally, David Sole and Will Carling are good mates, as are Finlay Calder and Brian Moore, which is how it should be. Any enmity is left on the field.
Part of the problem is that rugby has morphed from a game that people play to a game that people watch. In the past almost the only people who watched rugby were those who played the game or had done so in the past. Now international games attract supporters who have never entered a clubhouse in their life and have never pulled on a pair of boots.
If they had done they would know that the physicality of the game draws players together like gladiators of old or boxers. The game is simply too brutal not to have a healthy respect for your opponent, it’s a cultural thing, but those that have never played the game or been raised within rugby don’t begin to understand it.
And rugby’s popularity success breeds its own problems. The higher the profile of the sport the more idiots it will attract until eventually Eddie Jones and his ilk will need a security detail before they show their face in public. It’s only a matter of time.