Real Men or Big Girls?

by James Baker

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Every 4 years the Rugby World Cup comes along and football, for once, takes a bit of a back seat as the nation’s favourite sport. Now I am a season ticket holder at a Premiership club and love my football. However, I am a passionate rugby fan as well who does enjoy watching the Rugby Premiership as well as the football alternative. Every four years, the Rugby World Cup comes along and rugby reaches the masses. The football fan and occasional rugby fan is hooked for 6 weeks, and fans begin to compare the two great games.

The one thing that has got this England team through the RWC is sheer bloody courage. Willingness to fight for each other and not let each other down.

Now I am not going to write a piece claiming one sport is better than the other. However, I do think this is a massive difference between the games. When was the last time you could write this about England?

Rugby players show courage in every game they play. They also respect the opposition and the referee’s. England are in the semi-final of the RWC and if we are being honest, nobody gave them a prayer of getting there. Despite being World Champions, they had largely been written off by most experts. Indeed, after I left the Stade De France just over 4 weeks ago in despair following the thumping defeat by South Africa, I too had completely written them off and just could not understand what was going wrong. But since my return from Paris, the World Champions have started playing like champions.

They managed to regain some confidence by beating Samoa followed by a win against Tonga. This set up the showdown with our Aussie friends in a re-match of the 2003 final. To say revenge was on the menu for the Aussies is an understatement and everyone expected them to send us packing from the tournament. How wrong the so called “experts” were. England stunned the Aussies with a brilliant, hard fought win. Excuse poetic licence, please reader. “Skippy the Kangaroo, Rolf Harris, Minogue sisters, Ricky Ponting, Alf from Home and Away, Shane Warne, John Howard, can you hear me? John Howard can you hear me? Your boys took one hell of a beating, one hell of a beating”. Sorry, couldn’t resist!

That took us to last Saturday’s game against the tournament hosts, France. One of the other, old enemies. Christ, we do have a few, don’t we? Again, not that pleasing on the eye but a battle of courage and heart and we were on the winning side again. Brilliant, and now we face an unlikely final appearance next week against the impressive Boks.

The England team have shown unbelievable courage over the past few weeks. From despair four weeks ago, to near heaven. England won that last game by displaying a quality that seems to have been lost by most of our fellow country men. Englishness! Sheer bloody mindedness to get the job done, no matter the cost. Putting their bodies on the line for their team mates and their country. This is what I believe got us the win on Saturday. Over the past few years, the French team have modelled themselves on the English game to improve their discipline, their bulk and not to take as many risks. The Gallic flair is still there but not as recognisable as a decade ago. They matched us tackle for tackle, kick for kick. However, do they have that quality of never being beaten when everything is against you? I would say no as a semi-final victory and a grand slam denying victory by England this year have proved. This win was very much made in England.

It got me thinking of the abysmal efforts of our national football team over the past few years. When was the last time we saw an “English” performance from our team? We all know we are not as technically gifted as many of our South American and Latin European friends. We all know the Premiership thrives on the pace and intensity of the game and this makes it the most watchable league in the world. Certainly not the prettiest but definitely the most exciting. I know it is sometimes difficult to play a high tempo game in qualifiers as teams will sit back and soak up pressure and stop you playing. We also know, that often we do not have players such as Riquelme or Ronaldinho or Fabregas who can change a game against well drilled defences. However, in the tournaments, in the big games, we so often fail because we try to change our style of play to appear more patient .and European or South American. Patient for England usually means Rio or Terry bringing the ball out of defence, a pass or two to a full back and then a pass to a midfielder, who lays it back to Rio or Terry to lump forward. Wonderful! Intensity and passion is the English way and we should never forget the qualities that once described this nation. Perhaps in these politically correct times when people seem to apologise for being English, we can all learn from the England rugby team.

I’m reminded of an incident a few months ago. I took my nephew to Stamford Bridge to tour the ground. Not being a Chelsea fan my self, I was not going to be easily impressed. However, my overriding memory of the trip was of our guide. He was telling us all about some of the Chelsea players grooming habits before each game. He was telling us that the captain of England and his chum, Frank would spend half an hour before each game just arranging their hair. The guide seemed very proud of the fact their club captain’s and the England skipper were just a couple of big Jessies. I would love to see them with the rugby boys. I think this sums up the problems we now have with football in this country. They are paid film star’s wages and are more interested in their images rather than dying for the cause. Of course, both of the Chelsea players mentioned would say they would die for their club and country and they love kissing that badge. It all seems a bit phoney to me.

Right, rant over. Football and rugby are both brilliant games in my opinion and I know in a couple of weeks’ time I will be football crazy again. I do wish they would take some notes from the rugby boys. They don’t like it up em! Come on England, let’s get back to what we are good at. Passion and courage.

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