Soccer & Rugby – Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
There has been a slightly odd backlash against rugby in the Irish sports media in the last seven days or so following the country’s Six Nations title win – most notably from soccer-based writers aghast at the attention it has received.
A handful of articles have been penned somewhat scornfully dismissing the sport and questioning its recent popularity amongst the average Irish Joe. Frankly, it’s hard to understand.
We’re not a big island, Ireland. There’s only 4.5 million of us in the south and around 1.5 million north of the border. We don’t tend to produce many world class sports teams or individuals and rarely have cause to revel in much glory. When we do, it’s usually celebrated en masse and rightly so.
In essence, you could say Irish people are the kings of the bandwagon.
We’ll support anything that provides the feel-good factor that consolidates the ‘Sure aren’t we just great’ vibe we seem to have about ourselves.
For some, though, the thought of getting behind these D4, private-schooled, well-to-do toffs and their socially exclusive egg-chasing seems all too much to handle. Whilst of course there are fairly significant elements of that within rugby here in Ireland, John “the bull” Hayes, a farmer from Limerick, might take umbrage with that notion.
Visit your local RFC and you’ll find the majority of players there are your average working-class lads with a penchant for some serious Guinness-swilling.
The people who go to games now are of every age, sex and class bracket. It’s easily accessible because there’s something for everyone. Men enjoy the big hits, women love the big thighs and the kids just love a day out.
It may not be the sport of the people but it’s most definitely now a sport for the people. The success of the Ireland national team and the provinces in European club rugby over the last decade and a half has seen the sport exponentially grow.
Despite that growth, and its ensuing adoration amongst the masses, it still lags behind soccer and the GAA as the fourth most popular sport and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. With that knowledge you’d think the need to denigrate rugby for having the cheek to be celebrated comes across a little juvenile.
When the Irish football team do well, the country comes to a standstill. Only last year, John O’Shea’s last-gasp equaliser in Gelsenkirchen had the nation in meltdown.
You could feel the surge of pride like a cattle prod to the solar plexus. It’s arguable we celebrate events like these even more vociferously because we know it’s a rarer occurrence.
Despite the knowledge football is the most popular sport in our country, there still seems to be this insecurity that becomes palpable within that fan base, particularly around the Six Nations’ campaign when rugby’s bandwagon support is at its most fervent.
That buzz never lasts, though. It’s not an all-year-round slog like soccer; it’s not for the legions of diehards who live and breathe it week-in, week-out.
How can it be? International rugby is generally a seasonal, six-week soiree of intensity and passion with a World Cup every four years. At the highest level, it’s a highly entertaining game with a fad-like attraction. That’s not a bad thing, either – it’s just the way it is.
Unless it’s to show how poorly-run the FAI are in comparison with the IRFU, comparing both football and rugby is generally pointless and counter-productive. They’re two different sports with two different cultures; one isn’t better than the other.
If you don’t enjoy it or you don’t like it, fair enough, that’s your prerogative – just don’t begrudge it. Ireland’s sporting successes are few and far between.