Saturday, March 19, 2005

its not just a game......a nation waits..

I spent most of yesterday dressed as a dragon.

I was outside an "event" drumming up support. Probably half of the 1000 or so people made comments about needing the dragon at todays rugby match in cardiff.

I will be glued to the tv.....wearing my rugby shirt etc...

All good fun of course but the level of sheer joy at the Welsh performances this year reflect just how important the game is here.

Rugby Union is very different in wales compared to England. RU in England with a few honourable exceptions has never been a peoples or grass roots sport. Largely dominated by the public school ethos few of its professional clubs can balance the books...most attract few supporters (Leicester struggle to get 20,000) even after winning the world cup. In Wales rugby was very much a community game with huge numbers of people watching or involved in some ways. The various steel workers, teachers, miners, vandrivers and doctors enjoyed giving the effete public school boys a good beating on a regular basis.

Although the game was healthy at grass roots level replacing the great teams of the seventies was always going to be difficult. Then came "professionalism". With rugby in england attacting its supporters from the wealthiest parts of society it didnt matter that the clubs didnt break even in most cases. LOts of sponsorship came in (though hardly made on commercial grounds alone) so lots of full time players. In Wales professionalism nearly destroyed the game. The regions have never won the public affections accept perhaps Llanelli which has made much of its welsh speaking history to pull in support from north and west wales.

Rugby has become something of an analogy for the relationship between England and Wales. The English pushed for professionalism because it suited their interests and out look. It wreaked havoc in Wales. The English become the dominant side in the Five later six nations as the home countries are no longer competing on equal terms. As in rugby so in so many spheres of public life. Decisions that benefit some, possibly even a majority in England wreak havoc in Wales.

So we wait with baited breath to see what happens this afternoon. Wales have played some glorious rugby at its best a stunning mixture of the beautiful and the brutal. A victory today sends out a message world wide that Wales are back as a world power in rugby. All across the nation people of every background will be pulling on their red shirts and be ready for the biggest party for many a long year.

Plenty of politicians in Wales seek to play up the regional differences in Wales for their own interests ignoring the fact that our differences are less than in most (independent!) countries in Europe. The national rugby team has just as much support in the North as in the South in the West as in the east and across the language groups. Rugby gives us a sense of what we could be as a nation and, deep down inside, everyone wearing a red shirt and cheering on the welsh team knows it.