❍Jimmy Greaves, rugby fan
“I was a footballer but now rugby is a greater love for me.”
I could have said that. People who were actually good at rugby could have said it. People like, maybe, Keith Wood or Shane Byrne or Tony Ward.
But the astonishing thing about that little quote, is that it came from Jimmy Greaves.
Jimmy Greaves, goal-scoring hero for Spurs for a generation. Goal-scoring hero for West Ham after that. The genius who missed out on a world cup medal in 1966 because of injury. Half of Saint and Greavsie who, unlike today’s pundits, realised that football was and is a game.
Today’s pundits? Today’s players too.
It is a long, long time since I have seen a soccer match that made me feel good, one that entertained me, one I didn’t actually regret watching.
I cannot abide the showboating, the negativity, the diving, the feigning of injury, the whinging at referees, the attempts to get opponents booked or sent off, the inarticulacy of the players, the clichés, the hype and the money.
Between yesterday and the day before, I watched four games of rugby. The worst of those, that between Edinburgh and Toulouse, was aeons better than the best soccer match I have seen in recent times.
God help us, there are large periods of soccer matches where it surprises me that those on the pitch remain awake, let alone those in the stands. I now know why so many supporters take their tops off even in freezing weather. They are trying to fend off sleep.
Now, I know not all is right with rugby. During the recent world cup, it too sank a little with the Garryowen, the old up-and-under, featuring rather too much. Referees have become just a little too protective of players. Some may not like what we used to call ‘clearing out’ when the boot was used to move opposition players who were illegally lying on the ball. But it worked. And when they lay on the ball, they knew what to expect.
Some of us don’t like the fact that the ball seems to be crooked in to every scrum.
Some of us don’t like the fact that different referees seem to interpret the offside law in different ways.
Nonetheless, when you watch rugby, there is always something happening.
If you get into it - and if you’re not, I recommend you do - you will realise that even when it just looks like a heap of bodies lying there, there is lots happening.
Leinster’s defence, for example, against Leicester was stupendous.
There are so many aspects to the game that you could write a book simply about tactics.
One of the main reasons rugby is such a fine game, is that it is a team building game.
The girls - that’s the backs to you - know well that nothing will happen for them unless we - that’s the forwards - get the ball for them.
Yes, there are flash players in the backs.
But you will find that, to a man, they acknowledge the work of their team-mates.
Rugby doesn’t generally give birth to grudges, despite hard physical battles. It generally gives birth, instead, to a few rounds of drinks.
And rugby doesn’t tolerate people who whinge at referees, even if they are wrong, which they generally are.
Rugby is growing. And it will keep growing if the authorities a) keep an eye on the laws of the game and b) keep promoting the game in the weaker countries and in the weaker areas of the strong countries.
A man in a Dublin rugby club once said, to my certain knowledge that ‘they shouldn’t be playing rugby in Tallaght.”
Bad cess to him.
Tallaght and Neilstown and all of the new suburbs and indeed, all of the new Irish, are the future our game.
I don’t wish soccer any ill.
But if keeps going on the way its going, it will become too boring for fans, too expensive for fans, to costly even for television and boring beyond belief.
If that happens, rugby is ready for the challenge.
(You will gather, I’m feeling a great deal better!)