Sunday, 21 October 2007
losing my favourite game...
So the 2007 Rugby World Cup ends with a win for South Africa and gloriously heroic failure by a, let's face it, really quite limited England team. No shame in that, no shame at all. On the night we had the possession and the determination to win, but in the final analysis we weren't quite good enough to break through the South African defense, and in the end I think that they were worthy winners. The fact that we might not have had the rub of the green on the night from the referee is neither here nor there. These things balance themselves out over time, and we had our share of luck in getting this far. And it wasn't a try either.... Cueto's foot clearly dragged across the line (and therefore into touch) before he touched the ball down. That his foot was in the air when he actually placed the ball is irrelevant if it had been out of play at any point before. Not that a try then would have made much difference to the result.
I watched the game in the pub. One of my friends went to Paris with his dad and paid 700 Euros for the pleasure of watching the game live, but I was happy just to be surrounded by a fairly large crowd shouting at a big screen. Kick off was at 8pm, but we turned up at around 4pm to try and make sure that we got reasonable seats, which we did. We then had the pleasure of killing time by watching -- simultaneously on three different screens -- Australia losing to India in the cricket, Manchester Utd beating Aston Villa in the football and Lewis Hamilton qualifying on the front row for the Brazilian Grand Prix. By the time the rugby came on, there was quite a press of people and the bouncers had stopped letting people into the pub. The singing of the anthems is quite a big thing in a rugby game: you often see the players, grown men all, unable to contain their emotions as they wait for kick off. It affects the spectators too. "God Save The Queen" is no great shakes as an anthem, and it is positively dirge-like compared to the magical "Marseillaise", but a lot of people really love it. Last night, a couple of guys, pushing their way back to their seats, stopped right in front of me to watch it. I like watching the faces of the players as the anthems play, so I gently tapped one of the guys on the shoulder and asked him if he could move a bit. He rounded on me and started to abuse me for not standing up during the National Anthem as though it was my solemn civic duty. I thought he was joking, but he then turned back round and proceeded to sing his heart out at the screen with his right arm stretched right out, open-palmed.... in other words he was doing a Nazi salute to the anthem. I was a little bit taken aback. I was watching the game in what is predominantly a football pub, and had spotted a guy a little earlier at the bar wearing an England football shirt and with a three lions tattoo proudly displayed on his right arm. I don't mind the football shirt, but I find the tattoo hard to understand. I like my country well enough, but not so blindly that I would want a symbol like that permanently etched into my skin, not least because of some of the connotations of the English football fan. It's my county and I was born here, but it's certainly not my country, right or wrong. I was supporting my country in the rugby, but it's only a game. Luckily the guy moved on after the anthems and we could all relax and try to enjoy the game.
Later on, after the game, I found myself standing at the urinal next to a chap wearing a South Africa shirt and with his face painted green and gold. I told him how I thought the best team had won, and he turned to me and said he felt that it had been unbelievably close and that England had been unlucky. At this point someone else at the urinal told me that I should stop being so bloody philosophical about our defeat, and another told the South African that he would be lucky to get out of the bar alive. I think he was joking, but the South African was not terribly impressed, and I don't blame him. We lost. They won. It's just a game. It's not war. Jonny Wilkinson tackles as though his life depends upon it, but his life does not depend on it. He plays with controlled aggression, but crucially with no malice. If only more fans could watch the game in the same way.
Still. It's been a great tournament with dignified and ultimately deserving winners.