Gentlemen and barbarians

Sep 12th, 2009 | By | Category: Cross Channel

There were 15,106 spectators at the Royal Dublin Society Showgrounds this evening to watch the rugby match in which Leinster beat Newport Gwent Dragons 23-14.  Had one been in San Sebastian this evening, there would have been a tide of French visitors as thirty thousand gathered for the rugby match in which Biarritz Olympique beat Aviron Bayonnais twelve points to six.  BBC Radio 5 reported this afternoon that there were 45,000 people at Wembley Stadium for the English rugby match between Saracens and Northampton Saints.

The good humour and the friendship at such occasions is striking.  The abuse and foul mouthed chants of the soccer grounds find no place, and nor does the visceral hatred between groups of supporters that brings riots onto streets of cities.

If the rugby is an occasion of good humour, horse racing is even more so.

Living in rural Co Down for seven years, we had no major sporting events, but six times a year we had racing at the local course and the Downpatrick races were great craic.

I could meet half my parish there and there would be conversation and laughter and £1 bets and delight if you won a fiver, and if you didn’t you had only lost a pound.  The Downpatrick races were a gathering of the community and created a great sense of community, they were a great leveller of class (there were no boxes or exclusive enclosures) and a great uniter of creed.  The Downpatrick races were a great occasion; my favourite meeting was on a Friday evening in May – it was a wonderful way to mark the beginning of summer.

How is it that some sports that brings out the best in people while others can bring out the worst?

Why is it that soccer matches must have huge provisions for stewarding and policing?

Are the soccer fans poor and deprived?  Hardly with the massive sums of money they pay for tickets and travel.

Is the violence inspired by what is seen on the pitch?  If it was, then why does the explicitly rough nature of rugby not provoke violence amongst the fans?

Are the levels of commitment amongst the followers of football much higher?  Their stake in the game hardly matches that of some of the punters at a horse race meeting who have hundreds or even thousands bet on a horse and must stand and watch while others cheer as it is beaten into second place.

A football spokesman recently claimed that the problems at matches only reflected the problems in wider society.  In which case, which problems do they reflect?

If I lived in an English town or city regularly afflicted by the behaviour of football fans, I would want those making millions from the sport to put their house in order.  Living in south Dublin, the 15,000 fans from the RDS are now all safely standing in bars or sitting in their armchairs.

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  1. I am not greatly into sports, but I do enjoy a day at the races. The £1 bet really adds extra interest to a race. I remember a memorable October day at Downpatrick Races. I was entertaining Elly’s French Mother and her friend who were on holiday with me at the time.

    Elly came home from Scotland for the week and the four of us headed off somewhere different each day. For my sins I taught Elly how to place a bet at Downpatrick that day, and she did all the business for us before each race. Between us we had a winner on every race. The craic was mighty and they did their best with a spot of match-making for me! 😀

    We journeyed home via Strangford and the Ferry to Portaferry for a hot toddy, and they sang all the way up the Ards peninsula and onward to Co Antrim. One word – Downpatrick – brings back that happy day!

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