A barbarian game

Feb 9th, 2012 | By | Category: Personal Columns

The season ticket hasn’t got much use this year.

Attending matches in Dublin when working in a parish which is halfway to Limerick presents logistical challenges. To drive to a match on a Friday evening, through the weekend traffic in the city, could take longer than the match itself. When the match is scheduled for 7.05 on a Thursday evening and when it’s against an Italian club short of fifteen players on international duty, the thought of the drive to the capital doesn’t even arise.

The television commentator says that 15,000 tickets have been sold for the match but the pictures show the 18,500 capacity ground at Ballsbridge is less than half-filled – when there are over 12,000 season ticket holders, to report that 15,000 tickets have been paid for is hardly newsworthy.

Watching Leinster take their time to establish a stranglehold in the match, there is time to ponder obscure matches watched in the past.

In schooldays, we were allowed to go Torquay on a Saturday afternoon. The bus would collect us at five o’clock at the south end of the seafront and there would have been afternoons when there was not much of interest in the town an I would have wandered to the ground of Torquay Athletic, the town’s rugby club, close to the pick-up point,  the most scenic sportsground I knew, and free admission. There was once a match against Penzance & Newlyn and, it being the 1970s, I think I might have seen the England international Stack Stevens play, but, close on forty years later, it is hard to be certain.

Rugby became a television spectacle for me in the 1980s and 1990s, watching the Five Nations each spring, but never going near the ground.  Moving to Dublin in 1999 brought the odd ticket to watch Ireland at Lansdowne Road and the growth of the habit of going to Donnybrook or the RDS to watch Leinster – but those weren’t obscure matches.

The favourite obscure moments, those moments that required an anorak-like devotion to being present, were occasions that demanded extreme patience on the part of the family.

There were the friendly matches. An August evening match between Agen and  Bordeaux Bègles at Sainte-Foy-la-Grande: heard of them?  I thought not. What about Bordeaux Bègles against Northampton Saints? The latter would be well-known.

Then there were French Top 14 matches; fixtures like Bayonne against Montauban, or Biarritz against Bourgoin-Jallieu. My children at some future date will recount tales of extreme eccentricity.

It wasn’t about who was playing; it wasn’t even about the result (though driving from a French campsite down into Spain and seeing Bayonne beat Stade Francais was a very fine night out); it was about the game; about chess-like movements, about speed and agility, about physical strength and sheer brute force.

The obscurity or prominence are not important – it’s the game that matters.



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