Why Football can’t learn a thing from Rugby

I’ve enjoyed the Rugby World Cup, just as I always enjoy the Six Nations. Competitive sport between the various parts of the UK is always entertaining as you can usually guarantee watching a match with a mate who support the opposition; victory is so much sweeter when you can enjoy it gracelessly.

I’ve also enjoyed the Rugby World Cup because it has debunked some of those irritating myths about the saintly rugby players. I hope that this will put an end to the ‘what can football learn from rugby’ nonsense, although I realise that’s a long, unlikely shot. A bit like that one Halfpenny missed for Wales against France in their semi-final. Ha, he missed!

So what are the most common attacks levelled at football? How about that grubby little complaint – ‘those footballers wouldn’t last 5 minutes in a rugby match’. Well, quite possibly not, although I’d wager George Elokobi could probably do some damage in a ruck. By the same token though, they’d also struggle in a ring with a Klitschko brother, and I doubt if they’d last any longer facing Brett Lee’s bowling. But equally stick a Klitschko up front for Ukraine and he’d be about as effective as…er, well Andriy Schevchenko. OK, bad example, but the point is comparisons between sports are worthless, especially when they’re based entirely around perceptions of strength.

Speaking of which,“those footballers are a disgrace, diving around like that – you don’t see rugby players doing that” is another one you’ll hear. Let me dispel a myth. Footballers don’t fall over after tackles because they’re too frail to stay on their feet. Well, maybe Aaron Lennon does, but he isn’t a real, life-size person – he’s a little Subbuteo player that someone has stuck batteries in. Anyway, footballers generally fall over because they’re trying to cheat. And I think that’s fine. Yes it’s against the rules, but so is tripping an opponent. Why one is more condemned than the other is beyond me. It should be up to the ref to stop players breaking the rules. Anyway, the idea that rugby players don’t try and break the rules surreptitiously is laughable – players frequently block the opposition off the ball, or hold the ball after the tackle, when they know their team would be in trouble if it was turned over. In rugby however, these players are not called cheats. Why? Because more often than not they get caught by the usually excellent set of officials.

Speaking of officials, here’s another one: ‘they’re so much more civilised those rugby players. Look they call the ref ‘Sir”. Yes, well I called my teachers ‘Sir’ at school, and I was (and still am, some might say) a horribly rude little bastard. Yes the footballers are rude. Yes, they’re often adulterers. Yes, some of them are in fact criminals. They also largely drop out of education of any significant level by the time they’re about 12. So yes, the footballers might not be as eloquent as their egg-chasing counterparts, who’ve largely been privately educated up to at least their A levels. But in what other social arena is it acceptable to mock the less educated because they don’t come up the standards of those lucky enough to have parents pay for their education? Also, Mike Tindall – prick. Manu Tuilagi – prick. Chris Ashton – colossal prick. And that’s just from the last month’s news.

Then there’s the common dehumanising of football fans; beer-swilling thugs who have to be segregated by lines of police, and who sing songs about disasters such as Munich and Hillsborough. In fact they’re the thugs who do disasters like Hillsborough. Why can’t they be more like those rugby supporters – look they’re all mingling together! Look, they’re civilised enough to drink beer in view of the pitch! Aren’t they sweet? No, they’re not. In the Six Nations especially, crowds are often made up of a freakishly high percentage of ‘part-time’ fans. Anyway, if football became so sanitised that fans could mingle, I don’t think I’d continue going to matches.

Part of the whole enjoyment of the sport is the rivalry between fans. The most satisfying wins are invariably against those clubs who you feel animosity towards. It’s why in Sheffield – a city who’s greatest achievements are The Full Monty, Nick Clegg and a tram – 28,000 fans turned up for a League One match, just to try and get one over their rivals. The third tier of English Rugby Union, by the way, is topped by Ealing Trailfinders. What do you mean you haven’t heard of them? The Trailfinders…? You know, from Ealing. Oh, you mean no-one’s heard of them? Oh. Oh dear. ( No disrepect intended towards Ealing Trailfinders, a club with a proud history dating back to 1869, and who I’m sure have a lot of very nice, very big rugby men. Hopefully none of whom are reading this.)

Rugby’s good. At its best it’s fast, frenetic and full of suspense. But football is brilliant too. It’s so brilliant in fact, that last year’s overall attendance for the top two divisions alone was over 23,000,000. In a recession. So will the people who don’t find it entertaining please stop criticising it for a perceived lack of civility, the stupidity of its protagonists or because it isn’t as ‘nice’ as rugby. Oh, and if anyone dares to say that ‘rugby is a thug’s game played by gentlemen, and football is a gentleman’s game played by thugs’ I’ll ring up a few football hooligans I know and show you just how thug-like we can be.

What do you mean, ‘contradiction’?

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