What do England rugby fans do now?



Simple answer – switch to supporting our national game!

If Wayne Rooney had been born in Eire he’d have been the Irish #10 , competing with Dave Sexton, because that’s what the finest sportsmen in Ireland and NewZealand and South Africa aspire to be.

Australia’s funny, as it’s good at everything, but England is undoubtedly a footballing nation with a penchant for public school sports like cricket and rugby.

The English Rugby Football Union (notice the land grab) decided 20 years ago to colonise the mass affluent whose children were playing mini-rugby in the clubs (even if they weren’t going to posh schools). Just about everything that moved got jumped on as a sponsorship opportunity. I remember Zurich being offered the opportunity to make the RFU money by setting up an RFU stakeholder pension for club players and supporters who wanted to link their retirements to the RFU’s brand “voltage”.

Then came fortress Twickenham, that was transformed from a ramshackle collection of ill-designed stands into the clinical stadium of today. Throw in an anthem stolen from the slaves who would have been owned by the ancestors of the current England supporters club and you have a compelling narrative for generation of would be Johnny Wilkinsons.

In all this marketing frenzy, the joy of the game seems to have been left behind. The hugely inflated prices for tickets for this world cup are designed to keep the cup exclusive to the right kind of customers- customers who buy the land rovers and other up-market brands that the RFU’s brand can now “leverage”.

The joy of the game was very evident on Saturday and Sunday night, when the Welsh and Irish fans got behind their teams. By contrast, England fans were left to throw paper darts and go Mexican waves as their team exited the World Cup in an exhibition match at the Etihad.

Whether team England, (or whatever stupid name we give the poor sods who have to go through the post-Woodward wringer), will undoubtedly begin the long road to the next world cup this morning and hope will spring eternal.

Whether they do what the TCCB has done and give the game back to the players is open to doubt. The brand damage that might be created by allowing a Cipriani to express himself is too much of a risk. Instead we have Owen Farrell, the face of corporate responsibility, a low-risk kicker with about as much flair as a mod’s drainpipes.

And the next generation of Rooneys, and Kanes and Harts will not aspire to be England Rugby players as they would had they been Irish or Welsh because our national game is football, which is written deep into the DNA of the nation.

The colonisation of the mass affluent is fine, as long as it has foundations in the values of the sport and is based on people playing 15 v 15 (ok 23 v23) on a rectangular field for the joy of winning. But the England  rugby fans have nowhere to go because their brand aspirations are tied up with supremacy.

The whole RFU, Twickenham, high-voltage brand is based on us winning, which we won’t do; as our best players play with a round ball or in Rugby League (out of choice). Try turning Sam Burgess into a union star and you see just how different the codes are (Jason Robinson was a one-off).

The RFU so want another bunch of Martin Bayfields that they wring all the spirit out of the talent pool, banish the flair to the bench or beyond and persist with players who stack up on a laptop but flop on the pitch.

Meanwhile, the impoverished fans will watch the rest of the world cup with envy, not just for the supporters of other countries who are able to get on with enjoying themselves (without marketing tyranny) but because they will be watching teams that express themselves out of the joy of the game.

Rugby is alive and kicking in England, but the closer it gets to Twickenham and the RFU, the less it is allowed to play. Meanwhile it should be noted that the best game of rugby in this country over the weekend was won by Leeds and the most successful football team in the Euro-qualifiers was…..


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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5 Responses to What do England rugby fans do now?

  1. Paul Lavin says:

    I am not an expert on rugby in either UK or abroad. I am a minimally qualified football coach with a few years experience (there are many problems with football). I played rugby a bit and my kids have too but we all enjoy football and basketball more (very high scope for tricks and skills in both plus the physicality and competitiveness of good level kids basketball is phenomenal).

    My observation on the rugby for kids I have seen is that it is asking kids to be grown-up too quickly (this might tangentially fit your corporate/social monoculture vibe). It emphasises social and team factors too early for kids. These are higher order faculties that kick in concertedly post puberty and are hard to master before then (its well documented by child psychologists). Before that it is essential to unleash selfish creativity and joy to find potentially genius players. England seem to lack enough spontaneity in their play.

    My knowledge and ability to make comparison in rugby is limited. In football you cannot teach a kid to skill-up other players like Ronaldo or Messi do at 13/14. If they don’t do it selfishly from early years then they wont have it as an adult. However, you can teach a young Messi or Ronaldo to recognise the value of teamwork and support particularly once they are older and more mature. UK football coaching has realised the need for more skill in the past 15+ years and has tried to focus more on it. However, it remains problematic often at grassroots levels where parents are highly involved as for adults it is incredibly frustrating to watch kids play football and not pass well enough and “do the right thing” as they know should happen (and mistakenly think they did as a 10 year old).

    English rugby should maybe focus on teaching rugby less at a young age! I have heard that some top rugby academies want their kids to play other sports when not training with them rather than play more rugby not coached by them at school or with clubs. However, maybe playing football or basketball with ruffians in some dodgy locations isn’t socially desirable for the mums and dads 🙂

  2. Phillip Walton says:

    As a fan of both codes maybe the England fans twiddling their thumbs for the next few weeks should channel their attentions to England Rugby League who take on New Zealand in a three match series in Hull London and Wigan.Plenty of rugby played at pace as it should be rather than the slow predictable rugby that seems to have crept back into the union national side.

  3. henry tapper says:

    Good point – it’s a good spectacle and we seem to be more competitive in League!

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