Fifteen observations, sporting and political, from the opening game of the Rugby World Cup
Posted on 19 September 2015 | 9:09am
Fifteen (see what I did there – not eleven, not thirteen, but fifteen – because this is rugby union we’re talking now)
1. It confirmed the genius of Danny Boyle. The RWC opening ceremony was fine set against the standards of most sporting opening ceremonies. But in scope, scale and creativity – and cost of course – I doubt we will see anything quite as brilliant as Boyle’s London 2012 ceremony in our lifetime.
2. Jeremy Corbyn remains the talk of the town. But when the town is Twickenham, and the crowd a rugby union one, fair to say this is not natural Corbyn territory. On the long walk up the ramp to my seat in the top tier, comments passed my way varied from amused (at my expense it should be said – eg ‘well you lot are the past not the future now’ – to fascinated to bemused to some who were angry and scandalised.
Which brings me to 3. Corbyn’s non singing of the national anthem was a major cut through moment. Everyone knew about it and many were still talking about it. And if you try to defend it on the grounds that it would have been hypocritical for a Republican like Corbyn to sing it, it cuts little ice. People see leader of the Opposition as an Establishment leadership position whether leaders like it or not.
4, yes, though a lifelong Republican who nonetheless made the Queen one of my WINNERS (NB rugby fans – alongside Clive Woodward, Jonny Wilkinson and Sam Warburton) I sang the national anthem. Not least because one or two people were looking to see if I would! I didn’t sing as loud as most of the others though.
5. England rugby fans need new songs. They only have one – ‘swing low sweet chariot’ -and it wears very thin very quickly. Football can teach rugby a lot in this area. Pete Boyle where were you? (Look it up)
6. Prince Harry’s popularity is real and deep among the rugby crowd. I would say only Martin Johnson and the teams taking the field got near it in terms of public reaction, first when he appeared in a pre-match video and again when he spoke. The man next to me (a former Labour voter under Tony Blair now worried he might ‘have to go somewhere else’) said ‘this is good, did you help write it?’ which, as well as giving my fragile ego a little boost in these troubled times, brings me more importantly to
7. I do seem to get a lot of people – including my Row D neighbour from Brighton last night – asking why TB has ended up being hated by so many of those who elected Corbyn. This is doubtless a multifaceted question but until we come to terms with his legacy, and understand why he won three elections, it will not be easy for Labour re regroup and rebuild. And there is a real danger those who voted for Corbyn in the leadership feel they represent the millions who didn’t have a vote but do have one in a general election. The gap between parties and public seems rather wide at the moment.
8. Talking of legacy, there was something of a cut through moment for BBC Question Time this week. It always gets a good audience but I sense this week was bigger than usual. I didn’t see it but Alex Salmond – Twickenham is also not his natural territory – seems to have ‘won’ it. John McDonnell seems to have done better than people expected but he needs a more convincing line about his pro-IRA statements of the past than trying to take credit for the Good Friday Agreement, as a couple of Irish fans suggested to me he had. His contribution was not that evident at the time.
9. I am not sure the RWC and the RFU are properly seizing the opportunities this World Cup offers. The crowd felt very samey, there were not as many youngsters as I expected, and though the branding was strong and the organisation good, with terrific volunteers as per 2012, it didn’t have the epic feel of the Games. That might sound obvious given the Olympics are truly global and cover most major sports. But I had hoped to feel a little more a sense of intense national excitement that went beyond the fact it was an important match.
10. The referee had a shocker. I wonder if he suffered from the same kind of nerves that the players showed in the early stages – notably Fiji’s fly half with a dropped ball and a fluffed kick before things had really got going. The upsides of TV technology are clear, and cricket uses it brilliantly. The downsides were on show last night – officials so scared of their own shadow they referred upstairs too often and sometimes when the need not to do so was obvious to 80,000 pairs of eyes in the stadium and 450million worldwide (or so the advertisers get told).
11. Jose Mourinho is a massive rugby fan. Not a lot of people know that (or that he is very religious). I learned these facts from my latest interview with him for this month’s GQ (the first was for WINNERS and could he kindly buck up in the Premier League given his is the biggest sporting name on the cover?) He says he loves the fact the players don’t complain or argue with the referee (not a hint of irony by the way) and thinks football should have higher paid refs and be miked up a la rugby.
12. Oh – as it’s Chelsea v Arsenal today – Mourinho is very funny about Arsene Wenger and his description of their touch line spats. WINNERS and GQ plugs over.
13. At the risk of offending the many who couldn’t get tickets last night I still prefer rugby league to rugby union by a mile. I loved my time on the Lions tour in 2005, met some fantastic characters, and top rugby union can be exhilarating. But league is more consistently so, and it is possible to go lower down the ladder of the game and still get high quality sport. Burnley midfielder Joey Barton (I love that phrase) was tweeting merrily for the rugby league camp last night.
14. Hobby horse time. The links between alcohol and sport are too close. This is a cultural issue and one political leaders have to address. Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have talked often about the fact that we all too often associate alcohol with having a good time or a bad time. My son and I were seated right next to the entrance to our section where dozens of people were taking their ‘I was there’ photos. I reckon seven or eight out of ten felt they had to give a bottle of beer head high prominence.
15. No matter how hard you try to teach people, some will alas never get sport. They include my partner Fiona, who has in her time asked Roger Bannister ‘what was your distance when you were a runner?’; asked me at a Burnley game in our courtship ‘when is the interval?’; and who was sure this morning that England had beaten Fiji by 45 points to 27. As she insisted on this, despite the evidence all over the papers in front of her, I eventually worked out that at the one moment she accidentally channel hopped to ITV, they had been playing for 45 minutes and 27 seconds.