A busy week, the BBC sport website would undoubtedly claim. They do this every Saturday when Sky and Setanta haven’t colluded to move any more than six games to Sunday or Monday. So, let us get started…
The Rugby World Cup
Football will always be my sport, in the way that atheism will always be my theological bent. In fact, I almost have no interest in sport whatsoever outside football. That said, when a big tournament comes around, in whichever sport might be in season, I can find my interest piqued enough to watch a few games and read up on the rules. Thus, I am now fairly familiar with baseball, American football, cricket and now rugby of both codes.
My grandfather was a proper sportsman, who enjoyed watching football, rugby and cricket on a regular basis, and while I would occasionally watch the five nations tournament as it was then, I never paid much attention to rugby, other than a brief flourish of curiosity caused by national pride whenever Scotland were playing.
The game of rugby union has changed immeasurably in the intervening years though; professionalism has arrived and Italy (and apparently now Argentina) has joined the five nations. Players are now bigger, stronger, fitter and faster than ever, and I’ve become even less interested in the game, if that’s possible. I became even more disillusioned with the game when exciting players like Jonah Lomu and Gregor Townsend seemed to fall by the wayside, replaced by the sterilised, regimented precision of kickers like Jonny Wilkinson. Seeing someone score a flying try is thrilling, even to someone with a limited understanding of the game like me, as is a well worked touchdown in American football. Seeing a game settled by penalties and drop goals isn’t so exciting a proposal.
I have read up a little more on the rules in the last few weeks, having never had the inclination to do so before. And I’ve watched some interesting games, picking up some subtleties of the game along the way. Scotland went out in the quarter finals, but their conquerors Argentina played a thrilling 3rd place play-off game against the hosts France on Friday night. They scored five tries to France’s one as two running teams made a meaningless game far more interesting than the much more important game the following evening. A bit like last year’s football world cup in fact.
The final itself was a bit of a let down. Two kicking teams, with large ‘packs’ (that’s the forwards I think; they do all the scrum work, rucking and mauling, letting the more skillful backs get in to score tries. Or in the case of these two teams, kick for goal) each attempted to win by default after strangling the game as a contest, and in the end South Africa’s five goals to England’s two were enough to secure the trophy. England did have a seemingly legitimate try disallowed by the Television Match official, making a mockery of the whole concept, and some fella’s kid dropped the William Web Ellis trophy in the tunnel on the way to presenting it.
Now, the morning after the tournament ended, some observations from a rugby heathen.
If I could change any rules, I’d get rid of drop goals for a start, or reduce their score to one point. As long as they’re available and worth three points, they’ll become more and more appealing to sides struggling to break through their opposition’s forward line. And that brings me to my second change; I’d reduce the number of players on each side to 13, preferably removing two forwards in order to create a bit more space for running rugby. There aren’t hugely controversial points, but I think they’re changes that would get floating fans more interested.
And in connection with those points, I’m quite glad England didn’t win the world cup. I appreciate that one entitled to play powerful forward-based kicking rugby as any other style, it’s just that I prefer the other style. England scored just 12 tries all tournament, placing them eighth out of the world’s top ten sides, and behind Fiji who were knocked out in the quarter-finals. If they were a football side, I suspect they’d be like the George Graham managed Arsenal, grinding out one goal wins, and thrilling very few neutrals with their play. That is, however my opinion, and I think Sean Lamont is a fantastic player (although he was much outshone by Rory in this particular tournament).
I think I’ll always have to accept that there’ll be a little more rough-housing in rugby than football, but I found the incident where a South African player, who was shepherding the ball into touch, was pushed legitimately by an England player over the advertising hoardings and into a large rostrum camera a wee bit over the top. No quarter asked and all, but a bit of common sense would be nice to see.
Ah, football. As a Rangers and Scotland fan, I’m in a surreal pocket of excitement at the moment. Two huge games for Scotland have been followed in quick succession by and Old Firm game, and next Tuesday we play Barcelona; gosh. The funny thing is that Barça are one of the other teams I’m quite attached to, so I may feel some mixed emotions on Tuesday night. That said, I maybe only feel 30% for Barça what I do for Rangers. Or Scotland. And about the same as what I feel for Arthurlie and Mansfield Town. :p
As usual, I’m more concerned with controversy at the moment. Firstly, I’m thinking of adding MK Dons to my list of teams I have a soft spot for, purely because once in a while I’m reminded of how much I loathed their predecessors, Wimbledon. I should explain for people who don’t know that Wimbledon were bought some five years ago and controversially relocated from South West London to Milton Keynes, some 60 miles away. Among the more pious of (mainly) English football fans, this didn’t go down well, and all kinds of vitriol, including boycotts of games, have been rained down on the Dons. This suits me; any enemy of my enemy is a friend of mine. I despised the way Wimbledon played football, I hated their ‘Crazy Gang’ ethos, which more often than not seemed to boil down to vicious bullying of team mates and opposition players. Merton council pissed me off by not supporting Wimbledon find a permanent home near Wimbledon (they shared with Crystal Palace in Croydon for ten years), and Wimbledon pissed me off by not seeming to care about this fact. And when the furore started against them, I started to take a perverse pleasure in sticking up for them. The whole ‘franchise football’ move isn’t something I find entirely tasteful, but I can swallow a lot more easily than some of Wimbledon’s antics. In any case, MK Dons have been sponsored for the past few years by Marshall Amplification, which absolves them of almost any previous crime, in my eyes. 😉
Artur Boruc is still a bit of a goon though.
I’m watching the Italian football on five as I type this. My brother-in-law Chris doesn’t share my appreciation for continental football, but I just find it so much more technically sound and accomplished than the British variety. True, there’s not quite as much incident, and people dive a lot, but I can put up with that when the alternative is misplaced passes, bad ball control, and general ineptitude.
I’m getting a bit fed up with music I must confess. As I’ve been writing a few reviews for a music fanzine (check the links column on the right hand side) and I have a little more disposable income, I’ve been listening to a lot more contemporary music these last few months. And to be honest it hasn’t gotten any better than it was when I stopped paying so much attention a few years ago. I downloaded the new Radiohead album last week, and while I was initially smitten with a few songs, I’ve gone off it rapidly. It doesn’t have the melodious edge of the first three albums, and it doesn’t have the impact Kid A does. Thus, it’s just an unfocused mess like Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief. I’ve been disappointed so much this year that I think one more crap album will kill my interest in music off altogether. My musical ozone layer is almost depleted, and soon I’ll be burned up by the sun of cockney accents, drainpipe trousers and Russell Brand hair.
I’ve been reading Schindler’s Ark recently. It’s the book that Spielberg’s almost eponymous film is based on, and as you’d expect it makes pretty tough reading. I’ve read a few books on the Holocaust recently (mostly Primo Levi), and I’m going to embark on Anne Frank’s Diary next, but my constitution’s struggling to keep up. I know how pathetic that sounds, and that reading about it isn’t a fraction of what living it was like, but it’s still such unrelenting terror I need to find some joy to counter balance it all. Still, I think the pay off of Schindler’s actions will be enough (I’m still not sure I understand it, but that’s another post come completion of my read), as is reading about Albert Göring, Hermann’s non-cunty brother.
I’ve also got to touch on J.K. Rowling’s outing of her character Albus Dumbledore as being gay. His sexuality was certainly never explicitly touched on during the stories themselves, and that’s led to a thought forming in my head that she might just be doing this to wind up the Christian groups who continually condemn the books for being ‘pagan’, while spectacularly missing the point about what she was actually trying to say; in many ways, Harry Potter is a far more shining example of Christian ethics than some people who parade their prejudice under the name of Christ. But there you go. Personally, I think it’s a great thing. In reality, the fact he was once in love with another wizard makes no difference to Dumbledore’s actions during the course of the books. Rowling announcing her character is gay has resulted in some subtle homophobia, which is all very interesting. Perhaps ultimately futile in doing anything about homophobia, but interesting nonetheless.
This blog was brought to you by the word ‘interest’. I’m off to do more laundry and read the Observer.