Rugby v football and the fight to become the peoples game.

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On Against the Head on RTE last night the pundits where contemplating whether rugby has become the peoples game and has it overtaken football?

Eddie O’Sullivan, Brent Pope and Bernard Jackman where very much of the opinion that it is changing amongst the masses. The upturn in skill, speed and in fairness, the results have brought Irish rugby to the forefront. That sitting alongside an underperforming (or over performing depending on who you talk to) football side with a lack of intensity / will to win.


To come to a conclusion, you have to compare the 2 games in 2018. We also have to be realistic about where the games stand on the world stage. Football is untouchable, played in all quarters and on every street corner of the world. That will never change, to a lot of people it is a way out of hard times and that is the romantic side of the game. That in reality is a thing of the past. I mean the romanticism of the game. It is a business through and through. That is what happens when popular sport is over produced as sky sports began to do in the 90’s. When I was obsessed about the game the teams each had characters. There was the skilful player (John Barnes at Liverpool) there was the enforcer (Vinnie Jones) and throughout the game there was more honesty. If you look at the time Robbie Fowler went to the ref to say that he was not brought down in the penalty area that was the last of the honesty at the top level. Nowadays the game is about getting the opposition penalised, about getting the corner, the penalty or the set piece. It is rarely (or much less) about using tactics to outsmart the opposition.

This is where the differences in the games show their head. As said previously, at any level there is no place to hide on a rugby pitch. In fact, if you hide or don’t give 100% that is the time you get hurt. Team work is constantly instilled and you can count the amount of times a cynical play was employed to get an opposing player sent off on 1 hand. That is in the last decade. The game is adjudicated to a much higher level, aside from the referee and the linesmen (not being sexist, that is what they are called) there is the television match official that oversees the entire game from the same angle that you or I would be watching it from the bar stool. This brings the people watching closer to the game.

As a spectacle, it is no comparison. Rarely do you get a bad rugby match on TV. It is a regular occurrence for football, and this can be reflected in the lowering rating (19% drop for sky sports in 18 months).

The players are the next issue. In football, the gap between you or I and a player playing for Liverpool (insert your team name here) etc. has never been bigger. The viewers life circumstances haven’t changed since the days of George Best, the players have. The supporters expect the same effort as previous generations but the players want to do the bare minimum to get to their pay cheque. This is not the case for all of course, but the majority are this way. When you sit down after a long week at work doing something you don’t want to do to pay for a mortgage you don’t want to pay, the last thing you want to see is someone who gets paid in 1 weeks what you would get in 5 years not bothering to play the game. It is a natural reaction and one that is seen in the 19% reduction in viewers.

Rugby on the other hand is the complete opposite. If you were to go to the RDS/Thomond Park/ Kingspan stadium and the Sportsground you would see players who are willing to leave everything on the pitch, they are willing to put their heads where most of us wouldn’t put our feet. Will to play for each other, there is no room for selfishness on a rugby pitch and this is something that we appreciate. And is something seen in the increasing viewership figures / sell-outs for the international side over the last decade.

As a spectacle it is no competition in terms of value for money and enjoyment, in terms of the honest of the game it is no comparison. The issue is that rugby as a professional game is younger than most of you reading this and it will take time for it to be exposed to a world audience. The 6 Nations this year is being broadcast live in America for the first time, if America tunes in, then they will tune out of their other pastimes.

The club game is welcoming to everyone regardless of background. You could go to any local club on a Tuesday and Thursday and join in training. The social side of the club game is something that is always welcoming.

Rugby is worth your time at the end of a long week.

One thought on “Rugby v football and the fight to become the peoples game.

  1. I agree with the sentiments expressed in your article. There is one development in the professional game which needs to be curtailed i.e. players asking for yellow cards to be given to opposing players.I think it is important that this trend is halted or else we could see other elements that have become part of the professional game in soccer, creeping in to rugby.
    On the substantive point raised on “Against the Head” I think that rugby still has a long way to go before it becomes “the people’s game”. With the exception of Limerick city and possibly one or two other pockets around the country, it is still a game mainly supported by the upper/middle classes. If you look at the professional players in Ireland, most of them come from fee paying private schools. There are of course some notable exceptions to this. There are certain parts of the country where little or no rugby is played e.g. Waterford county, south Kerry, most of Clare, most of Connacht apart from Galway, Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal. It is still a minority sport in most other counties with the exception of Limerick city and south Dublin. There is no doubt that the popularity of the game has soared over the past 20 years due mainly to the success of the Provinces in the Heineken Cup and also the work of the IRFU in spreading the game to it’s non traditional regions i.e. most of the towns and villages. I think the guys on “Against the Head” are deluding themselves and it will take a long time before rugby can spoken about as being “the people’s game”. A World Cup win might expedite this of course!


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