Our Top 14 expert du-jour, James Harrington, has a better half and she has a guest piece for us today about how she grew up to be a rugby fan. So lets all welcome Scheenagh Harrington!
CASTRES, FRANCE – I was always the bookish, slightly overweight kid at school who loathed even the thought of moving further or faster than I had to, so it won’t be a real surprise to anyone to read that sport wasn’t high on my list of priorities. I tried cross country (snore) and had a go at field hockey (yuck) and while tennis was okay in a summery sort-of way, it was blindingly obvious that physical activity and I were never going to be the best of friends.
At home, my older and younger brothers were both football nutters, and my mum was THE armchair spectator: football, snooker, tennis, cricket – if it had balls, she would watch it. Luckily, among it all was rugby…
I grew up in Hull, a passionate rugby league town where if you weren’t black and white (Hull FC), then you were red and white (Hull Kingston Rovers or Hull KR). I couldn’t have given a stuff about either, to the point of stupidity. During an afternoon in a friend’s pub, I once told a league fan with barbed wire tattooed on a neck thicker than my thigh that his chosen game was “for girls.” I legged it, of course, but I still stand by my opinion.
It was a different story when it came to rugby union. I remember swooning as Rob Andrew and his beautiful cheekbones hoofed England to glory and thinking: this was my sort of sport! As I followed the Five and then Six Nations, as well as the odd Premiership match during my formative years, I developed a love for the game that went beyond the smooth muscularity of Squeaky’s cheeks.
Like most fans, I remember my first live match. Sadly, unlike most fans, it didn’t last long. It was an over-45s tussle in Scunthorpe, and I was escorted gently but firmly from the field after forgetting that, unlike games on the telly, when you start jumping up and down and swearing, the players can actually hear you… Two teams of grunting, sweaty, knackered ageing blokes were baffled as I paced the sidelines, yelling at the top of my lungs: “kill ‘im!” and “gerron with it, yer girl!”
Luckily for me, the man who led me away didn’t hold it against me and we married a few years later. He was by my side after we moved to France and I got the chance, finally, to experience a real rugby match.
I consider myself half Scottish, though I’m not the slightest bit patriotic and have never gone in for all that flag-waving nonsense. The way I see it is, in 100 years, who’s going to care? But when I heard the animalistic roar that went up from our pokey little stadium here in Castres, as the heroes of our Top 14 team ran onto the grass, all of a sudden I ‘got’ it.
In the same way as someone who has mindblowing sex for the first time realises what all the fuss is about, I understood why this game with its odd-shaped ball can make your pulse race. This was a million miles from what I had seen on TV, even as a far-from disinterested viewer. This was primal, tribal – I had to add my voice to the 9,000 others and let my team know I was there for them: there was no stopping it.
In unleashing that cry, that almost orgasmic sound, not only did I feel the deepest, most profound sense of satisfaction, but for the very first time in my life, at 41 years old, I knew I belonged. Suddenly I was part of something that moved me almost beyond words. I told my husband he had unleashed a monster, there would be no turning back from here on in. I was a rugby addict and would not – could not – wait for my next fix.
Our son loves playing with his rugby ball, and I’d be a liar if I said that I didn’t want him to be the next Jonny Wilkinson or Rory Kockott. Whether that happens or not only time will tell, and God help him if he ever makes it – I’ll be a one-woman pitch invasion if he scores a try. But I do know this: rugby union unlocked a part of me I never knew existed and gave me a gift more precious than I could have ever imagined: pride.
Pride in myself, in my town and in my team. No matter how many games are won or lost between this day and my last, that great swell that begins in my stomach as the referee’s whistle blows will always be there, and I will always be thankful for it.
Thank you for hearing me out. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.