Ireland were pretty much knocked flat on their face on Sunday by a powerful (if stupefyingly boring tactically) English team. Perhaps worse yet, the legend of great Irish fans support took a serious body blow, inflicted by none other than our own. One of Irish rugby’s most endearing features, and indeed one of its proudest traditions, was the veritable silence afforded the kicker, even opposition kickers, during play. Sadly, English outhalf Owen Farrel was subjected to boos, whistles and cat calls on almost every one of his six kicks on Sunday.
It was ugly.
Let’s face it. We supporters of Irish sports and Irish Rugby would be the first to cry foul if Ronan O’Gara or Johnny Sexton were booed by English fans while lining up a kick at Twickenham. For years foreign teams, players, commentators and pundits alike commended Ireland and its fans for the respectful way they treated the opposition and its kickers during games. Indeed, many thought that the strict, almost shocking, silence that continues to greet kickers at Munster’s home games is in fact intimidating for the opposition.
You could argue therefore that this silence maintained during kicks was actually part of Ireland’s home field advantage, an advantage that would appear to be all but gone (Ireland has won a pathetic six out of its last twelve home matches).
One more point before we get on to the demise of Ireland’s home field advantage. Apart from the booing of the kicker, the pathetic booing of the English fans singing was pure bottom of the barrel stuff. Full disclosure, as a passionate Irish fan, I have been known to mock the single most inappropriate fan base anthem, ‘Swing Low’ on many occasion (Seriously England, a slave song?! From the most colonialist country of all time?!). However I would rather listen to a thousand English fans bellowing ‘Swing Low’ than a handful of ignorant Irish fans booing same. Furthermore, Irish fans and journalists alike were up in arms earlier in the season when a stupid English team official insisted on playing loud rock music at the Saracens against Munster game, whenever the travelling visitors tried to sing.
We can no longer complain about incidents like that, if we are going to behave in exactly the same manner as a sports supporting nation.
Back to the overall dissipation of Ireland’s home advantage. The atmosphere at Sunday’s game was about as good as at a football friendly between Ireland and Kazakhstan. Apart from the classless behaviour of a large portion of the fans, the noise levels of actual support were pathetic, and there was a constant stream of ‘supporters’ leaving their seats to attack the concession stands, or whatever it is people do when they are not caring about what’s going on in the action on field.
What exactly is leading to this apathetic, boorish, ugly behaviour, coupled with a noticeable reduction in the actual support levels of the Irish rugby fans in Dublin? Is it the high ticket prices? That aspect can’t be ignored. Tickets start at around 50 euros and march upwards towards 100 euros if you want to have anything approaching a decent seat. In this day and age, during this stifling recession, that is ridiculously expensive.
Sorry if this offends, but the fact of the matter is, the people that can actually afford the tickets would appear, on the evidence before us, to be bringing down the lofty standards of Irish rugby support.
Sadly, Irish rugby might be laying in a bed of its own making. Take a look at the Boston Red Sox for what can happen to a passionate crowd. For decades, prior to 2004, Red Sox fans were known as among the most passionate, knowledgeable and supportive of all fans in not only US baseball, but all US sports. Red Sox playoff games in the late nineties and early 2000s were nothing short of sensational events. The home playoff opener in 1999 was one of the most exciting, enjoyable events I have ever seen on TV, and Red Sox fans still remember nostalgically the incredible support that poured forth from the stands and bleachers that day. Fast forward to now, and the home support at Red Sox games is effectively gone. In fact, it is worse, it has a tangible negative effect on the home team, as Red Sox fans have taken to booing their team, something unheard of in the nineties.
What happened? Simple, the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, this success bringing with it a truckload of fair weather fans and wildly over priced tickets.
In the summer of ’99 I sat right behind home plate watching Pedro Martinez pitch for Boston and my seat cost $28. Today that same seat would cost around $200, if you could get it, all the best seats at Fenway have been bought out for the next five to ten years by corporations, businesses and ticket re-sellers.
Success on the field has led to the pricing out of the average fan in Boston.
This would appear to be exactly what is happening to Irish Rugby. Success for Ireland and Leinster in the last five years in particular is leading to increased ticket prices which in turn is leading to a new, rich and basically apathetic crowd at the games. This has the adverse effect of eroding Ireland’s previously enjoyed home field advantage.
Perhaps it will take a few years in the wilderness for the real fans to be allowed back in.
In the meantime, if you care at all, and if you are at an Ireland game where a ‘fan’ boos the kicker, please do your country a favour and chastise them for it.
That is, if anyone cares anymore.
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