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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

18th May - Perfect

In 2005, The Heineken Cup Final was in Edinburgh. because the Finalists weren't Britich or Irish DT left me with 3 tickets, paid for, but she didn't want to go. I took G and W again. I don't know if you've been to Edinburgh when an event is on, but the hoteliers double (at least) what their normal rate is. Naughty. Surely the city is so lovely that you want people to stay longer and spend more money, but no, you'd rather fleece them, and then let them return home quicker. If I get the chance to attend another game in Edinburgh, I will be staying in Glasgow, where there is a much warmer welcome, fairer prices, and to be honest, I'd under-rated the city, from what I'd seen on TV. Its not all tenement blocks, but Edwardian and Victorian buildings - almost Bath-like, with a vibrant city centre, that reflects it's status as the second biggest city in the UK. (It was also the second city of the British Empire, to indicate it's status).

Anyway, we drove up early Saturday morning, and Edinburgh Council had made a real effort, with signs and banners down the road, a party in the park, and a giant screen to watch the Parker Pen Final. Unfortunately the weather wasn't good, and I offered to take the lads sight seeing. I suggested the Castle, with the Military Museum and Soldiers. K - they are 15 not 5, and were much more interested in going to the Whiskey Musuem. It was cold enough for me to enjoy the whiskey as well. (or is it Whisky?) As they taught us how to drink it, get the right shaped glass, take in the fumes, take it on the right part of the tongue etc., and it was a Single Malt, it was worthwhile, whereas normally whiskey (Apart from Powers Irish) to me needs drowning in ginger. What do you do then? Culture not being their bag, I suggested the cinema, but all the timings were wrong, and we'd missed the start of every film suitable for 15 years olds - guns cars, comedy etc. We found a pool table, and whilst there was no one else in the area, the lads were stopped from playing because they were under 18. Not sure how drinking 3 lemonades would corrupt them when earlier they'd been taught about whiskey, I'm not sure of the difference, so we gave up with Edinburgh and went to Stirling, the nearest place that had rooms at an affordable price. Again wewent to the cinema, but missed the start of the film. Stirling was a small town that felt like you were going back in time. At this point I'd given up. Let's get some beers and go back to the room lads. They of course were happy with this, and after a couple of Buds, joined in the fun of the Eurovision Song Contest. They are competitive beings and that is a competition. W picked Greece to win, (big Jugs), whereas G picked an obscure Balkan country in fancy dress. Greece either won or came highest out of our 'teams'.

The next day it rained. After breakfast we drove to the stadium where they were virtually giving away the tickets to try and increase the crowds. Shame the crowd was small really, as Edinburgh Council had gone to so much trouble to decorate the city. Get your hoteliers to drop the prices and maybe the crowds would have been bigger. We found a ball and the lads threw a few passes until the game started. The organisers had given away flags for each team. At one point I had three of each. We decided that Stade Francais were the under-dogs, and we would support them. It was their last season in blue and red, before they went down the technicolour and pink route. The game was tryless and went to extra time, where Toulouse kicked two penalties to win, 18-12. Not a great game, but its sport. The teams play for the glory of winning, they don't play to entertain. How many finals across whatever sport you follow, do you rave about the entertainment value of the skills on show. You don't, you rave about the tactics, if you are at the game, its the drama, the contraversy, the atmosphere you go for. It's sport not entertainment, and I seriously worry about professional sport, per se, as it all seems to be dumbing down to please the paying viewer. The sportsman allows you to watch him, not the other way round. The drama and excitement of the Ashes test can never be duplicated in the hit and giggle world of Twenty20. Rugby sevens removes the heat of the battle, the chess element of unlocking the defence. It's shallow. The drama at this game was to see the elation and disappointment of the teams at the end. The Toulouse coach being stopped from coming into the crowd to share his moment with his family. I gave the 6 flags I was nursing all game when I went to the loo, to the boys, and when I got back, they had lost them.

The following year the final returned to Cardiff. Cardiff doesn't make the same effort, in decorating the city, but probably doesn't need to. On entering the city that night, you sensed the destiny of what was going to happen. The city was red, as the Munster fans moved in. Limerick must have been empty. Again I took G and W. DT and her kids also came. On the morning we went over to the Vale Country Club where Munster was staying in the hope of meeting some of the players. We were not disappointed. As we pulled up in the car park Ronan O Gara walked past. 'Not now lads he said, we're training, see me afterwards.' We followed them over to the custom built sports hall, which contained half a rugby pitch, with artificial grass. We walked in expecting to be stopped, but instead, we found ourselves watching the Munster lineout moves, which at the time, was considered to be one of the best on the world. Paul O Connell and Donncha O Callaghan at 2 and 4, with Peter Stringer collecting the ball off the top. We knew the calls, if we knew the Biarritz coach we'd have made a fortune! We also saw Ronan O Gara lead the backs through their running moves. You sensed from the players that it was their day, and they were going to win. The boys got their pictures and autographs. On getting to Cardiff, I felt sorry for Biarritz. There were hardly any fans to cheer them on, and in the stadium, there were even less around. The stadium was red. Even over the PA system 'Stand Up and Fight' from Carmen Jones was being played, (one of the two songs associated with Munster). The roof was shut. The haunting Irish Folk song 'Fields of Athenry' echoed around the ground. Biarritz got off to a storming start, but in the end A opportunitic try by Peter Stringer, who broke from the bottom of the scrum probably for the only time in his life to score. Game over Munster 23, Biarritz 19. Destiny fulfilled. Party time in Cardiff. We went out of teh ground across to the Gatekeeper where we watched the fun. The boys started a rugby game, which gradually took over the whole street. Everyone joined in the fun. It was the start of supporters coming for the occasion even if their club wasn't involved.

I chose 'Perfect', Fairground Attraction, as that summed up the day for the Munster fans, and neutrals.

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