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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

19th May - Time of your Life

In 2007 the game was held at HQ. Again I was lumbered with 3 extra tickets which luckily my brother-in-law wanted. Lesson here I think - only get 2 in future and then have a pretty good idea who is coming with you!

The game was a battle of the giants of the English game at that time, Wasps and Leicester. Both pushed the laws to the limits especially at the breakdown. I expected a close tight game, but actually it ended up with an easy Wasps win, 25-7. The game was actually memorable for the guy who retired that day - Lawrence Dallaglio. Past his best, due to a series of injuries, his value as a motivator remained. He was the second of the Holy Trinity to retire. I must be one of the few, if the only person in the world to be at the last competitive game of all three. Neil Back retired on the Lions Tour 2005. To be honest, he was way past his sell by in the League, and whilst being brilliant in his day, it was a tour too far and he was a shadow of his former self. Probably for most of his life he was illegal at the ruck, but he was so good, the referees penalised the opposition. Richie MaCaw enjoyes the same reputation as a Cheat - but if you don't get caught......Richard Hill, the quieter, yet most talented of the three, retired in an end of season game at MKDon's stadium (known as the Moocamp, because of the concrete cows in Milton Keynes), playing for Saracens in a non-descript game against Bristol. His knee was so bad that he should have retired at the end of 2005, when he got injured in the first Lions test. He fought back to retire on his terms, even though he literally limped from ruck to ruck. Such was his reading of the game, that he could get to the right point to get involved even though, for the rest of his life he will walk with a limp. I am an unashamed fan. To me he was the greatest rugby player of his time. The only player never to be dropped by Woodward, the most successful English coach ever. 69 England Caps, with 18 games in a row unbeaten 25 if you don't count the game England lost when he wasn't playing, 6 Lions caps - and the Lions never lost with him on the pitch. The superlatives could continue, but that's not the subject of this blog.

Dallaglio had an immense presence on and off the pitch. I was at HQ when he scored a try against Wales, carrying 4 Welsh players over the line with him. He was never afraid to show his emotion in playing for England, often having tears in his eyes when the National Anthem was played, most notably in the World Cup semi against France in 2003. He was the character of Wasps, who have never been the same since he retired. He knew personal tragedy, with his sister being killed in the Marchioness tragedy, and so knew the importance of life, family and making the most of your time. Opposition fans used to hate him, but every player that talks about colleagues always says what a top bloke he was off the pitch. And so, when on 70 minutes, he was substituted, the standing ovation he got from 70+ thousand in HQ was well deserved, even though Tigers fans would have barracked him all through the game, they knew a true English legend had retired. As he walked off the pitch, the tannoy played 'Time of your Life' - Green Day. I'm glad that I was there.

The score at the end of the game was 25-7. The most comfortable win of all the Finals I'd seen.

The following year I was back in Cardiff, the final time G came with me to watch a Final. Not a great final. On the Friday night we went into Cardiff, and we went into the Brewery quarter for a drink. The town was red. There were Munster fans hanging from the lamposts singing 'Fields of Athenry'. There was only going to be one winner the next day, and it wasn't Toulouse. We went into town early the next day. At 11am the next morning, the Angel had sold out of beer, and was making emergency calls all over the city for beer. Cardiff Rugby Club ran out at 3pm. From comments made by the potboy at the Club, pubs all over the city were ringing round trying to get extra barrels in. The Irish were in town and they were going to party.

The game itself wasn't very good. In fact once Munster were ahead, they shut the game down to the frustration of the French one of whom, got sin-binned for kicking an offside Munster player up the bum. (An offside Irishman? Surely not!!) Game over 16-13. An easier win than the scoreliine suggests but the worst game of rugby as it also lacked a lot of drama. We had booked a hotel room in Cardiff as we knew taxis would be few and far between. Of course the rate was twice the normal one. This bugs me. Whilst supply and demand dictates, a hotel makes its money on being half full, and offers cheaper rates at weekends when the travelling businessmen don't want the rooms, so why charge more than a business account would pay during the week? Anyway, I didn't sleep well. I never really do in hotels. If they want to make more money, they could reduce the temperature in their rooms by a few degrees, rather than raise room prices, then we wouldn't need to open the window the half inch we are allowed to let the heat out, or have the air con on. The road sweepers were out from 4am in the morning cleaning Cardiff's roads. I could hear snoring from outside the room. It was so loud it sounded as though it was in the room, but I was alone. At 7am I gave up and got up, got showered and dressed, and opened the door to find several Munstermen asleep on the floor in the corridor. The snorer was right outside my door. I went down in the lift. The doors opened and there were more Munstermen asleep in the corridor down there. Finally as I left the hotel, a couple were asleep in the vestibule between the two sets sliding exit doors.

2009, saw a return trip to Edinburgh, the rip-off capital of Britain. Hotel rooms started at £200 per person. I bought 4 tickets for the game and guess what, I lost money on unused tickets. We could have sold them in other years, but Munster had bought up final tickets expecting to be in it and they weren't, Leinster won. Happily that would also backfire on Edinburgh Hoteliers as rooms were cancelled. A few years ago, on a girl's weekend, we went to Edinburgh for a Scotland England game. Most of my 'tour mates' were Welsh. DT, who booked the hotel, told me that the Scot taking the booking said, 'Oh you're Welsh, that's good. We charge an extra tenner a room if you're English'. Mmm, so it's not just Black people and Gays who get treated unfairly then. But clever, as it's not classed as racism, as colour is not involved. There are more attacks on English people in Scotland than 'ethnic minorities.' Fact. I experienced it myself in a pub on the Friday night. I went to the bar, and asked for two drinks. The guy next to me said, 'Remember 1967. I was also at the 1970 World Cup game supporting West Germany. I also bought an Australia top in 2003.'
1967 - the Scottish football team were the first team to beat World Cup winners England, after their success.
1970 - World Cup semi- Finals - food poisoning and some daft selection decision saw England lose in extra time to Germany. (football)
2003 - England beat Australia to win the World Cup (rugby).
I was accidently push into another guy, and he spilt his pint. I apologised, even though I had been puched myself. He turned nasty. Luckily my Welsh friend calmed the situation. Give me Glasgow any day.

So there are people, teams and countries I don't like, but I don't spend money on supporting anyone but... £40 on a rugby shirt for one game. Sad. By all means be proud of your country, but don't base nationalistic pride on hate. (Look at the recent visit of the Queen to Ireland. Most mature Irishmen know that past was bad, but they feel enough pride in their country to look forward not backwards and see the visit as a goodwill gesture. (Along with the £7 billion loan no doubt.) And they still love to beat the English - and do so with an alarming regularity at the moment.

Edinburgh Council again had done their best to welcome fans, with banners along Prince's Street, free maps and suggestions of things to do. I would suggest that they look at the more personal welcome. On New Zealand websites at the moment (Councils, Tourist sites), they are putting suggestions on how businesses, shops, clubs, communities can make the most of the opportunity by picking a second team to follow. Inviting ex-Pats, holding cultural evenings featuring food, song, beer etc. from their 'Second team'. A way of welcoming foreigners perhaps. Next time its in Edinburgh, I shall stay in Glasgow.

Anyway, rant over back to the game. Although it was a sell out, there were lots of empty seats. The game was exciting, and the right team won, Leinster beating Tigers 19-16. The scoreline flattered Tigers, who could have nicked it. After the game we went across the road to the Murrayfield Hotel. There was a real buzz in there, and the fans were mingling, drinking, and singing. We got invited to go to a bar in the City, with some Leinster fans. I thought this was a good idea, as it would be harder to notice an odd English person amongst so many. When we got there, it was all bang bang music and stainless steel. I hated it and after about an hour I gave up and walked back to the apartment, (not a hotel - but £50 a night - fair price.) All the pubs full of character, banter and live music and we'd picked one with bangbang music flashing lights in an entertainment centre with a Nando's and Multi screen cinema. Maybe I'm just getting old.

This brings me up to date. Back to Cardiff again. Friday night is the Amlin Cup. Stade Francais v Harlequins. Apart from the Cup, they are both playing for a place in the Heineken Cup, the Champions League if you like, so it won't be an end of season jolly. On Saturday, Leinster v Northampton in the Heienken Cup. A probable win for Leinster, but Northampton have done so well to get there, and in a cup game anything can happen. Oh and I have a spare ticket again. Next year, I'm just getting my own, and going on my own. It costs less money.

Reason for the choice of music documented above.

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