Sport is a huge fellowship, of people with common desire to be the best they can and to succeed, whether individually or as a team. This is what appeals to participants and spectators alike. I do wonder if this is now being missed in Premier League football, where some players are prepared to sit on a bench being a bit part player picking up medals in cups they've barely been involved in for money that the rest of us can't comprehend. The Big 5 or 6 clubs with oil money backing or Russian Mafia buy players to sit them on the bench to stop other teams having them. Pay the players big money and they seem to accept it. Wayne Bridge was an excellent footballer who has spent most of his career as a reserve. If he had been playing regularly, he may have picked up more England caps, he may have been captain and key player of a 'lesser' team, which may have been a stronger unit with him, and the League become more competitive with good players spread out more equally. Instead he preferred to play in front of 3 men and his dog in the A team on a Monday night. He is one that came to mind, but he is not the only one by any means. There are rugby players that seem to be doing the same. Ryan Davies has spent his career as an understudy, rather than ever really getting the chance to develop his game. maybe this trend will spread further.
It is the fellowship of rugby that makes it so special, and it can bridge continents. On my last visit to New Zealand I visited 2 rugby clubs. Petone Rugby Club, near Wellington, is Tana Umaga's junior club. They play in navy blue shirts with white shoulders to the same pattern they had 100+ years ago. No trendy flashes, zigzags or stripes. They see their shirt is so special, that they would not sully it with a sponsor's name. I am not sure if that is still the case. On that evening, the club was hosts to a version of Question of Sport. Lions v Kiwi supporters the week after BOD was speared into the turf. Mysteriously the footage disappeared and the citing officer didn't/couldn't act, whilst Grewcock was banned for 6 weeks for biting a player, (with a gum shield in), who put his fingers in his mouth. Whatever bad behaviour goes on the pitch, the fans seem to be able to put it behind them. These are not the best examples of sportsmanship, but in didn't translate into any bad feeling on the evening, as the fans shared the evening. Allan Hewson, Former All Black was mixing, enjoying the grass roots atmosphere. (PS they also have had a British Lion player from the club - Riki Flutey.)
In Auckland we enjoyed a 'multi-cultural evening' at Ponsonby Rugby Club. There is a connection with Burton Rugby Club, as a former Burton Captain played there - and they looked after him very well, including when he fell seriously ill. We had a variety of South Sea Island songs and dances, and a Haka performed by their Colts in grass skirts - not good for middle aged women to be seeing (actually, probably too good). They fielded some of their ex-All Blacks - they are club that have provided the most to their national side, and again they were happy to chat with the visiting Lions fans. They have adopted the England team as their'second' team during the World Cup, so a visit may be in order. It would not be polite to ignore their hospitality.
I already have a rugby club to go to in Dunedin - Kaikorai. Not having anywhere to stay in Dunedin, I randomly contacted a rugby club, to ask them for local knowledge and was cheeky enough to ask if I could park on their car park. Within the hour, they had contacted me and said they'd get back to me and within three hours they had offered their car park and showers. Top guys I thought at the time. They have recently re-contacted me, to ask if I'd mind getting something from Burton Rugby Club to put in their museum. They have also arranged for a lift for us to get to the ground. All on trust and the fellowship of rugby. I hope to report back on their hospitality as part of the blog over the coming weeks whilst on my Odessey.
All you need is love - The Beatles, actually I think all you need is a love of sport to see the best of people.