Be it Santa or the Pope, what's wrong with a bit of fancy dress in the stands?

'First they came for the Rugby Sevens, and I did not speak out,' we will all be saying in just a few years from now

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The Independent Football

A politician complaining about the press is like a sailor complaining about the sea, so goes the old line, considered unsurpassable until this week, when a group of Twickenham residents took themselves beyond the reach of all the absurdist metaphor and achieved instant auto-parodic status by complaining about the behaviour of drunken rugby fans.

Pointless though it is to improve upon, we might suggest a Twickenham resident complaining about the behaviour of drunken rugby fans is a bit like moving next door to the world’s busiest airport and then complaining about the noise. Surely no one would do that?

Anyway, the consequences of this thermonuclear Nimbyism may yet send shockwaves through the whole of sport. The Rugby Football Union, which “takes its relationship with the local community very seriously”, it informs us, has done precisely as requested and – wait for it – banned fancy dress.

That’s right. Next year’s London Sevens, one of the most important social fixtures of the season for any self-respecting Teletubby, has had its dressing-up theme summarily scrapped.

Whether this ban extends to full England internationals, where the tradition of dressing, speaking and generally acting like an overprivileged, undereducated Home Counties mega-bore has stood unchallenged for decades is not yet clear, but the precedent is set.

“First they came for the Rugby Sevens, and I did not speak out,” we will all be saying in just a few years from now.

Then they came for the Edgbaston Test.

Then? Then, they came for the darts. You laugh, but it’s possible.

There is an argument to be made that fancy dress has no real place in the sporting amphitheatre. When I travelled on the Rio de Janeiro metro at the World Cup last year in a carriage packed with Argentina fans, the chap in the full Pope Francis get-up must have had to stop for close to a thousand photographs. By the time he reached the Maracana and, out of sheer necessity, removed his giant latex mask, his entire upper body marinated in a kind of holy balm of his own gushing perspiration, his face gave off the air of a man whose work was done (as a 55-year-old, gainfully employed teacher, it turned out, it was work that perhaps should never have started). It seemed almost not to matter to him who would win the football. That’s not how it should be.

When, during a rather uneventful August Test match at The Oval four years ago, a Father Christmas and his two elves led the Peter May Stand in an unlikely chorus of “Do They Know It’s Christmas Time?”, only the absolute purists were unamused when Jesus and his 12 disciples suddenly rose from their seats to join in. But it turned out to be during Sachin Tendulkar’s final Test innings in England, and it’s arguable the great man deserved better. The 9ft inflatable penis sitting forlornly in the upper tier looked like he felt the same.

In such circumstances, it’s hard to maintain the audience is taking the contest all that seriously. Scanning the panorama at the World Darts Championships at the Ally Pally this New Year’s Day, I counted 19 elves, seven dwarves (but no Snow White), 16 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, four Lego figures, seven Cistercian monks, three giant foam bananas, three Fred Flintstones, two Super Marios, the entire cast of South Park, a solitary Spongebob Squarepants and a bipedal moose in the coronation crown of King Charles II.

The action, on these occasions, the event this crowd has paid to see, has a tendency to feel like a radio left switched on somewhere in the corner of a room.

All of it reduces to the central question of whether a sporting event should be focused on spectator enjoyment, or the rights of the players. The Americans have no such existential angst – baseballers, basketballers and the rest know full well they are salesmen with a product to push. We have always thought of things a little differently. That it is a privilege just to be there. The original Lord’s, after all, was built to keep spectators out, not in.

But in any case, there’s one set of people whose views really shouldn’t be taken into consideration. The ones who move next to the 80,000-seater stadium that is the home of English rugby... and then start to complain about the crowds.

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