Rugby Union: Knockers of modern Twickers

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The Independent Online
Though I do not mind being a voice crying in the wilderness, it is always pleasant to find the odd supporter. One of them is Colin Welland, playwrite and rugby-fancier, primarily of League, though of the Union variety as well. Last Tuesday he atte nded his first University match. He loved the game, hated the ground.

This is precisely my own view, about both the game and the ground, though it is with the latter that I am concerned here. Twickenham is now unfriendly, ugly and inconvenient. What inspires various colleagues to describe it as a "magnificent new stadium" puzzles me.

A stadium it undoubtedly is - too much of one, in my opinion. It is certainly new as well. But magnificent it is not. Nor will matters be improved when the new West Stand is completed.

Its primary failing is a lack of intimacy. This is a quality which the National Stadium at Cardiff still possesses. Apparently the ground is too small for a World Cup final. There is talk of shifting it either to the suburbs of Cardiff or to some other part of South Wales entirely. This, I think, would be a pity.

But size is not necessarily a bar to a certain atmosphere. I should not describe Wembley Stadium as intimate. But it invites participation by the spectators in a way in which the new Twickenham does not. The same applies to Highbury Stadium in north London and to Old Trafford in Manchester.

Last season a friend of mine who does not normally go to international (or, indeed, to any other) matches, but watches on television instead, was invited by a commercial concern to a home international at Twickenham. He accepted, and looked forward keenly to the occasion. He found himself perching at the very top of the new North Stand. The players were like little toy models on green baize, so he told me. Though his vision is excellent, he could hardly make out what was happening. From no

w on, he intends to stick to television.

There are reasons for this failing. The seating angles are all wrong. The incline in the East Stand is too gentle. This leaves the spectator too far from the game. But the incline in the North Stand is more precipitous. Moreover, the stand is too big altogether. The result for the customer is much the same, except that he or she is looking down on midgets, rather than across at distant toys.

There is another error of design. The roofs do not protect the paying customer but expose him or her to the elements. The roof of the traditional British stand, in rugby and football alike, sloped quite sharply inwards, towards the pitch - and for a verygood reason. A spectator in the top row of the stand could often see the opposite touchline but nothing more. But why should he or she wish to see anything more, as the whole field of play would be in view?

I have seen rugby in Beziers, Bordeaux and Toulouse, in stands very similar to those at Twickenham, though on a smaller scale. But the climate of south-west France is different, and rugby there is played until well into May.

The supporters of the new Twickenham can throw one argument back at me. If the stadium is so bad, why is it that the singing - for an English crowd, that is - is now so good? For so it is. It is not good in any absolute sense. But it is certainly better than the kind which my countrymen now serve up at Cardiff.

The Welsh national anthem is still sung reasonably well, but on Saturday "God Save the Queen" was rendered with greater fervour than "Hen Wlad fy Nhaddau" had been at Cardiff for the South African match, no doubt because more people actually knew the words.

The Welsh crowd can still just about manage the last two lines of the first verse of "Cwm Rhondda" when Wales have their tails up. But the Twickenham crowd do better with "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," which 30 years ago was a changing-room song for what were then the smarter London clubs, such as Harlequins and Richmond.

The English have no more numbers in their repertoire. But then, neither do the Welsh. On 26 November at Cardiff only one song was taken up: Tom Jones' "Delilah". That tells you something about my native land in 1994.

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