Rugby Union: Wasps well pleased with their slick new abode

Nic Watson, a club member and die-hard supporter, was present as his team left behind 130 years of history and began a new life in unfamiliar surroundings at Loftus Road
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The Independent Online
And so the new era was ushered in. The black shirts emblazoned with the distinctive black and gold Wasp ran out on to the blue and white expanse of Loftus Road, home of Queen's Park Rangers football club, and now the home of Wasps too.

The rugby fraternity held its breath - including Chris Wright, the man who, in a matter of weeks, had uprooted 130 years of history and tradition by transporting Wasps rugby football club across west London to a stadium very obviously purpose built for football. It was a big and brave step, another litmus test for the professional game.

The Wasps faithful admitted to a cautious apprehension. Many were disillusioned and highly sceptical, but their very presence bore testimony to their curiosity and anticipation, dare I say excitement, at the new venture.

The appeal of an afternoon at Wasps' old ground in Sudbury stretched far beyond the action on the field. The relaxed, engaging welcome from the unpaid veterans on the gate, the ad hoc parking arrangements on the outside pitches, the stroll to the bar for a pre-match beer before seeking a familiar vantage point. Not a turnstile, or a barricade in sight. The convivial atmosphere during the game, spectators from both teams tightly packed together sharing good humoured banter. And then to the bar where officials, players and spectators mixed alike. All the while children chased each other across the pitch in impromptu games, before perfecting their goal- kicking from beneath the posts.

These were the images that we took with us. What on earth could Loftus Road provide us rugby folk? The answers were soon apparent. At first, gates were bolted, routes were manned, supporters were instructed and directed, responses were curt and officious. Soon the ground was increasingly opened up and attitudes and responses had changed. At 2pm - an hour before kick-off - a relaxed and good natured atmosphere had developed. Many restrictive notices within the stadium, we were told, no longer applied. It was as if Loftus Road was shedding its skin and revealing a friendlier, more welcoming side. The plethora of orange coated stewards looked as bemused as their new visitors. By the end everybody, it seemed, was working together.

Emerging into the stadium proved a memorable, ground breaking moment. This was a 19,000 all-seater stadium; this was a beautifully manicured playing surface; this was a venue fit for internationals from all over the world. Over 8,000 spectators were watching what, in effect, was just another league game - club rugby had arrived!

One could not help contrast this with where we were 12 months previously. The endearing features of Sudbury that many were so loath to relinquish already seemed part of a distant, bygone era. Loftus Road had rapidly become part of the increasingly accepted new face of rugby union. And it was mighty impressive.

But the playing of rugby union at Loftus Road will need a far longer trial period over which to be judged. However, in the face of hostile criticism and many unfavourable preconceptions, this proved beyond doubt that it can work.

Undoubtedly many came to view this initial experiment with an open mind and the presence of ambitious neighbours possessing Messrs Lynagh and Sella is sure to have further swelled the crowd. But Wasps and rugby union can rightfully feel proud. The fayre provided on Sunday will undoubtedly have whetted many appetites. The vision is bright, Mr Wright.

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