David Flatman: We must embrace the six-packs as well as the cider
From the Front Row: The pink kit arrived and we all sniggered. They sold a bucketload of the stuff
Sunday 09 September 2012
Prop forwards these days tend to slip into one of two categories: old school or new age. This is usually very easy to identify from appearance alone. If he sports a relatively pallid skin tone, tucks his shirt firmly in at all times in a vain attempt to look smart and has a bit of a gut, he is old school. If he has white boots and a six-pack, he is new age.
Naturally, despite the inherent respect that flows among these men, each weathered dump-truck harbours a quiet, unmentioned resentment towards his more lithe, attractive counterparts, and vice versa.
But of course this is not just about appearance; attitudes, too, are wildly different from camp to camp. For some, the muddy bath and warm cider is all that a post-match celebration ought to be about. And when the water turns cold? Toughen up; it's only water.
But for the more contemporary, more relevant prop, this episode of ablutions – along with the obligatory grooming session – is to be swiftly negotiated before a carefully co-ordinated outfit is unleashed into a local wine bar. This modern approach does not mean these chaps are not as hard as nails, it's just their world does not begin and end on a filthy field.
Presumably, then, they won't mind calling different fields "home". This might prove handy, as the notion of using bigger, shinier stadiums for one-off matches is catching on. The traditionalist might view all of this as sacrilege, and I see their point. To me, no field ever felt as special as our home ground – and I include Twickenham and Bloemfontein in that.
I loved those places, as I loved Kingsholm and Toulouse, but they were never home. I expect that players at every level of the game feel this way; rugby is territorial, after all.
However, if our game is to truly professionalise itself and thrive as the global entity it is threatening to become, we must innovate. Stade Français were perhaps the first to realise that rugby just could not remain the pastime of scruffy, tubby men if it wanted to be taken seriously as a commercial enterprise. So the pink kit arrived and we all sniggered. Then they sold an absolute bucketload of the stuff.
After that came the ridiculous switch from the leisure-centre back field that was their usual home ground (I played on it, and this description is doing it a favour) to the Stade de France. Of course nobody would go, because rugby just isn't very popular in Paris. Then 80,000 turned up.
An accusation that is thrown at professional rugby clubs with stunning regularity is that the game now is all about the money. A more sinister one is that rugby is turning into football.
I only ever see one of these statements as insulting. Rugby is still all about winning matches and loving your club. But since the brown envelopes became P60s in 1995, all the top clubs have a business behind them. And yes, we are all looking for ways to generate revenue. But we still rely absolutely on the boys winning on Saturday afternoons.
After all, nobody wants to back a losing team. This, in turn, adds a whole new version of pressure to the broad shoulders of today's players – one that was never there before. So money is vital, because without it the second of the above accusations will come true.
To me, football is not about overpaid fly-boys who spit too much, swear at referees and live their lives without conscience. No, football just shrieks to the world that it is unsustainable. While no player in any sport would turn down a few hundred grand a week, that really isn't the point. The monstrous financial losses year on year, they are the point. This is why I do not want rugby to ever become the rugged brother to The Beautiful Game.
Not because sometimes they drink too much or because they tend to order their Range Rovers in white. Rugby lads do this, too. But because football as a business is a bit ridiculous, and rugby must never be ridiculous. It must treat people well, engender unity and respect, and make money.
Yes, I know I was always more Gareth Chilcott than Gethin Jenkins, but now I am perched on the other side of the white lines I see that lots of this new-age behaviour must be embraced. The odd game in someone else's stadium? A brilliant concept. White boots and fake tan? Now that's just pushing it.
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