James Corrigan: Let union greed and fan discontent boot Six Nations Fridays firmly into touch

The Way I See It: Because of the RMT's selfless action, on Friday 30,000 rugby fans from the valleys will be stranded in the capital. All seshed up, nowhere to go
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The Independent Online

They dared stage it when the sun don't shine and very soon will be forced to stick it where the sun don't shine. Yes, the Friday night Six Nations international is about to meet a very premature and very welcome end. The carnage in Cardiff city centre in four nights' time will ensure it does.

All that is needed is for the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers – those fearless representatives of the proletariat – to hold strong, withstand the High Court challenges and go ahead with their strike. Most believe the RMT have called the action in a cynical attempt to force Aviva Trains to increase their derisory offer of a 12 per cent pay rise, which would raise the train driver's average salary to a frankly unliveable £40,000. That isn't true. 'Tis but a mere smokescreen.

This isn't the Royal Wedding. The collision of Jamie Roberts and Joe Worsley is not akin to that of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Bob Crow and his merry band of sickle-wavers cannot be accused of having a political agenda in the timing of this particular strike. After all, Wales versus England is a carnival of the working man. Well, in Wales, it is.

In light of this, surely the RMT are, in fact, standing by their fellow reds and completely unselfishly allowing their members to look the villains in an incredibly subtle long-game. After this Friday fiasco, never again will the rugby authorities dare barter with the culture; never again will the historic cross-border scuffle be shunted to a kick-off of such sacrilege. The damned experiment will be smashed in a hail of blow-up daffodils.

It will be mayhem on Westgate Street, down St Mary's Street, all the way on to the Taff embankment and up to the castle. Because of the RMT's selfless action, an estimated 30,000 rugby fans from the valleys will be stranded in the capital. All seshed up, nowhere to go.

As the night becomes older, the beer becomes warmer and the homing instinct kicks in; the scene will be like a cross between Max Boyce, Live at Treorchy and Dawn of the Dead. Arms outstretched, men and women in red scarves will wander around in confused oblivion, communicating to each other in primeval tones. To the uninitiated ear, their guttural screams will sound something like "Oggy, Oggy, Oggy". And the "Oi, Oi, Ois" will proceed to bounce around the city skyscrapers, peering down on one almighty mess.

It will take days, if not weeks to clear it all up. Then the inquiry shall begin. It won't be enough for the Welsh Rugby Union – those fearless representatives of the blazer brigade – to blame the RMT. Because the revelation will emerge that the English didn't show up in anything like their normal numbers.

Hey, the white-shirted masses needed no rail strike to put them off travelling. When it gets dark, the trains stop running from Cardiff to Paddington as a matter of course.

So, with a ticket and a hotel and the obligatory bellyful of steak and Brains, the Red Rose faithful would have been peering at a bill above the £300 mark. Plus they would have been forced to take an afternoon off work for the privilege.

But wait, the great English corporate machine stayed away, too. Friday's no day to be schmoozing, not at these prices. Five days before the game the WRU were still advertising hospitality packages starting at £699 going up to £899 (plus VAT, naturally). Any suspicion they might be over-pricing? Any suspicion they might have hurled the golden goose up on to the slab and thrust a cleaver directly into its nether regions? Perhaps. The "Friday night" outrage has just been another example of their greed.

Ask yourself this: who was it for? Certainly not the coaches or players. They detested it. And the fans who actually attend the matches? Erm, no. The downsides are too lengthy to list here. It was for nobody but television and, by extension, for the unions' coffers. Of course, they wrapped it up in PR baloney as being vital for the expansion of the game. The tournament would reach more viewers, they claimed. The Six Nations would transcend its normal, limited audience. Except it didn't, not to the extent envisaged anyway. The ratings were persuasive, but nowhere near persuasive enough. It was a pointless exercise.

Why couldn't they leave well alone? What made the Six Nations the collection of great sporting spectacles it is, was the atmosphere and banter behind each encounter. Each game has its own mini-culture, cultivated in the years since the home nations first started to wage their oval-ball wars.

In their arrogance the unions – the rugby ones, not the train – believed they could take this for granted, that the fans would still travel anyway, that the Championship would still retain its unique appeal. Who cares that so much about the occasion relied on the build-up and the aftermath, about the anticipation of the morning and the bonhomie of the evening? Who cares that the fans who shelled out their hard-earned to lend the scenario its music, its wit and its colour were being overlooked for the arm-chaired support?

In two years of the Friday experiment – in which, inexplicably, Wales, the best supported of all the six nations, were always the guinea pigs – the Championship lost a lot of its soul, just as local businesses lost a lot of their earnings. In fairness, the Six Nations committee have realised their error, if not their crime. For the next two tournaments at least, there will only be weekend fixtures. Alas, there will still be Sunday games and that equivalent outrage must be the next target. The "Keep Saturday Special" campaign starts here.

Everyone is welcome to join and contribute to the reclamation of the proper international experience. Especially train drivers. For let no-one forget, it will be their altruism which shall lead to the bedlam which shall guard against the Long Bad Fridays ever returning. And who knows, they might even wangle a few more grand for their troubles. Go on, they deserve it.

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