Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Confessions of a Rugby Amateur

Friday, 26 August 2011

A friendly in name only...

The day of reckoning is almost upon us. How far have we come in the last few years? How much have we learnt from our intensive pre-season? Has Tom Mowbray learnt to catch?! A few of the questions flying around the club at the moment on the eve of our biggest derby day in years.

Yes, the big one is tomorrow…Tring vs Chinnor. Although this is a pre-season game, it will be a friendly in name only. When the pre-season schedule was announced, this was the game that caused the reaction, the licking of lips, the rubbing of hands, the wry smiles and skipping of heartbeats. There will be fireworks.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, there is a certain level of antagonism between the two sides, and not much love lost. But apart from the politics and player poaching, Chinnor are the obvious local rivals by a process of elimination.

If we’re honest, either Hemel Hempstead or Aylesbury would be our natural rivals and have been in the past. But with both teams sliding down the leagues, the next team at our level in the region is Chinnor.

There are other teams close-by – Old Albanians, Bishops Stortford, Hertford, Harpenden – but there is something more intriguing in Chinnor. The Oxfordshire club is on the South West league boundary so plays in National 3 South West. As we know a lot of the players, there is constant conjecture that they are a better team – without being able to prove it as our paths never cross in competition.

And the stats don’t lie. Over the last few seasons, Chinnor have finished in the top 3 of the league consistently and certainly did not disgrace themselves in National 2. Tring on the other hand has so far scrapped for survival at this level.

However…last season was somewhat of a disappointment for Chinnor, finishing fourth in the league, well behind Old Pats  in 3rd, whereas a storming run in gave us our highest points total yet, including tries scored.

Our pre-season has been tough but hugely beneficial. A 41-12 demolition of Oxford Harlequins set the tone and surprised many…including us! Our new patterns appeared to be working, providing instant and clinical results.

Claps makes crosses the line against Oxford Harlequins
Our away trip to Exmouth was…eventful. The initial plan of a tournament was abandoned for 1sts and 2nds games, one after the other. However, we were only able to muster a 25 man squad which meant some troopers – special mention to Chris Rose – had to play two games back to back!

The 2nd team played some fantastic, fast-paced Rugby and eventually ran out 14-5 winners with some dogged defending towards the end. The 1st team struggled against one of the biggest packs I’ve ever seen at this level. We were bullied and disrupted at the breakdown and our new gameplan went to AWOL under pressure.

Despite a debilitating loss, there were plenty of positives. With ball in hand, we looked very dangerous - it was just match fitness which meant the support lines weren’t there to capitalise. It was a good opportunity to knock all the Summer complacency out of our system and get used to hard, physical graft again – plenty more of it to come this weekend, I’m sure!

The trip was also a chance to bond as well. A team excursion to The Imperial – the largest Wetherspoons in the UK, don’t you know – and then onto Timepiece evening establishment for liquid refreshment and frivolities. It was an excellent night and brought the team closer together – even if the five hour coach trip home the next day was like a battlefield morgue!

So we go into the game tomorrow knowing what to expect. We have worked hard on our set piece this week – thanks to a session on Tuesday with Aylesbury and the visionary James Buckland – and we are looking forward to a huge physical test. A couple of key figures return to the side as well, including Shottsy. And we’re looking forward to unleashing Nick Radley!

I have a few personal scores to settle and points to prove against Chinnor. I have a number of friends who will be playing in black and white – but games always get a bit spicy when you play against friends!

Should be a good one!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Take me out to the ball game...

One particular highlight of my recent holiday to the good ol’ US of A was my first encounter with US sports – a trip to the ball game. The Boston Red Sox against the Kansas City Royals at the iconic Fenway Park
The famous Fenway Park
The Wife and I enjoying the action

I was excited about enjoying the big and unashamedly brash all American ‘fan experience’ which I had heard so much about…and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Americans are certainly leading the way when it comes to sports marketing. The over laden sporting calendar demands a flexible and innovative strategy to keep the fans interested.

With Baseball, for example, there are games almost everyday, so keeping and maintaining fan interest must be incredibly difficult. The game we watched was a mid week, daytime game between the equivalent of Man U and Wigan…and yet it was a sell out.

I was particularly surprised by the diversity in the crowd. A congenial mix of men women and children effervesced with excitement as they approached the ground – and it was easy to see why once the game started. A dizzying blur of visual interaction, fan engagement, interesting loyalty reward schemes and crowd sing-a-longs created a family friendly atmosphere.

I was pulled in by the almost incessant consumerism on display. Any self-respecting fan has a cap and most had t-shirts or players shirts as well. Now, the notion of buying a replica kit is tried and tested in most sports, but a cap is not only cheaper but easier to wear and appeals to a wider audience than a football shirt…and yes I did fall for the spell and bought one! And I have to mention the tireless army of burger vendors, hotdog sellers, drinks wielders and ice cream men charging up and down the aisles!

I had a basic knowledge of baseball from my Gameboy days and from late night Channel 5 viewing whilst at Uni – everything else I picked up from the slightly pungent regular who was sat behind us. The game was not a classic but the tension grew towards the end as the crowd tried to inspire the home team to victory. Unfortunately, Jacoby Ellsbury’s monster Home Run was not enough to counter Jeff Francouer’s earlier three run Homer and the Red Sox lost 4-3.

It was still a fantastic experieince and I am now a fully-fledged Sox fan! I was particularly impressed with the atmosphere and sense of history in the stadium, despite a recent renovation – something I hope John Henry can recreate at Anfield.

One thing that stood out to me was the physical condition of some players. For professional athletes who play most days of the week, they didn’t look particularly athletic! “If they can hit, they don’t need to run,” commented one fan – which I suppose is fair enough.

But, I would have thought this apparent lethargy from these extremely well-paid players (each player’s salary is clearly documented in the programme) would annoy the fans and lead to a sense of disenchanted resentment – much like the Premiership backlash that is currently bubbling.

But there was no sense of this in the stands. Not even the total over saturation of games everyday is enough to quench America’s thirst for Baseball. And as long as the marketers keep innovating (just look at for an example of how a sports website should look) then the fans will keep going in their droves.

“…root, root, root for the home team…’