The one with the grand slam

The Welsh rugby team won the Grand Slam last weekend. If the Six Nations Championship escaped your notice that means they beat the other five teams and in doing so also won the Triple Crown. If you’re Welsh or a fan of rugby you will understand the significance of this but otherwise you may have missed the fervour that surrounds the annual championship.

Being a Welsh rugby supporter has for most of my life been a torrid experience. I was born at a time when Wales were a dominant force in world rugby (The Gareth Edwards Years) and by the time I was aware of what was going on we had entered a phase of history that felt to me like “Most gracious plucky loser”. Moving to University in England made it worse, standing in bar after bar every year smiling graciously and congratulating a succession of winners with the occasional win pulled out of the hat (followed by a serious intake of beer!)

In the last 7 years Wales have managed to win the Grand Slam 3 times (and even got a mention in my brother’s wedding speech) and put in 2 respectable displays at successive World Cups and being a Welsh rugby fan is feeling a lot better.

Why write a post about this? Well Wales won the Grand Slam! But apart from that it struck me on Saturday as I reflected on the win (and the fact but for a close finish against England it could have been a very different outcome) that NOT supporting the Welsh rugby team and NOT watching the matches has never really been something I’ve considered. However haphazard our play, through a succession of players and managers I have religiously turned the  TV on to watch and even splashed the cash to attend when I could get tickets (the trip to South Africa is mostly a haze!)

Why the commitment to a team that has changed several times during my life time and leaders who have changed even more often? There is no central hero figure, no membership card and my life changes very little whether they win or lose. That said had Wales not secured a win against France on Saturday the metaphorical black arm bands would have been on and it would have been a quiet weekend in Tring.

I sit with friends (Welsh of course) and we all shout, pace, get nervous, excited and completely emotionally invested in something that has no real consequence what so ever. We get no bonus, no pay rise, no promotion – committing to this process takes time, effort, resources and heartache yet we still do it… Why?

Like many people I’ve read Seth Godin’s “Tribes” but being a supporter or a fan has no leader to follow but rather an emblem (in our case the three feathers) yet year after year we commit to the turmoil and upheaval that results from committing to any sporting team (a commitment that most organisations would give their left arm to have)

I don’t really have an answer to any of the questions and have really posted this as a ‘thought in progress’ to see if any can point me at relevant stuff to read or has a point of view to share. Would be great to have some input if only to move my thinking on…

Post Script (you probably only want to read this if you’re Welsh)

I was thinking about the post Gareth Edwards, pre-2005 period and trying to think of my personal 5 memorable moments and in no particular order, here they are:

Jonathon Davies’ try vs. Scotland 1988 – a ridiculous reverse pass, a chip ahead, an astounding burst of speed and over goes Jiffy. I remember being truly shocked at it but it’s still a smashing piece of rugby to watch

Robert Jones’ try vs. Australia 1987 – the first ever rugby world cup and Robert Jones (not me) scores a try under the posts to secure our third place in the contest (a position we have yet to top). An awesome moment and against the Wallabies – couldn’t happen to a nicer team.

Paul Thorburn’s kick vs. Scotland 1986 – 64.2m the longest penalty ever in an international test match and the kick that no one thought he would make. I met Thorburn some years later and a very modest man who still gave a wry smile when asked about it.

A wag in the crowd vs. New Zealand c1999 (Wembley Stadium) – a very personal one but the All Blacks were a class act (as ever) and with 8 or so minutes left on the clock were 48 points to 3 ahead. During a break in play a loud voice from the back of the stand exclaimed with some conviction, and a strong Welsh accent “come on Wales, we’re still in it” – the laughter bordered on ovation!

Scott Gibbs’ try vs. England 1999 (Wembley Stadium – and I was there!) – I was there hosting clients, mostly English but there were 2 other Taffs amongst them. We’d taken stick all the way through the game and with the clock running us out of time, Scott Gibbs jinked around the English defence to go over. Neil Jenkins obliged by converting it and Wales won the last ever match of the 5 Nations. I don’t remember much of the rest of the day….




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2 responses to “The one with the grand slam

  1. sfmconsulting

    Having been brought up in Cardiff I’m a Wales fan too – despite coming into the World on the other side of the border – and I too remember those heady days when we won everything and the Arms Park had terraces and enclosures and we ran on the pitch at the end of a game to snatch a few strands from the hallowed turf.
    Apart from the rugby there are two things that stood out for me about being a supporter – passion and community. Years later they are both integral parts of our working lives so perhaps those formative years in the North Enclosure taught me more than I ever realised.

  2. A wag in the crowd – I just laughed out loud at that one. Brings back memories for me having been from the Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams and Phil Bennett era too. Those we the days of quality rugby and for a long time i thought they were gone.

    This years win by Wales was the first time in many years I’ve been able to sit and watch a game of rugby, uninterrupted, all the way through. What a good choice!

    I’ll leave you with a snippet from Phil Bennets pre match speech against the English in 1978:

    “Look what these bastards have done to Wales. They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our homes and live in them for a fortnight every year. What have they given us? Absolutely nothing. We’ve been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English — and that’s who you are playing this afternoon.”

    How do you top that?!

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