(Title Image: via BBC Wales)
One sanctimonious pearl of wisdom is that football is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans and rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.
Off the pitch, perceptions have been a one-way street for many decades: football supporters need to be herded like farm animals and kept apart to stop fighting and killing each other, while rugby supporters can sit side by side with rivals and go home under the same spirit that the game started.
There’s an element of truth to it – segregation still happens in football, there are banning orders and alcohol bans. However, the behaviour of a minority of rugby supporters is finally getting a much-needed and long-overdue spotlight shone on it.
Stories emerged about the behaviour of a minority of supporters at the Wales vs New Zealand autumn international, with former Welsh hockey international, Beth Fisher, saying her disabled uncle was abused by a group of men.
British Transport Police’s Chief Inspector Mark Cleland later said on Twitter that at the same game there were 28+ incidents including 2 arrests and 6 violent crimes. He added that violent and anti-social crimes spike during rugby internationals then calm down again until pre-Christmas, suggesting it was a drinking culture associated with rugby that’s a problem not the sport itself or the supporters.
In comparison, for the whole of the 2016-17 season, Cardiff City had 14 arrests, while there are rarely any incidents at Welsh football internationals.
The key difference is that football supporters have specific legislation governing their behaviour (such as the aforementioned banning orders and restrictions on alcohol) dating back to the peak of hooliganism. Other sports that may attract a boozy crowd, like rugby and cricket, don’t.
This isn’t a rugby vs football argument either, but a true fans vs arseholes argument.
Welsh rugby internationals have become a phenomenon where the event itself is just as if not more important than what happens on the pitch and, as a result, have become a social highlight (not just a sporting one) on the national calendar.
With ticket prices generally through the roof (and increasingly only available to those with means), and corporate ticketing packages commonplace, people are going to want to make the most of it – in Wales, that means getting pissed until you can barely stand. Middle-aged men and women from all backgrounds tend to be the worst offenders from anecdotal experience.
Common complaints include people’s views being obstructed by fancy dress, having to constantly stand so others can go back and for to the concourse to get seemingly unlimited drinks or empty their bladder (in order to refill it), while Cardiff’s reputation as a “party city” – not the high-class international events city it likes to think it is – leads to problems in the streets, pubs, bars and clubs around the stadium.
Rugby fans have been warned – by Wales’ coaching staff and the South Wales Police & Crime Commissioner – to behave themselves.
Now, people should go to the games to enjoy themselves; it would be equally bad if rugby internationals ended up resembling a Crucible snooker final or, god forbid, sees a return of air horns which long blighted the atmosphere
Nevertheless, the WRU will need to seriously consider – before the Six Nations – whether it’s time for a booze ban in the stadium during play (or a ban on taking alcohol to the seats) in order to send a message to supporters about their behaviour, before politicians or the police decide to take that decision for them. Surely people can go without a drink for 80-90 minutes and sober up a bit?