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A Tale Of Two Sports

Last week I was trying to raise some good friends of mine from Ipswich Football Club but they were still celebrating their wonderful promotion. Let’s not forget a fallen giant called Derby County. As for the fairytale of Wrexham, where will it end? Premier League?! Famous names have been escaping the drop by the skin of their teeth. The business end of the Football season has been its usual dramatic self, tears of joy as well as sadness but a knowledge that all sport should allow for recovery, redemption and aspiration.

Well, that’s the theory. My club Ealing Trailfinders won the Rugby Championship League for the second time in three years and it hardly got a mention from anyone. Their performances this season have been dreamy, sometimes untouchable and other times too laissez faire. Always the target for the rest of the league, and occasionally that was too much for us, which is where a great 80 minutes can prevail – Caldy away last year and London Scottish this year which prompted delirious celebrations for the underdog winners and quite right too. The beauty of sport. In the Premiership Cup, we beat Bristol Bears (away) and Northampton Saints and should have beaten Leicester Tigers to host the final. Sadly some experience under pressure was lacking at a key moment. All the players can be rightly proud of a wonderful achievement, but with no promotion they may wonder why they bothered. The antithesis of a sporting dream.

The drama of the Premiership drive to the top 4 never materialised as Sale ripped up the script and easily beat Saracens away to claim a spot in the semifinal. Sarries had already qualified and played with zero energy. They won’t mind travelling because it’s the hard way and they relish it – so many top players finishing their career that they will do something special for each other. Northampton Saints, already assured of a home semi, sent a second team to Bath, who can easily win this trophy and were way too good…… picking up a home tie in the process which will matter to them if not to Sarries. See the problem? At the Stoop, Quins and Bristol played out a meaningless end of season run around that was by no means short on skill but another 80 pointer became rather gratuitous entertainment.

Lastly, Gloucester gave themselves a pre European Finals boost by despatching the whipping boys Newcastle by 50 points, who finished the season without a single win. The hypocrisy of stating that they believe in promotion and relegation when they are protected not only by their private shareholding but also the Governing Body sticks in the craw and should be a massive warning signal for the game at large.

When I talk about a tale of two sports people imagine I reference Rugby and Football for their different approaches to the concept that a winner is promoted. Well yes and no, because I also mean rugby. As we welcome mighty Chinnor into the Championship, the fact that no realistic or credible route can be found into the top of English rugby means that on-field performance only goes so far. Financial profligacy of the past apparently a reason to engage in protectionism.

When you wake up and don your playing kit, you need to know your purpose in the sport you play. Friendship, fun, story-telling, teamwork, resilience all matter. So does a desire to be successful, to win and to accept the consequences of losing. This is a lesson in life. Glass ceilings do not work. When will we understand that? For any rugby lover, look across the channel where competition and jeopardy are watchwords and some of the great old names I used to play against are thriving, building support and breathing life into their game. Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Doesn’t feel so bad.

We will fight on.

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