Losing Fans to Rugby
Not being overly fond of flyovers and roundabouts and having already paid a visit some years ago to Peterborough’s capacious Cathedral yard, I chose to indulge in my traditional pre-match entertainment last weekend in nearby Stamford. Taking a 2pm train into the city for the football, I was surprised to be accompanied by hosts of fans in red, white and green on my walk to the station — a new away kit for Posh, perhaps? No, these were Leicester Tigers rugby fans making their way to the opposite platform and on to the Egg Chasing. Earlier, the colour shades had been yellow and green, with the platforms at Peterborough speckled with Norwich supporters. With a crowd of 8,000 or so, and hordes of their core constituency choosing to watch sport elsewhere, Borough still look more nouveau riche than Posh.
One has sympathy but Peterborough United is by no means the only club afflicted by such migrations. A few years ago, there was outcry among men of Kent when Charlton started a bus service to the Valley from outside their Gillingham doors, the platforms at Thundersley and Shoeburyness are festooned with ‘appy ‘ammers of a Saturday lunchtime instead of loyal Shrimpers, and Tranmere used to have to play their matches on Friday nights to avoid a clash with those twin titans across from the Wirral. In our league, several clubs suffer from too close proximity to more obviously appealing delights: Reading, QPR, Palace and Watford in relation to London, Barnsley and Doncaster a propos of Sheffield, and Preston to Manchester. High prices and low availability for Premier League tickets has to an extent reversed the trend but it still makes the blood boil to see people eschew their local sides.
Losing fans to rugby must be the ultimate insult, however. “I quite like watching the internationals” is an oft heard remark from its apologists but a sport that relies on the bulk of its points due to the giving away of technical fouls looks both complicated and oafish beside the simplicity of football. When folk say they prefer the oval ball, they are quite simply making a class-based statement — watching a match in the flesh with nobody there to explain when it’s offside and where renditions of Swing Low constitute the highest decibel point is like watching emulsion dry. Shame on those populating the westbound Platform at Stamford station: you’ve got a local team in the Championship now: go and cheer them on.