Sharing with the Oval Ball: the Cons
In last month’s print edition of When Saturday Comes, the ever reliable Roger Titford analyzed the pros and cons of sharing one’s ground with purveyors of the oval ball. The piece sounds a note of warning: my fellow blogger Scarf is rightly incandescent at Stockport’s unequal alliance with Sale Sharks and if Reading’s relationship with London Irish is better, there is still unease among the Royals’ support.
Most annoying is the local media’s occasional comparison of the clubs’ respective gates and Titford enlarged upon this in his missive, showing how rugby crowds have grown encouragingly while football league attendances have declined.
But this is an unfair comparison of course – there is little doubt what a comparison of football’s top tier and rugby’s second would show us: you don’t need to consult the Annals of the Royal Statistical Society to guess which of Man City v Man United or Moseley v Esher would attract the most fans – and Adams Park regulars’ preference for Serge Betsen and Joe Worsley over Alan Bennett and Nikki Bull says more about the pulling power of the international game than the intrinsic attractiveness of the two sports.
Aside from the primarily financial issues raised by Titford, my Two Unfortunates colleague Frank Heaven and has pointed out to me a number of other problems that can be identified and chief amongst these is an often overlooked inconvenience.
This is the vast in-goal area that rugby union pitches seem to require. In existing football grounds such as Vicarage Road, this is not an issue, and the rugby teams have to put up with a cramped in goal area.
But, in the new grounds at Swansea and Cardiff, even though the round ball code generates more spectators and revenue, football fans sitting behind the goal have to be 20-25 metres from the action, because of the need to accommodate the in-goal area for the egg chasers. This is only an issue with Rugby Union. Astonishingly, and pointlessly, the in goal area in rugby union can be up to 22 metres deep, though it generally seems to be about 15. Rugby League, perhaps realising that spectators behind the goal are disadvantaged by a deep in goal area, have sensibly kept it to 6 metres. The grounds at Hull and Wigan are better as a result.
A second is the hugely grating double standard applied to alcohol. At rugby, fans are encouraged to quaff in their seats, whilst football fans – ever the pariahs – are forced into clandestine drinking below decks. As someone who watched a lot of games in the late Seventies and Eighties, I have witnessed my fair share of football hooliganism but the scale of this problem is largely behind us, whatever the likes of Danny Dyer might like to tell us. Please, treat football fans as adults.
Thirdly, football fans tend to be urban, and generally take public transport or even walk to their local ground. Rugby union fans tend to be rural and suburban, and drive. So, the rebuilding of so many football grounds in out-of-town locations has actually made the venues far more in tune with the rugby fan experience. Fourthly, there is the issue of pitch churn – well chronicled but ever a difficulty.
It’s not all one way though. Much as I love ribbing the egg chasers, Bristol’s rugby club was sold down the river by an unscrupulous director when negotiating a ground share deal with Bristol Rovers. In the small print of the deal, if the rugby club went in to administration, Rovers were able to buy the freehold for peanuts. That duly happened, and now the boot is on the other foot, with the (reformed) rugby club the unhappy tenants of the football team.
There is also disquiet in rugby league towns about sharing. League is exempt from the all seater requirements of the Taylor report, and many of its fans would prefer to stand (the new Warrington ground has extensive terracing). But some league clubs have found themselves railroaded into ground shares with their football neighbours, as a result ending up in grounds that have no standing areas and are far too big for their supporter bases. Huddersfield and Doncaster are the best examples of this.
So, in summary, the football-rugby partnership is far from a glove like fit.