Sharing with the Oval Ball: the Cons

Posted by on Nov 12, 2010 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

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.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 50 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.


  1. Lanterne Rouge
    November 12, 2010

    Thanks for some really good comments Lee. Of the new stadia, I have really enjoyed visiting the Liberty (apart from my club being played off the park of course).

    Rugby in its Welsh guise is less aggravating to most of us of course: a grassroots sport with a working class heritage and something to be very proud of; whereas, east of the Severn, it's obviously a game for toffs. Hence, I'm sure the links between Ospreys and Swansea have been more sensitively developed than they have in England.

    I guess the truth is that there are examples of best practice and examples of disasters, with Stockport being very much bottom of the pile.

  2. Lanterne Rouge
    November 12, 2010

    A project we have been planning for a long time Lee is a serious dig at the authorities concerning the rescheduling of fixtures. Many a time have I been caught out having purchased an advance super saver ticket. I did explore this in a very early post on this blog. You have my utmost sympathy.

  3. mirkobolesan
    November 12, 2010

    Speaking in very general terms I don't think either Cardiff City or Cardiff Blues fans are happy with the groundshare. Blues fans aren't happy about being turfed out of their city centre location whilst very many Cardiff City fans are openly hostile towards rugby due to a multitude of reasons too complex to go into here.

    The rugby side detest playing at the “Cardiff City Stadium” and often call it the “City of Cardiff Stadium” in order to detract from the fact they are playing at a football stadium:

    It's a fascinating relationship, and one that'd require more than a simple blogpost to talk about. As a Cardiff fan who has never liked rugby and has lived in England for over a decade I'm not too bothered about groundsharing, it makes sense to be honest, there's no need to have more than one ground in a city to house football & rugby.

  4. Lloyd
    November 14, 2010

    I'd be quite interested to hear more about the story in Cardiff, or even to write something myself.

    It seems to me that partnerships with local rugby teams are just another money-making craze, along with banqueting facilities, etc. Whenever a new stadium project is announced, it's usually there along with all the other watchwords. The possible redevelopment of Plymouth's ground has included a plan for rugby league to be played there (even though the city doesn't currently have a team), and the board's £500,000 investment in a new, hardy pitch over the summer indicates that they are looking for further tenants.

  5. Stanley
    November 15, 2010

    Superficially at least, groundshares between football and rugby clubs make a lot of sense. The increased revenues (from the stadium owners' perspective) and improved surroundings for both parties. Also, the planning laws in this country make it difficult for one sporting club to build new facilities, let alone two.

    Having written that, however, the city in which both a major football team and a top rugby union side co-exist happily is rare (perhaps only Leicester would qualify among English towns). Problems seem to arise when there is overlap or conflict of interest in the ownership of the two organizations (see Stockport/Sale, Wycombe/Wasps). And there is a danger that co-ownership will become more prevalent as belts tighten.

  6. Frank Heaven
    November 18, 2010

    Antipathy between fans of two teams who share a stadium seems inevitable to me – certainly if one set of supporters has a deep-rooted, tribal tradition (which, of course, is not the case with most rugby union teams).

    The Observer writer Paul Wilson pointed out that Wigan rugby league fans have no interest in supporting the Latics because of their loyalty to the cherry-and-whites; the fact that a different football code is involved is immaterial – to Wigan RL supporters, attaching themselves to another tribe of fans would be the same betrayal as going to watch St Helens.


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