Losing Fans to Rugby

Posted by on Sep 25, 2009 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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.

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. Lloyd
    September 25, 2009

    Accy Stanley are doing a Tranmere at the moment, which has yielded a couple of wins and two +2500 crowds:


    Good on them.

  2. Columbine Harvester
    September 28, 2009

    Extremism! Fair enough, a dull rugby game is no better than cricket, but it is often a thrilling sport. Any game that specifically mentions penalties for eye-gouging in its rules is bound to draw a crowd.

  3. Frank Heaven
    October 12, 2009

    The chief problem with rugby is this: you do not have to do anything positive to score. Indeed, you don't even have to get into your own half to score, as demonstrated by South Africa's series winning penalty goal against the Lions last summer.

    And as for being able to understand what a penalty is given for when you're sat in a stand 50 metres away squinting at a big pile-up of fatties…

    A thrilling game at times, certainly, but it's system of scoring points remains unfair and it's not an easy-to-follow spectacle for the live spectator.


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