Losing becomes a habit

Work-rate, honesty, discipline and humility is the well-drilled Saracens ethos that first attracted me to the club from a background of “win at all costs” football. That, coupled with a changing passion from the round ball to the egg-shaped one has created many great memories over the last few years…But, that’s easy when your team is winning isn’t it?

I haven’t written much for this site for sometime now. There was a danger of it all becoming a tad repetitive – Quality time with my son, atmosphere’s so different to football, away days with great friends and fellow supporters, dramatic wins, easy wins, proud wins, late wins…and of course a somewhat gut-wrenching defeat down in Exeter in the semi-final last year – An away trip on the Sarries on Tour Fun Bus that was worthy of a post of its own, yet I somehow never got around to it…perhaps it was all too soon after the magic of Dublin and Edinburgh (or maybe it was opening the first beer at 6.30am when the bus had barely left Hemel Hempstead!).

On Sunday, or should I say, on yet another bloody Sunday, my son and I went to Harlequins to witness a fifth successive defeat for Saracens. Five defeats. In a row. One after the other. Unheard of in our brief Sarries supporting lifetime.

The first couple were Anglo-Welsh cup games with weakened teams where defeat is acceptable; then Exeter at home during the Autumn Internationals provided excuses of players away with their country (that’s a whole another blog post in itself!); a Friday night loss away at Gloucester can be blamed on more top players missing and a very tricky environment to play in….but now the loss at Quins has threatened to lift the humility smokescreen in some areas of the support.

Yes the ref appeared to make some dodgy decisions on Sunday, in particular the penalty that led to the winning try (a decision that was wrong in anyones eyes), but come on…let’s not go all football about it. One thing I have learned in my crash course transfer to watching rugby is that there are hell of a lot of marginal decisions in a game that can be open to interpretation and the only person that is ever right – because it makes for a quieter journey home – is my son.

Reading the various social media posts and forums this morning it all started to become uneasy reading. Over the past couple of years I have worked hard to train my 13 year old son in the ways of respect and humility when at a rugby match (basically do the opposite to what you saw me doing at football for the first ten years of your life!) because I genuinely believe there is something special about a rugby crowd that makes it a safe and fun environment where we enjoy the banter with the opposition fans in the vicinity of us, home or away. Hence Ben having bruised ribs over the years from the occasional nudge when instinct has sent accusations of injustice in the direction of the referee, or anytime he has shown signs of gloating about our success (though I did allow him to continue his jibes at Wasps last year when we were getting abuse from the home fans…Seven days before we went to Edinburgh for the Champions Cup Final).

Now you don’t go thirty years supporting a team like Chesham United Football Club home and away without learning how to accept, or even expect, defeat. I have spent so many weekends travelling up and down motorways to some outback in the south of England where the locals don’t even know they have a football team; sitting in motorway traffic before watching a dreadful match that we lose without a fight before setting back on the same traffic-filled journey home. Kick the cat. Swear I’ll never go again, before going through the same motions a week later.

I do/did it because I love it. It was never about the winning. Of course winning makes for a better day; the beers are more enjoyable, the journey home seems to fly by and the cat still smiles at you on a Sunday morning.

But there is more to it. A feeling of belonging, sharing in the pride of supporting that club and therefore entitled to share in the joviality and celebrations on those occasions when success does come…which will always be less often than the days of disappointment.

It is a cliche I have used many times, wearing both sporting hats; you can’t truly appreciate the good times without experiencing the bad. You can’t just go to the good games, the ones you win at a canter. As supporters, as well as players, you need some hardened character building throughout a season (or indeed a lifetime of supporting) to get a real sense of what it all means. If we return to Twickenham this year for the Premiership final, or even better, if we return from Bilbao in May wearing sombrero’s and a donkey under our arms with a third successive European title in the bag, it will be the result of a season long slog that includes highs, lows, wins and defeats…it’s all part of the journey that needs to be enjoyed.

It is true that the trip to The Stoop will not go down as one of our favourite away games of the season, but it was played in a decent atmosphere and you can’t argue it wasn’t exciting, even if the excitement was often disguised as frustration and anger. In fairness, the away day at Harlequins last season was also a hugely disappointing defeat, but I don’t remember that bothering me too much a few months later as we sang and danced our way down Princes Street on our way back to our Edinburgh hotel as freshly crowned European Champions.

In fairness Harlequins was one of the away games I was going to give a miss this year, likewise Exeter, but when the game gets closer and closer, well, it is difficult to stop yourself…Also just booked for Exeter away.

I’m still very conscious of the fact that I am a comparatively new Saracens fan and know relatively little of the past having only really been around for what must be deemed successful times, but when I read some of the stuff written after Sunday’s defeat it does make me want to bang a few heads together and try to put a bit of perspective on the situation. As Mark McCall said this week: “We’re third in the Premiership, top of our Champions Cup pool and have got some big games coming up, starting with Clermont at Allianz Park next week” – I do hope that we don’t fall so far up our own arses that we feel as though we have a divine right to success. That won’t be an attractive quality, and won’t convert any new fans like it did Ben and I a few years back.

That’s not to say of course that we should accept a fall from grace with a shrug of the shoulders and a defeatist attitude, but there are ways to overcome adversity (and believe me, I have experienced much of it at Chesham United!) and they all involve unity, staying together as a group and being supportive…Frustrations are allowed. Of course they are, and we will all air them in the heat of the moment, but that won’t help us bounce back from five straight defeats.

So what will? Well, for starters, how about a united display of work-rate, honesty, discipline and humility…I’m no expert, but that doesn’t seem to have served us bad in the past.

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