Wem-Ber-Lee…Wem-Ber-Lee

Let’s start with a big thank you to everyone who sponsored Ben and I on our walk to Wembley from Allianz Park, between us we raised nearly £300 for University College Hospital Cancer Fund, collectively the efforts from Sarries fans raised over £15,000 I’m led to believe. Brilliant.

The walk itself was very enjoyable, the result of the match was perfect…but there’s something not quite right about the annual Wembley circus when Saracens play Harlequins.

Unfortunately for the genuine rugby fans (hey, I would call myself as one of them now!), and in particular the supporters of one of the two sides (me again!) the whole event feels too much of a carnival with not enough focus on the rugby itself. Especially at such a crunch time of the season. Particularly when points, and bonus points, are the priority for the teams. And that need for points should have created an exciting, tense, final ten minutes…but the rugby was a sideshow.

Now, before I get too critical I do totally get why it is done, and I even appreciate the need for it, and why it is presented in the way it is. As repeated many times, my son and I are still relatively new to this whole regular watching rugby lark. As much as we are completely sucked in to the passion and have started going to more away games than we miss, were it not for events like the Wembley event, we would not have been attracted through the door in the first place. Get the kid sucked in, and the parents will be forced to come along, and, if you pitch it right, they too will soon be sucked in.

The same goes for those home matches when you go into the bar under the East Stand and have to weave your way through groups of kids in their rugby kit camped in various areas of the bar, taking up comfortable drinking space. Pain in the arse; but an essential part of the future. It was only a couple of years ago that my son was one of the kids, hanging around waiting to play on the pitch at half-time because they had reached the final of a tournament from the morning. Absolutely chuffed to bits, excited at the prospect of playing in front of a crowd…The way Saracens, behind the scenes, handled those moments has led directly to us about to enter our third year as season ticket holders. I will never forget that.

Back to Wembley and we had glorious sunshine, the rock choir, a dance school and X-Factor winner Louisa Johnson performing; hundreds of kids parading around proudly wearing their club colours and…oh yeah, and there was a rugby match on as well – Almost forgot that one!

Accepting that all this stuff is needed to attract people, I would argue that there is a case for  making more of the rugby and using the opportunity to convert the thousands of new people into supporters by, even if it comes across as patronising, focusing on the match itself. Did all the newbies at the game know they were watching many England Internationals that had performed in the 6 Nations? Did they know they were watching the current Domestic and European Champions? Did they understand the relevance of Saracens scoring a fourth try? The relative league position of the two sides and the significance of finishing top four, and then top two for a home semi-final?

I don’t think they did. Hell, why not even bring out the European and Premiership trophies and parade them around in front of 70,000 people – Not to rub in the Harlequins’ noses, or to appear arrogant, but kids love the sight of a big trophy, and if they understood what it was all about, might that have helped to absorb their attention and grow their interest?

My son is a huge sport fan and for some inexplicable reason loves the American sports and as a result over the past 6 months we have been to an NFL match at Wembley and an NBA game at the O2. I know nothing about either of these sports and, such is the nature of American sport, both events came with the full package of extra entertainment at every possible moment…but it was still all about the match. As a newbie, it was always clear what was going on, key moments in the game, the significance of certain moments and the implications of what just happened and the overall result – They love a statistic. I found that fascinating.

At Wembley on Saturday Saracens went into the final 10-15 minutes really needing a couple of tries for a bonus point win, and on the field they totally upped their game and started to create the necessary chances. If that had been Allianz Park, with just 10,000 people present, the excitement would have been electric, the tension would have been palpable and the noise created by the fans would have helped to carry the boys on the field across the line…

…Instead the players were left to pull on their own reserves whilst large chunks of the crowd started either slipping out of the exit because they had finished singing/dancing or started to participate in a cringeworthy Mexican Wave – Right at the crunch bloody moments of the game!

I know, I know, 3 or 4 years ago it would probably have been my son and I joining in with that, and loving it, so I do feel a bit hypocritical, but still…A Mexican Wave?

Thankfully on the field Saracens really did turn the screw and went on to get the extra tries needed to secure the bonus point win which keeps us hot on the tails of Wasps and Exeter in our quest for a top two finish. The result itself did guarantee a place in the end of season play-offs, but that fact will have been lost on thousands of the people at Wembley on Saturday, probably because they didn’t know.

I understand the Wembley thing, and I understand why the regular fans dislike it. I just think there is an opportunity to put more emphasis on the match and educating the crowd about what they are watching, even if it does seem patronising to the week-in and week-out fan, having the fact that you have so many England internationals and potential Lions about to perform for you to whet the appetite must be better than waiting for Louisa Johnson to start singing about feeling ‘So good’!

Hopefully the event did serve the purpose and will have won over more new fans that will go on to become addicted to the joys that can come from attending live sporting events, rugby in particular.

It done the job for Ben and I, and it is a bloody addiction, it really is. In a couple of weeks time we are doing a day trip to Dublin for the Munster semi-final, we’re off to MK Dons on Easter Sunday for the away game with Northampton, we have our tickets for Wasps away on 6th May and if we happen to win in Dublin, there will be no stopping us from going to Edinburgh for the final.

So you see, that win over Harlequins was important because it keeps us in with a shout for a home play-off semi-final…Otherwise I will have another fresh challenge on my hands explaining to Mrs C why it is that I want to take our son to Exeter for a day trip!

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