I’m very aware of the fact that my Sarries supporting days have coincided with a phenomenal period in their history when winning has become a habit…to a ridiculous level. However, I’d look to defend myself from any glory-hunting tag by virtue of the fact that I did come to the party just BEFORE the glory really started. In fact, I could argue that I am more of a lucky charm than a glory-hunter?
It sounds ridiculous, but such has been the level of success over the past couple of years that the expectations get so high that, in a really difficult to explain way, you are almost relieved when the odd bad day comes along, just to keep it real and to keep the special moments special.
Using that logic, Ben (my 13 year old son) and I have been pretty lucky this year having travelled to away games to witness some of those defeats and some of the, what you might call, lesser moments – Think Bath, think Harlequins.
The latest of these was on the weekend just gone. Saracens away at relegation threatened Worcester should have been an absolute banker. Whether it was a guaranteed bonus point victory, that was a little more debatable, but a win was taken for granted as we set off along the M40 on a cold and snowy Saturday morning.
I had still not been forgiven from my son for making the journey to Worcester last year without him on the “Sarries on Tour” Fun bus. A great day out, but to make sure he did not miss out this year we had a full Calder family in the car heading to the city for a weekend away that would culminate in a couple of days in the Malvern Hills.
It was only Ben and I going to the game itself, but we were joined by my wife, Heather, and eldest son, Tom, for a couple of pre-match drinks in town at The Swan with 2 Nicks. In true Calder fashion we were one of the first in the pub, but it soon began to fill with Sarries fans all looking forwards to the trip to Worcester’s Sixfields Stadium followed by hopefully seeing England win at Wales in the 6 Nations (I was slightly less confident about that one than I was Sarries winning at Worcester).
After two or three (who’s counting? – Well, probably Mrs C as she was still driving at this point!) pints of Golden Dawn, Ben and I were dropped at the ground where we took shelter from the bitter wind under the East Stand from where we were to watch the match. Time for another quick drink whilst Ben made use of just being given a new iPhone and contract that gave him so much more data than previous (He was smugly checking out his team in the Fantasy Six Nations Rugby League we had entered with his rugby team – I was having a bad weekend in that and he was sitting near the top and only too happy to point out my errors of team selection).
Now this is where rugby is a funny old thing compared to football. The Saracens team has been ravaged by injury most of the season and now we have the Six Nations come along and take more players away for a couple of weeks. This time of year the national media become Six Nations obsessed and everyone starts bemoaning England’s injury misfortunes and they even list the likes of Mako and Billy Vunipola and George Kruis…but what about Saracens who have been missing these three key players for even longer? And then you see England take away the likes of Owen Farrell and Jamie George, Sean Maitland goes off to play for Scotland, and suddenly it becomes a bleeding wonder that we can get a team out at all!
Yet nobody moans. It becomes an opportunity for fringe players to lay a claim for a regular place. It’s a chance for the Academy players to step up to the mark and it is a chance for the club to take some huge pride in seeing their players wearing the national shirt. Work-rate, honesty, discipline and humility – More than just words, it’s a way of life.
Ironically the very same weekend that Saracens travelled to Worcester, the West Ham owner David Sullivan was – admirably honestly – declaring that he really does not want his player, Andy Carroll, to go off and play for England. Ok, in the main it was because he felt the player needed more of a rest, but on Talk Sport the presenter started to go on about how West Ham pay the wages and therefore should have a say over what the player does. There was no pride considered in the debate, very little reflection on what it would mean for West Ham, or for the player himself, to pull on the England shirt again. And what of the supporters on the terraces? Those that might travel home and away with England football? Does anyone care about them anymore?
And then you get all the top managers moaning about the amount of games played, players whinging and not wanting to play because they are unhappy despite earning over £100k per week and then the blood really starts to boil when you get the Wally with the Brolly berating FA Cup replays after watching his vastly weakened Derby side get knocked out of the FA Cup by an even more weakened Leicester City. Apparently if the game had been 24 hours earlier, Tuesday rather than Wednesday, he would have put out a better team. Grrrr, it drives me crazy. The fans anyone?
Yet it has become the norm. We all accept all the talk now about players no longer able to play two games a week, everyone seems to have given up on restoring the FA Cup to the magical competition that it still is for the non-league clubs that can have their seasons, their entire future, transformed by a few good results. Oh and how the non-league fan gets behind the FA Cup, boosting gates to levels clubs can only dream of for a league match.
Then we have just about all top managers convinced that the referee is against them, yet don’t see the incident when their own side is in the wrong and talking to the media post-match is all too often an obvious burden, with Mourinho’s attitude and antics no longer amusing or intriguing, I just watch and think “what an arse”. What about the fans? Don’t treat us like idiots, please.
So Sarries go into the Worcester game with a pretty decimated squad through injury and international call-ups. Yet on paper, it still looked a pretty decent side. Will Fraser was returning from a long term injury, captain Brad Barritt was back from suspension and Chris Ashton out on the wing. I was pretty confident of another win, another display of strength in depth and a reward for high work-rate and discipline. Let’s get this game done and dusted, watch the Wales v England game and then enjoy the rest of the weekend in the Malvern Hills.
This being only my third year as a season ticket holder and probably fourth season as a convert to the oval ball, I consider myself very much a newbie and far from an expert in the game, but I have come to truly appreciate the sheer brilliance of watching a team at the top of its game. Something I have witnessed many times in my short Saracens supporting career. When it ticks, it is a beautiful thing. When it doesn’t, blimey it can be an annoying game!
It didn’t tick at Worcester. In fact it never really got going at all. Silly errors were punished, kicking tactics that I so often love were proving the wrong tactics and on the rare occasions we did get possession, we were unable to keep it. Slowly, kick by kick, Worcester crept into the lead.
Against the odds Sarries did score the first try, Chris Ashton inevitably running it in having spent most of the first-half as little more than a spectator stranded on the wing. Only just trailing at the break I though we would easily get back into it. As did the Worcester fan I bumped into in the toilet at the interval who said “I can’t see you being that bad second-half”. Hah, what does he know…we were every bit as bad after the break!
In reality Worcester never really looked like they would score a try, but they punished errors, kicking penalty after penalty to slowly edge out of reach. Sat in the corner of the East Stand the chants of “SARRIES, SARRIES” became fewer and less enthusiastic, resigned to the fact that it was one of those days on the field. As said before, I can live with that, you need these days to really appreciate the good days. The really good days.
However in the seat next to me the rugby referee of the future, my son Ben, was getting more and more irate, getting upset by any remotely dubious refereeing decision and bewildered by what he was watching…An invaluable lesson in watching live support. He maybe needs to contain it a little, but I love the passion he has for the game, and the passion he has for Saracens. He has witnessed some great occasions, and if we do go on to another Premiership Final at Twickenham, or a European Final at Murrayfield in May, he will enjoy it all the more having witnessed the woes of Worcester.