I’ve been watching football since I was five. I’ve been going to matches at Anfield in all that time. Like so many, I have the full Sky Sport/BT Sports TV package to make sure I have access to every live game. I never miss a Liverpool game on TV. But something has happened to me in recent years. Something has shifted.
Although I spent much of my childhood in a rugby town – St Helens – I never played the game, apart from the occasional match in PE – thanks to Mr Flynn’s affection for Everton, I happily spent most of my PE lessons playing football. As a result of not playing the game I only ever watched it with a passing – sports fan’s – interest. I have been to plenty of games at Saints and Wigan and in my time in London caught some live Premiership rugby. But it has been my conversion (pardon the pun) to international rugby over the last ten years – that has affected the big shift in how I watch and enjoy sport, especially football.
It is simple really. International rugby union – indeed European Cup rugby union – is outstanding sport. Played to an extremely high level; played in a magnificent – unmatched – spirit; played with ferocity, passion and desire – the sort you want anyone who wears your jersey to exhibit; played alongside excellent referees who communicate with the players and the crowd; played to win but not at all costs; played in front of a respectful crowd, trusted to have drink and trusting enough to take along your mother with fear of language or behaviour that would offend or shock her (something you cannot say about going to the footie); played with a level of professionalism and sportsmanship that sets an example for any aspiring player; played to make people proud and to put smiles on faces (not cash in offshore accounts); played in a way that creates an experience to savour and enjoy to one to make one nervous or fearful; played properly, in the right way, for the right reasons. Played with honesty and integrity. Played for love.
Today’s autumn international rugby was a case in point. Absolutely first class sport. A feast. Watching football after that is like going to the chippy for dinner after being at The Ivy for lunch.